The New York Knicks starting five is likely set ahead of the 2021-22 season, with the exception of Kemba Walker and Derrick Rose likely interchanging spots. However, the second team combination could go several different directions, but ideally, head coach Tom Thibodeau will look to get some of his younger pieces on the floor who can contribute immediately.
While rookies Miles McBride and Quentin Grimes looked good during Summer League play, it is unlikely they earn ample minutes this upcoming season, rather featuring on the third team or in garbage time.
Let’s take a look at what the second unit could look like and what each player’s role will be.
Projected 2nd team combination:
PG: Derrick Rose
As stated above, Rose and Walker could interchange spots on a nightly basis. However, the expectation is that Walker will get the majority of starting minutes, but Rose could shift in shortly after to mitigate fatigue.
The veteran point guard averaged 14.9 points, 4.2 assists, and shot nearly 49% from the field. There’s no question he can help some of the younger pieces on the team elevate their play and develop during live action. The drop-off from Walker to Rose isn’t significant, giving the Knicks consistent PG play throughout games.
SF: Alec Burks
Burks ended up being one of the more surprising players last season. Signing a three-year extension, Burks wan’t only clutch in the fourth quarter but averaged 12.7 points, 4.6 assists, and shot 41.5% from the three-point line. His value off the bench is essential to the Knicks’ long-term success, as he contributes instant offense and spaces the floor exceptionally well. At 29-years-old, he will have a key spot off the bench and can supplement multiple positions, including shooting guard and small forward.
PF: Obi Toppin
With Julius Randle starting at power forward, Obi Toppin will have a tough time earning minutes. Randle doesn’t come off the floor very often, as he played in 71 games last year and averaged 37.6 minutes per game. Given an NBA game has 48 minutes, that is 10 extra minutes to spare where Toppin can make an impact. He has been working diligently to improve his shooting and isolation moves this off-season after averaging just 4.1 points last year. If he can improve his defense, Thibodeau will have more trust with him on the floor.
SG: Immanuel Quickley
The Knicks will obviously be looking to find ways to include Immanuel Quickley in their game plan. Quickley spent the off-season playing point guard with the Summer League team. During his rookie campaign, he averaged 11.4 points, 2.0 assists and shot an impressive 39% from three-point range. He’s also an 89% free-throw shooter, offering consistency in multiple categories. The likelihood is that Quickley features in a shooting guard role, but he has the potential to be a long-term solution at point guard after the contracts of Rose and Walker expire in two years.
The Knicks loved the combination of Rose and Quickley last season, so expect to see plenty more of that duo moving forward.
C: Nerlens Noel
The Knicks reassured Noel that he would have the opportunity to compete for starting minutes alongside Mitchell Robinson. After Robinson went down with a fractured foot and hand last season, Noel stepped into his position valiantly. While he doesn’t offer much as a scoring center, he was phenomenal on the boards, averaging 6.4 rebounds and 2.2 blocks per game, a career-high.
I anticipate that Robinson will start out of the gate, given his ability to guard the perimeter and down low with physicality. Noel has great anticipation but lacks the functional strength to defend against some power forwards and scoring centers in the low-post. He will likely feature on the second team, where he can still make an impact daily.