In the early minutes of the Knicks’ heartbreaking overtime loss in Dallas on Tuesday, RJ Barrett exited the game with a finger laceration. The Knicks‘ top three players of Barrett, Jalen Brunson, and Julius Randle hadn’t missed a game up until Tuesday, but now they’ll be without Barrett for about a week. In Thursday’s loss to the Spurs, the absence of Brunson and Barrett loomed largely. Despite a combined 77 points, 18 rebounds, and 14 assists from Julius Randle and Immanuel Quickley, the Knicks couldn’t come back from a double-digit deficit in the 2nd half.
The New Knicks Rotation
The Knicks moved to an eight-man rotation against the Mavericks but looked clearly tired in the late stages of the game. Even though they’re young, Immanuel Quickley and Quentin Grimes can’t play 45+ minutes per game as they both did in Dallas for an extended period of time. In San Antonio, they reintroduced Evan Fournier into the rotation. He played 17 minutes and put up 11 points, but he showed the same glaring defensive issues that got him removed from the rotation in the first place.
Derrick Rose has also been reinserted into the rotation, which is a reasonable short-term fix. However, Rose has been a step slow all season long, which is why he was also removed from the rotation prior to the Knicks’ hot stretch. One of Rose or Fournier will exit the rotation once Jalen Brunson returns from his injury, which will presumably be before Barrett returns from his. When Quentin Grimes missed a game against the Raptors, it was Rose who got the nod. But in that game, RJ Barrett played 46 minutes.
Can Grimes Fill Barrett’s Role?
RJ Barrett’s role on the Knicks has been very clear since the Knicks have shortened their rotation. Although he is one of their starting wings, he has played a lot of his minutes with the bench while Immanuel Quickley has served as a “sixth starter”. Grimes brings a lot on the defensive end and is an incredible three-point shooter, but he can’t serve the role that Barrett does as the number one scoring option for the bench unit.
Grimes had a career-high 33 points on Tuesday while shooting 12-25 from the field and 7-16 from three. However, he followed that up with an off night in San Antonio, shooting just 1-10 from the field and scoring only 9 points. The Knicks clearly didn’t try to make Grimes a focal point of the offense tonight, which could be an indicator of their strategy until Barrett returns. Grimes has shown, in both college and the Summer League, that he has the ability to carry an offense as the number one option.
At the NBA level, it’s hard to project whether those skills would translate. Grimes has shown flashes of great shot creation, but it’s tough to rely on him to run the offense, even for a short period of time. Immanuel Quickley, however, has displayed the ability to run an NBA offense over the past few years. At least while Barrett is out, a combination of Quickley and Grimes should be able to run the bench unit’s offense while Julius Randle is resting. Once Jalen Brunson
Quickley has shown the ability to lead the bench, but he has also been a lot better with RJ Barrett on the court with him. In the Knicks’ last 15 games, Quickley has averaged 13.6 PPG while shooting 41.2% from the field and 36.5% from distance. In the two games without Brunson and Barrett, Quickley has put together two amazing performances. Although he didn’t shoot the ball well on Tuesday in Dallas, he put up 13 points and a career-high 15 assists. Despite the loss to the Spurs, Quickley had a career-high 36 points, 7 rebounds, and 7 assists.
The Cam Question
The solution seems simple to many Knicks fans. Play Cam Reddish. But it seems like Reddish’s team and the Knicks have agreed to sit him until they can find the right trade. Reddish has been out of the Knicks’ rotation since the Knicks’ 21-point loss to the Dallas Mavericks at home, arguably the lowest point of the season. Reddish wasn’t great when he was playing, but many fans have been calling for his return to the rotation.
Let’s face it. Reddish’s time with the Knicks is most likely over. With each game, it’s becoming more and more obvious. Without Reddish as an option, how can the Knicks overcome Barrett’s absence, especially if Jalen Brunson misses another couple of games?
Until Jalen Brunson and RJ Barrett return, the Knicks cannot afford to play Evan Fournier and Derrick Rose together. Both of them can provide some offense, but the defense becomes a severe issue with them on the floor. In just 16 and 17 minutes, Rose and Fournier had plus-minus ratings of -10 and -9, respectively.
At the same time, it’s unfair to expect Grimes, Quickley, and Miles McBride to cover all 48 minutes of the game. It is possible, however, to mix and match with two of the great defenders (Grimes, Quickley, McBride) and one of the poor defenders (Rose, Fournier). The easy solution is to stagger their minutes similarly to how the Knicks have staggered the minutes of RJ Barrett and Immanuel Quickley.
If one of Rose or Fournier is to enter the game early on in the 1st quarter, he could play a six-minute stint before Rose enters to start the 2nd quarter. With each of them playing for about 12 minutes, Grimes, McBride, and Quickley can each play for 40 minutes. This way, at least for the time being, Fournier and Rose have the ability to provide some instant offense off the bench without their defense significantly hurting the Knicks. With upcoming games against the Houston Rockets and Devin Booker-less Phoenix Suns, the Knicks will look to get back on track in spite of their injuries.
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