Could the Knicks start the bench against Indiana if they remain short-handed?

The New York Knicks are coming off two disappointing defeats against the Oklahoma City Thunder and Toronto Raptors. Against OKC, the team felt the brunt of Julius Randle’s absence due to the NBA’s Covid protocols.

Without point guards Derrick Rose and Kemba Walker, the Knicks failed to spread the ball efficiently and pick up assists. In fact, Randle currently leads the team with 5.0 assists per game, so losing that important statistical factor resulted in poor ball movement and inefficient shooting.

Randle suffered plenty of heat due to inconsistent shooting and porous defense on social media, but after being subject to health protocols, the team is wishing they had their star power forward. Fans even went as far as to call for his benching, pointing to statistics that suggested the Knicks were more efficient when he was off the floor. However, they didn’t account for the minutes he was commanding attention and allowing his teammates to capitalize.

“That’s the day and age of social media. That’s why you don’t pay attention to it. It doesn’t matter. …It’s like the backup quarterback. Everybody thinks he should start until he starts,” Thibs said regarding the negative attention Julius has received via Stefan Bondy of the Daily News.

The Knicks have turned to the bench to replace Randle’s minutes:

In his absence, the Knicks have supplemented his minutes with Obi Toppin, who played a career-high 45 minutes against the Raptors in Sunday’s defeat. In fact, Toppin has played in 20 minutes or more over his last three games.

Against the Raptors, Toppin tied his career-high of 19 points, contributing two blocks, six assists, and six rebounds. He had some good moments as a rebounder using his physicality, but his positioning still needs work, especially in the five role.

The primary factor Toppin brings is his proficiency in transition, pushing the floor with energy and pace. He is an electrifying catalyst for the offense at times, but the Knicks lack the point guard play to help him maximize his attributes productively.

Toppin‘s development has been apparent on both sides of the ball this season, but he still has his fair share of issues. One statistical category that he desperately needs to improve upon is three-point shooting. Toppin is averaging just 21.4% from three-point range this season, an abysmal number that has limited his contributions.

Until Toppin can knock down his shots at 35% or better, he’s going to face added pressure to compensate with elite interior scoring abilities. His isolation game was on full display against Toronto, who utilized a small-ball strategy against New York.

With Randle expected to miss several more games as a result of a positive Covid test, Toppin will have plenty of more opportunities to showcase his growth this season. Considering the Indiana Pacers have lost five of their last six games, Toppin has another excellent opportunity to string together another productive performance.

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