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The simple rotation idea that could make the Knicks a nightmare to play | Sporting News



The simple rotation idea that could make the Knicks a nightmare to play | Sporting News

The New York Knicks offseason is not done, as they still have a need at backup center and the taxpayer mid-level exception to use.

But already, the Knicks project to be one of the deepest and most talented teams in the NBA. Their top eight currently consists of (from smallest to biggest):

  • Jalen Brunson
  • Miles McBride
  • Donte DiVincenzo
  • Josh Hart
  • Mikal Bridges
  • OG Anunoby
  • Julius Randle
  • Mitchell Robinson

The Knicks’ starting five figures to be Brunson, Bridges, Anunoby, Randle, and Robinson. That is a massive lineup with plenty of shooting, playmaking, and defense.

However, there will be an adjustment period. Bridges has obviously never played with any of these players in the NBA. And Anunoby, Randle, and Robinson never shared the floor together last season as their returns from respective injuries never lined up.

The Knicks are also breaking up one of last year’s best starting fives in the NBA. The Brunson-DiVincenzo-Anunoby-Randle-Isaiah Hartenstein starting five played just 10 games together, but went 9-1 in those games and had a 16.6 net rating. Hartenstein joined the Oklahoma City Thunder in free agency, and DiVincenzo will now presumably be going to the bench. 

And while the Knicks’ new projected starting lineup figures to be very good, there is a simple rotation idea that could make the Knicks’ depth all the more effective.

The Bridges-DiVincenzo swap

At some point in the first quarter, assuming an injury or foul trouble don’t demand something different, Knicks head coach Tom Thibodeau’s first substitution should be bringing in DiVincenzo for Bridges.

DiVincenzo is coming off his best season in the NBA, and while he’s not as talented of a two-way player as Bridges, he offers different skills than Bridges.

DiVincenzo became one of the NBA’s best three-point shooters last season. The 27-year-old guard knocked down 283 three-pointers, third in the NBA and a new Knicks franchise record.

DiVincenzo’s ability to let the three fly — sometimes from great distances — and his ability to move without the ball would provide a boost to the Knicks’ spacing. While he doesn’t bring Bridges’ playmaking and 1-on-1 scoring ability, it would open up more touches for Randle and Brunson. Sometimes in basketball, there can be addition by subtraction when it comes to individual offensive skill.

There also shouldn’t be much of a drop-off on defense. DiVincenzo isn’t as good of a defender as Bridges, but he is excellent at getting up into ball-handlers, and he’s an active off-ball defender who can create turnovers.

We already know the Brunson-DiVincenzo-Anunoby-Randle quartet is effective. In 226 minutes over 12 games together last season, the Knicks outscored opponents by 18.1 points per 100 possessions when those four shared the court.

The DiVincenzo-Bridges swap should also benefit the second unit, as Bridges can become one of the lead playmakers as Thibodeau turns to the bench. The Athletic’s Fred Katz recently suggested that Thibodeau may want to stagger Brunson and Bridges’ minutes to keep more playmaking and shot creation on the floor.

Bridges was miscast as a go-to scorer with the Brooklyn Nets, but the reps he gained over the past 1.5 seasons in Brooklyn could help him as the go-to guy against reserves with the Knicks. Bridges could play alongside Miles McBride as the Knicks’ backup “point guards.”

Hypothetically, the Knicks can use a bench lineup that feature McBride, Bridges, DiVincenzo, Hart, and a backup center (let’s just assume the Knicks re-sign Precious Achiuwa for this exercise). That lineup would be a little bit small, but tenacious, nonetheless. It would feature plenty of defense, shooting, and cutting, and could certainly hold its own against most opponents’ bench lineups.

Bridges is one of the NBA’s best wings, while Hart and DiVincenzo were starters on a team that was one win away from the Eastern Conference Finals. It’s easy to imagine the three of them rampaging against other teams’ reserves.

Thibodeau could then gradually swap in Anunoby and Randle to add more size and playmaking, all while Brunson rests.

This is all speculative, of course, and every NBA season proves that some lineups aren’t as effective in reality as they seem on paper.

The larger point is the Knicks are deep, talented, and versatile. The Bridges-DiVincenzo swap would allow the Knicks to get a proven unit back on the floor — they can bring in one of the league’s best shooters while moving one of the league’s best 3-and-D wings to something of a sixth man role.

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