New York Knicks Need To Put End Of Roster Spots To Better Use

Taj Gibson, Precious Achiuwa, Tom Thibodeau, Charlie Brown Jr., Knicks, NBA
Feb 8, 2024; New York, New York, USA; New York Knicks head coach Tom Thibodeau talks with forward Taj Gibson (67) and teammates during the half against the Dallas Mavericks at Madison Square Garden. Mandatory Credit: Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

The New York Knicks needed the NBA All-Star break as much as any team in the league. They are riding a season-high four-game losing streak in large part because they have been missing a massive chunk of their rotation for the last three weeks.

New York was able to stay afloat when starting center Mitchell Robinson went down with an injury, Isaiah Hartenstein stepped into the role and was magnificent. However, the heavy minutes load he was playing has caught up to him as he has missed five total games now with Achilles soreness.

With Hartenstein sidelined, the Knicks have relied heavily on Precious Achiuwa to soak up minutes in the frontcourt. The only issue with that is Achiuwa has been the starting power forward in place of Julius Randle, who separated his shoulder on January 27th.

NBA NEWS & RUMORS: Taj Gibson, Jacob Toppin, Charlie Brown Jr., New York Knicks Updates

Achiuwa came over from the Toronto Raptors, along with OG Anunboy, in a blockbuster deal ahead of the New Year. Anunoby is capable of filling in at power forward, but he has been sidelined since the 27th against the Miami Heat as well.

Thin in the frontcourt, Tom Thibodeau has had to rely on a combination of Achiuwa, Jericho Sims (when he wasn’t sidelined because of an illness) and Taj Gibson to soak up minutes. A lot of praise should be given to Leon Rose for the work he has done building up this roster, but the one mistake made has become a glaring issue.

The issue is not having players at the end of the bench capable of producing in a pinch. Gibson is an important presence in the locker room and someone the fan base has a lot of respect for, but the team needs to find an upgrade over him for the remainder of the season.

On his second 10-day contract, if New York wants to retain him, it will be for the rest of the season. That is something they cannot afford to do, as Gibson is providing them zero production on the court when his number is called.

NBA NEWS & RUMORS: Taj Gibson, Jacob Toppin, Charlie Brown Jr., New York Knicks Updates

As shared by Tommy Beer, Gibson has played 55 minutes over the last four games in emergency duty. He has not scored a point, missing all eight of his shots from the field. He has committed eight fouls, which is twice as many rebounds, steals and blocks he has recorded.

As Beer noted, that kind of production is not acceptable for someone who was playing a legitimate role in the rotation, logging nearly 14 minutes per game. It certainly isn’t Gibson’s fault solely for the Knicks losing some of their games recently but having a more productive player in the lineup for those 14 minutes per game could have changed the tides of at least one matchup.

As currently constituted, the Knicks’ emergency players are seemingly in no position to help the team. Even with the team down to five full-time NBA contract players at points, Thibodeau was not turning to Jacob Toppin or Charlie Brown Jr. to play consistent minutes.

That has been a major issue, as it has resulted in Thibodeau playing whatever healthy guys he has an exorbitant amount of minutes. Injuries are impossible to predict and in some cases avoid, but it can certainly be argued that the heavy minutes Hartenstein and Donte DiVincenzo logged played a part in their injuries.

NBA NEWS & RUMORS: Taj Gibson, Jacob Toppin, Charlie Brown Jr., New York Knicks Updates

Toppin and Brown are both on two-way deals and if they aren’t someone Thibodeau is willing to turn to in emergencies, what is their reason for being on the roster? Brown isn’t a developmental prospect at 27 years old and Toppin is turning 24 in three months.

Teams around the league aren’t going to have rotation players at their end of the bench, but finding guys who can produce and play at the NBA level is possible. For example, look at what the Memphis Grizzlies have done with so many of their rotation guys sidelined by injuries.

Had the Knicks filled the end of their bench with guys like Jacob Gilyard, Trey Jemison and Scottie Pippen Jr, all two-way players, this rough match would have been less bumpy. Toppin and Brown haven’t received the chance to play as those players have, which is part of the problem; does Thibodeau not trust them and if that is the case, why are they taking up roster spots?

With multiple roster spots opening and Gibson presumably not being signed for the remainder of the season, Rose needs to hit the buyout and free agent market hard over the NBA All-Star Break. The Knicks need players whom Thibodeau will trust in emergencies as he cannot continue playing guys 39+ minutes regularly in the regular season. If that continues, New York won’t make it to the NBA Playoffs in one piece.

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