Knicks new trade addition could electrify the starting lineup in 2024

NBA: Brooklyn Nets at Philadelphia 76ers
Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

Mikal Bridges came at a pretty hefty price for the New York Knicks, dealing a haul of first-round picks for a player who hasn’t ever made an All-Star Game. Leon Rose made a gusty call to pay a high price, but the Knicks have not been shy about paying more for a player than the public would be willing to. The biggest reason they’re even in a contention window is because of a hefty investment in an unproven guard like Jalen Brunson, and this past winter we saw a shocking trade for OG Anunoby that saw two homegrown players shipped away, a deal that’s aged well to this point.

This is shaping up to be the third installment of Leon Rose and the Knicks’ FO aggressively going after a player who checks off every box for what this roster needs, and Mikal Bridges could be the piece that brings a title to Madison Square Garden.

Why Mikal Bridges is the Perfect Fit for the Knicks

NBA: Brooklyn Nets at New York Knicks
Credit: Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

The five-man lineup last year with Jalen Brunson, Donte DiVincenzo, OG Anunoby, Julius Randle, and Isaiah Hartenstein was one of the best in the NBA. Some would say it’s odd for the Knicks to try and make a change there for a player like Mikal Bridges who hasn’t made an All-Star team in his career, but that’s a surface-level take that doesn’t take into account where that lineup struggled.

While DiVincenzo is an excellent player, the Knicks were significantly worse with him on the court defensively, with a +7.8 swing in Offensive Rating in the opposing team’s favor when he played. Defense EPM views DiVincenzo as a very average player on that side of the ball, which I think is a more accurate assessment than the raw net rating, but Bridges would be a massive step up from that.

Looking at the wings and guards the Knicks relied heavily on at various points of last season, OG Anunoby clearly separates himself from the group as the most versatile and challenged defender. Mikal Bridges, while not as good as the aforementioned Anunoby, would have been the Knicks’ second-most challenged and versatile defender. Having him and Anunoby share the court gives New York an incredible duo of wing defenders that can switch onto any ballhandler in the league.

Defense was a problem for the Knicks in the postseason, who had the second-worst Defensive Rating (120.6) in the playoffs last year. It left them vulnerable to rallies, and it often took heroic efforts from Jalen Brunson to take down teams that couldn’t hold a candle to Boston. Locking up Isaiah Hartenstein will be another huge part of their ability to remain stout defensively, but their wing defense was easily their weakest link.

That’s not the only side of the ball where Mikal Bridges’ impact will be felt, as while Donte DiVincenzo is the better shooter, Bridges has strong shooting abilities of his own and is a strong shot-creator. His ability to draw attention from defenders because of his strong perimeter offense and ability to facilitate for himself and others makes him a perfect pairing not just with Jalen Brunson, but with Julius Randle as well. We all know the physical threat Randle can be for a defense, but the numbers back up just how deadly he can be at the rim:

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Teams will have to account for Anunoby, Brunson, and Bridges on the perimeter whenever they try to send two at Julius Randle in the paint, and we could see the two-time All-NBA forward tear apart defenses. His physicality was sorely missed in the postseason, and even he took on some difficult assignments (83rd Percentile Matchup Difficulty) defensively that would be alleviated a little with Bridges doing some heavy lifting.

If you’re being told that Mikal Bridges is a lateral or only marginally better than what the Knicks already had, you’re being completely misled. People have made the comparison to Dejounte Murray, who was recently traded to the Pelicans at a much lower price, but failed to account for defensive value and how a player could improve in a new system. The Brooklyn Nets were asking Bridges to fill the role of a superstar whereas the Knicks would be asking him to be the player he was in Phoenix.

Mikal Bridges was not content with his position in Brooklyn, playing for a team completely out of contention that would get their arena taken over by the Knicks whenever the two matched up there. The player I think more accurately represents the role Bridges could have here is Derrick White, whom I consider to be the best role player in basketball. A guy who contributes near All-Star value despite averaging fewer than 16 points a night thanks to his excellent defense and strong all-around game.

NBA: Chicago Bulls at Brooklyn Nets

The Knicks desperately needed another two-way wing that could continue to take pressure off of the responsibilities Jalen Brunson had on offense and OG Anunoby had on defense. Teams can’t just hone in on matchups, and having a deep lineup is the most effective way to win in the NBA. Boston absolutely dominated the NBA from start to finish, and that was by having a starting five that had both the individual talent and synergy to overwhelm opponents.

I would be lying if I said that Mikal Bridges was a superstar, but that doesn’t mean he cannot provide value at a high level. OG Anunoby isn’t one and we’d consider him to be arguably the second-best player on this team. As currently constructed, the Knicks are perfectly set up to contend for a title if they’re able to bring back Isaiah Hartenstein (which seems very much up in the air).

You’d think Mikal Bridges would improve upon his 2023-2024 EPM numbers (which is the data we’re using for this graphic), but even if everyone remains the same on both sides, the Knicks would have a lineup that stacks up with the very best in the NBA. This is a huge trade for the Knicks with the potential to result in a championship, but now they’ll have to prove that they can stay healthy and get the job done when it matters most.

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