Lance Thomas, Brandon Jennings and the rest of the New York Knicks’ bench must live up to their potential if they hope to make the playoffs.
Everything looks better on paper. It’s easy to say that the New York Knicks will be a playoff team; that Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah will stay healthy; that Kristaps Porzingis will continue growing into a superstar.
That Carmelo Anthony will take his hot hand from Team USA into the upcoming season.
The problem with looking at things on paper is that it rarely, if ever, accounts for the human element of the game. A lot of that comes with giving credit for past accomplishments to players that very well may be past their prime.
With the Knicks, the fact is that most of their key players are injury prone. That’s not an opinion; it’s a fact, and that fact will hinder the starting lineup at some point during the season.
New head coach Jeff Hornacek will have the difficult task of planning a season with an injury-prone team. Knowing when to rest them, even if they want to play, is a tough call for any coach. Now that the schedule for the upcoming season has been released, the planning can begin.
The Knicks are scheduled to play 14 back-to-back games this season, with the league average being a little over 16.
It boils down to one thing for this team to ultimately succeed and make the playoffs: the bench.
The Knicks’ bench is more of an unknown than anyone cares to admit. This is the projected second unit:
While O’Quinn is a serviceable player, he had a pretty forgettable year last season. Yet, he has a very reasonable (and movable) contract for what he brings to the team. He brings a defensive toughness to the floor, and his overall rebounding may improve if given more playing time.
Meanwhile, Holiday showed flashes of being a great role player last year after being traded from Atlanta. With more playing time in Chicago, he matched or set career highs in many statistical categories.
And finally, Hernangomez is a question mark, as are all foreign players when they come over. It’s impossible to tell if the team has found some sort of gold mine for talent once they drafted Porzingis or if they’re taking a shot in the dark.
No matter how impressive Hernangomez’s scouting report is or how well he’s playing with Spain this summer, adjusting to the NBA is tough.
These three players, before even being considered key role players for this team, must prove themselves on the court .
Which brings us to the last two.
Brandon Jennings is a good player, but is another question mark because of injury. In January of 2015, he ruptured his Achilles, which forced him to miss the rest of the season.
After returning almost a year later, his numbers dropped in every category. He struggled. He was eventually traded from Detroit to Orlando at the deadline.
While he’s coming to New York on a bargain deal, the Knicks are taking a risk. They’re hoping that he can find the talent that made him so deadly his first few years in the league. He must not only lead their second unit, but also the starting lineup when Rose needs rest.
Lance Thomas is the glue to everything.
Thomas has had an interesting career. He was bounced around from team to team, rarely getting a chance to play. After being traded to the Knicks and subsequently cut two days later, he was brought back on a 10-day contract.
He found time in New York’s rotation during the absolute disaster that was the 2014-15 season. This past season, he established himself as a key role player, even after fighting through injury at a lot of points.
Thomas’ size and athleticism make him a talented scorer and also a versatile defender. He’s capable of guarding the three and the four, as well, which makes his value that much more.
Even though he was sought after by multiple teams this past offseason, Thomas chose to re-sign with the Knicks.
Thomas must continue to develop alongside the rest of the second unit, which can potentially compete with the bench of any team in the Eastern Conference.
All of these are if’s and maybe’s for now. None of this is guaranteed. The Knicks will have to be proactive in resting players to stay healthy.
To be able to afford that kind of luxury, the Knicks’ bench must play up to its potential, giving them options to turn to if and when that injury bug comes calling.