Could the Knicks take an offensive-minded approach when replacing Isaiah Hartenstein?

Apr 5, 2024; Chicago, Illinois, USA; Chicago Bulls center Nikola Vucevic (9) watches his three point basket go in against the New York Knicks during the first quarter at United Center. Mandatory Credit: David Banks-USA TODAY Sports
Credit: David Banks-USA TODAY Sports

The New York Knicks are now tasked with ensuring that their lineup at center is ready to anchor them to a hopeful NBA Finals run in 2024-25.

The Knicks lost featured center Isaiah Hartenstein to the Oklahoma City Thunder this offseason and could lose UFA Precious Achiuwa as well as trade away starting center Mitchell Robinson. With these moving parts to take into account, one NBA writer matched the Knicks with a talented scoring big man who could use a change of scenery next season.

The Sporting News’ Colin Keane highlighted Chicago Bulls center Nikola Vucevic as an option the Knicks could target to jolt their offense without compromising too much on the defensive side of the floor, justifying his selection by saying this in part, including who the Knicks would have to give up in a potential trade:

“While Vucevic’s poor defense might not align perfectly with the Knicks’ playing style, it would be minimized by New York’s array of relentless defenders on the perimeter,” Keane wrote.

“On the other hand, the oftentimes offensively challenged Knicks would benefit greatly from┬áVucevic’s scoring, and his age (33) fits nicely within New York’s win-now timeline.”

“For the money to work, the Knicks would have to send center Mitchell Robinson (2 years/$27.3M remaining) and center Jericho Sims (1 year/$2.1M) to Chicago for┬áVucevic.”

There’s no better time than now for the Knicks to trade for Nikola Vucevic

Apr 14, 2024; New York, New York, USA;  Chicago Bulls center Nikola Vucevic (9) and New York Knicks center Isaiah Hartenstein (55) at Madison Square Garden. Mandatory Credit: Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports
Credit: Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports

The stage is set for Vucevic to leave the Bulls this summer. The 6-10 five man is on a Bulls team that just traded two-time reigning All-Defensive point guard Alex Caruso for the promising, yet still raw point forward Josh Giddey and saw backup center Andre Drummond leave for the Philadelphia 76ers.

The recent slate of roster moves has not sat well with Vucevic’s star teammate DeMar DeRozan, who could be looking to move to L.A. to team up with LeBron James on the Lakers or replace Paul George on the Clippers. The third member of their big three, Zach LaVine, is also likely on his way out of town this summer.

Knicks could benefit greatly from Vucevic’s offensive polish

Knicks, Mitchell Robinson Chicago Bulls center Nikola Vucevic (9) shoots against New York Knicks center Mitchell Robinson (23) during the first half at Madison Square Garden

Vucevic could give the Knicks a lot on offense. The 33-year-old put up 18 points, 10.5 rebounds and 3.3 assists in 34.3 minutes a night for the Bulls last season. He remains one of the best scoring centers in basketball. Vucevic is able to score in the low and mid-post. He also has a natural feel for putting the ball on the floor and getting to the rim with a head of steam from the top of the key or elbows for layups at the rim.

The USC product has never been known to be an elite rim protector. He rejected 0.8 shots in 2023-24, which falls right in line with his 0.9 BPG career average. He also sported a poor 115.7 defensive rating on the previous campaign. While he is a reliable double-double producer, Vucevic’s 8.8 percent offensive rebounding percentage from last season falls way short of Hartenstein’s 14.4 percent clip. He also does not have the makings of Robinson, whose 4.6 OREB percentage led the league last season.

Knicks president Leon Rose would have to decide if stockpiling high-end scorers would benefit the franchise in a case like this, or if settling for a more traditional bruiser at center would allow the mouths that the Knicks already have to eat sufficiently. Robinson and Sims have serviced New York well in their respective tenures. However, in a quest for a championship, roster upgrades will be a revolving door that could usher both out of town.

Vucevic’s offensive talent goes without saying, but it hasn’t always translated to playoff success, seeing that he has not advanced past the first round of the playoffs since 2012, his only time in the Conference Semifinals. Yet, he remains an intriguing name to keep tabs on.

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