New Knicks conundrum: Who should Obi Toppin replace in the 9-man rotation?

Jericho Sims, Isaiah Hartenstein, New York Knicks
Dec 9, 2022; Charlotte, North Carolina, USA; New York Knicks center Jericho Sims (45), center Isaiah Hartenstein (55) and Charlotte Hornets guard Terry Rozier (3) fight for a rebound during the first half at the Spectrum Center. Mandatory Credit: Sam Sharpe-USA TODAY Sports

With Obi Toppin’s return imminent, which could be as early as Monday’s home game against the Milwaukee Bucks, the big question begging for an answer is who should he replace in the New York Knicks nine-man rotation?

In Toppin’s 15-game absence due to a non-displaced right fibula head fracture, Jericho Sims took his spot in the second unit and has fared well, especially on the defensive end.

While Sims’ numbers next to Isaiah Hartenstein weren’t eye-popping: 2.5 points and 3.8 rebounds in 11.5 minutes, his switchability on defense has endeared him to Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau.

Sure, Thibodeau was a big fan of the Hartenstein off-season signing, but the Knicks’ chief backup center has struggled to adjust to a new role. In an effort to replicate Mitchell Robinson’s rim protection, Thibodeau has been using Hartenstein more as a rim diver than playing in his comfort zone, the high-post, which he successfully did with the Los Angeles Clippers bench unit last season.

Hartenstein flourished at the start of the season. In his first 16 games with the Knicks, he averaged 7.0 points on 54.5 percent shooting, with 7.8 rebounds and 1.2 blocks in 24.2 minutes as a part-time starting center when Robinson missed eight games due to a knee injury.

But since Robinsons’ return on Nov. 20, Hartenstein’s numbers went down with his playing time — 4.3 points on 46.2 percent shooting, with 5.4 rebounds and 0.4 blocks in 16.1 minutes exclusively off the bench. More often than not, he’s been bullied inside the paint and killed on the switch.

“I love the depth. And whatever we decide to do, that’s part of sacrificing for the team and putting the team first, and understanding how the team is playing right now also is an important part of it.

We have a really good group of guys, with high character, and you have to put the team first. Everyone’s gotta be willing to make sacrifices for the team.”

Tom Thibodeau via NY Post

As the Toppin’s minute-watch becomes increasingly moot with Julius Randle reviving his All-Star form, the battle for a rotation spot between the two backup bigs is the next Knicks conundrum.

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