How will the Knicks fill their Mitchell Robinson void?

NBA: New York Knicks at Charlotte Hornets
Nell Redmond-USA TODAY Sports

The New York Knicks will be without dominant big man Mitchell Robinson for the foreseeable future as he underwent ankle surgery earlier this week and won’t be re-evaluated for 8-10 weeks.

Robinson was in the midst of a breakout season, being one of the league’s best rim protectors, as well as the NBA’s best offensive rebounder, leading the association with 5.3 offensive rebounds per game. With Robinson out for an extended period of time, the Knicks must identify who will fill his void in the starting lineup.

Third-string center likely to see more playing time with Robinson out

Robinson carries big shoes to fill, and his absence will certainly be a test of the Knicks’ depth. Last season, a thumb injury in January sidelined Robinson for over a month.

In the meantime, third-string center Jericho Sims filled in Robinson’s place in the starting lineup, averaging 4.2 points and 6.3 rebounds per game in 16 starts. This season, Sims figures to be featured heavily once again in Robinson’s absence, getting the start and playing 21 minutes in New York’s victory over the Toronto Raptors on Monday.

Isaiah Hartenstein could see an increased role in Robinson’s absence

Backup center Isaiah Hartenstein could also see a jump in his minutes as a result. Hailed as one of the NBA’s best backup centers, Hartenstein is more than capable of holding it down until Robinson recovers.

Hartenstein has already seen a sizable increase in minutes since Robinson went down, logging 27 minutes against the Raptors on Monday, the second-most minutes he has played in a game this season, behind only his 29 minutes against the Boston Celtics three days prior.

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Could the Knicks play small ball without their dominant 7-footer?

Is it possible the Knicks decide to play small ball? Yes, but it is not likely. In the past, the Knicks experimented with frontcourts that featured Obi Toppin and Julius Randle. In the 2022-2023 season, Toppin and Randle played 72 minutes together over the span of 16 games, amounting to a porous -5.7 net rating on the court.

However, the Knicks’ backup power forward is no longer Obi Toppin, as Josh Hart has taken over those duties. This makes it even less likely for head coach Tom Thibodeau to experiment with small ball lineups in Robinson’s absence — especially considering that New York has yet to feature a lineup this season without one of Mitchell Robinson, Isaiah Hartenstein, or Jericho Sims.

The Knicks’ depth will be tested in the upcoming weeks

New York survived Robinson’s absence last season, going 12-11 in the games he missed. However, this season figures to be tougher. The Knicks are smaller this season compared to last, and their offense was heavily reliant on Robinson securing second-chance opportunities on the offensive glass. Their depth will be put to the test for the next several weeks, and with a tough schedule on the horizon, it’s now put up or shut up time for the New York Knicks.