The New York Knicks have a crowded rotation, but could this escalate when another player returns from injury?
The New York Knicks have reached a complicated point, now that most of the roster — sans Kristaps Porzingis‘ long-term injury — is healthy. How do they balance so many young players’ on-court time?
The first month of the 2018-19 season featured consistent lineup changes from head coach David Fizdale. Cycling through blowout losses and just trying to find what fits, he eventually seemed to settle on Emmanuel Mudiay, Tim Hardaway Jr., Mario Hezonja, Noah Vonleh and Enes Kanter as the starters.
If that’s the case, it creates a fight for playing time on the bench, with seven viable players in the running for a spot. That doesn’t include Ron Baker and Luke Kornet, both of whom have been inactive or sat out most of the Knicks’ season, and the injured Lance Thomas.
Since this lineup came together, New York is 4-4. Fizdale found his winning combination, but that also meant searching for who didn’t fit. That happened by limiting the rotation to 10 players, with the exception of two games in this eight-game stretch.
When the Knicks get healthy, though still without Porzingis, this 10-man group could come into question if Fizdale keeps it a hard number.
From Trey Burke to Damyean Dotson to Frank Ntilikina, these players sat on the outside, looking in, at one point, with the Frenchman as the latest; that’s without Burke and the recent return of Courtney Lee.
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Since Ntilikina’s first game on the bench, much has been made about the 20-year-old’s future, including a recent exchange with a reporter, per Newsday. Questions on where he fits even parlayed into trade rumors.
Now, Ntilikina sits behind Lee. Even with Burke’s injury, it was an identical case here.
Who’s next, if anyone, when Burke returns? Maybe the man himself. Maybe Hezonja if his defense slips. Maybe Dotson, since he already sat on the bench for extended periods twice. Maybe even Mitchell Robinson, which would throw “player development” in another direction.
Maybe Fizdale shifts towards an expansive lineup, utilizes 11 players and makes this a non-issue, except for one player. It creates a crowd but still provides as many players with on-court time possible. If not, this can be solved with a roster cut that’s separate from the Allonzo Trier situation.
This ties in the trade rumors of Dotson and Ntilikina, both of whom were products of the Phil Jackson era. Lee’s contract, also signed by the former regime, makes him a candidate to go, but the Knicks need to showcase this player after a two-month neck injury.
Everything will be figured out eventually, but the New York Knicks have a unit to sort out in the meantime. It’s not the worst problem to have, unless players openly complain about their role. So, sooner than later, facilitating a transaction to slim the roster makes sense.