In the wake of Knicks‘ Mitchell Robinson’s fractured right thumb requiring surgery, a look at what New York can do to replace the center in the rotation during his injury absence and other notes:
The Knicks signed center Isaiah Hartenstein to a three-year deal in the offseason to back up Robinson. Hartenstein had several suitors in free agency. The Knicks had to be aggressive in their pursuit of the 24-year-old. When they landed him, the Knicks believed Hartenstein could provide the versatility (shooting, passing) that they’d previously lacked at the position.
That theory will be put under the microscope in the wake of Robinson’s thumb injury.
In a perfect world for New York, Hartenstein and Jericho Sims slide into the rotation seamlessly. The Knicks will remain competitive during Robinson’s absence and pick up where they left off once he returns. But the numbers suggest that replacing Robinson won’t be so simple.
The difference in the Knicks’ net rating with him on the court (+8.2) and off the court (-1.2) is significant. The +9.3 mark is the best among Knick rotation players. New York also averages four more second-chance points per game with Robinson on the floor. His impact on defense goes beyond the numbers.
Hartenstein’s net-rating differential is -5.4, lowest among Knick rotation players outside of RJ Barrett.
Obviously, that statistic doesn’t fully encompass a player’s impact, but it gives you some context on how much Robinson has impacted winning for the Knicks thus far.
Something else worth noting in the wake of Robinson’s injury: the Knicks played at a pace near the bottom of the NBA with him on the court this season. They played at a top 10 pace with him off the court. So maybe the pace will increase during Robinson’s absence?
Whether they play faster or slower, it will be up to Hartenstein and Sims to fill the void for Robinson initially. And Tom Thibodeau could also play Julius Randle at center.
If the Knicks are looking for insurance at center during Robinson’s absence, Serge Ibaka is among a group of veteran big men they could pursue. Nerlens Noel is available on the trade market. But that would be a strange reunion since the Knicks traded Noel in the offseason to create cap space for the Jalen brunson signing.
I’d be surprised if the Knicks pursued a bigger name like Myles Turner at this point. Could New York open its rotation to include Evan Fournier, Derrick Rose or Cam Reddish? That’s unclear.
But it’s worth noting that teams in touch with the Knicks say they are seeking a second-round pick in return for Reddish in a trade.
New York traded Kevin Knox and a first-round pick (protected 1-16 in 2023, 1-14 in 2024 and 1-14 in 2025, for RealGM) for Reddish in January 2022.
Thibodeau used him irregularly in the aftermath of the trade. He played regularly for New York earlier in the season while Quentin Grimes was out with a foot injury. Reddish was removed from the rotation following the Knicks’ home loss to Dallas on December 3. Thibodeau shortened his rotation and inserted Miles McBride.
The Knicks have gone 15-8 since the rotation change. Reddish has been a DNP-CD since that date.
Several teams have been monitoring Reddish’s situation in New York, dating back to last season. The Heat, Bucks and Lakers are among the teams who reached out to the Knicks to talk about Reddish since the 2022 NBA trade deadline. I’d assume that those three teams – and others – have remained in touch with New York on Reddish. Team personnel in Miami are intrigued by the 23-year-old.
It’s logical to assume the Knicks try to get as much as they can in any Reddish deal, whether the trade sends out Reddish alone or as part of a package of Knicks. But they have talked to teams about taking back a future second-rounder in deals that solely involve Reddish.
New York has the second-toughest remaining schedule, according to Tankathon.com. That suggests the schedule has been easy thus far. But a closer look shows the Knicks’ schedule has had its challenges.
They are the only NBA team that hasn’t played a game in which they’ve had a ‘rest advantage,’ which occurs when you are playing after a practice/rest day and your opponent is playing the second game of a back-to -back.
For the season, the Knicks have the fewest games in which their opponent is facing a rest disadvantage (seven). They have just two upcoming games in which they have a rest advantage. That net (-5 rest games) is tied with the Warriors for the second-lowest mark in the NBA. The Spurs (-6 rest advantage games) have the league’s lowest mark.
The Lakers and Raptors each have a net +6 in rest advantage games for the season.
The Knicks’ overtime loss to Toronto on Monday is an example of a rest disadvantage game. New York was on the second game of a back-to-back (with the previous game being on the road in Detroit). The game tipped off at 3 pm and Toronto was off the previous day and already in New York. The Knicks’ home loss on Dec. 21 to the Raptors was also the second game of a back-to-back home. Toronto played that game after an off day in the middle of a road trip.
Something else worth noting on the schedule: New York is 1-4 in home games that tip off at 3 pm or earlier. They are 11-13 overall at home.