New York Knicks: Solutions for their center problem(s)

Nerlens Noel, New York Knicks (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
Nerlens Noel, New York Knicks (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images) /
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Mitchell Robinson injury update (Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images) /

Knicks: The “next year” solution at center

One thing we’re all looking forward to, whether it’s for Game 4 or opening night come Fall, is the return of Mitchell Robinson. And whenever it is, he’s your starter. Done.

(Note: his 2020-21 On/Off stats actually look pretty terrible, but I attribute this to the team’s early-season struggles. By the time the team came together and began thriving, Mitch was in street clothes.)

Another easy move is to bring Gibson back this offseason. He’s best-suited as a 4th big/coach in uniform, but he’s shown this year that there’s enough in the tank to give you solid stretches when called upon.

The big need here is a backup center. Could Noel fill this role? I mean, sure. The problem, though, is two-fold:

  1. Despite my criticisms, Noel’s played well enough to earn a raise. From a team-building perspective, how much can the Knicks afford to spend on such a one-dimensional player?
  2. If the Knicks want to take the next step, they need the ability to win multiple ways. Offensively, they’ve got the rim-runner in Robinson — the backup should give opponents a different look when Mitch rests.

So stretch-5 should be near the top of Leon Rose’s offseason to-do list, perhaps just below “Superstar (if the price is right).”

If Toppin’s growth includes the ability to slide over to center, perfect. His defense has already been better than advertised; he’s athletic enough to provide rim protection once he gets more comfortable with the rotations; he snatches rebounds at their apex, and he’ll be a major mismatch on the other end as he improves.

But if not, there are plenty of interesting options available, from the more expensive Kelly Olynyk (39.2% from 3 with HOU) to cheap options like Gorgui Dieng (43% this year) and Frank Kaminsky (36.5%), just to name a few.

(I’d also be open to a reunion with Robin Lopez who, while not a stretch, still presents a different look from Mitch, what with his unstoppable hook shot and all…)

Someone who can stress defenses with something other than rim-running would be a welcome addition to this squad, and while none of them are remotely close to Noel in terms of natural defensive ability, the Thibs Effect will raise their play on that end, too.