Should the Knicks make a change to the starting lineup until OG Anunoby returns?

May 12, 2024; Indianapolis, Indiana, USA;  Indiana Pacers guard Andrew Nembhard (2) shoots the ball while New York Knicks forward Precious Achiuwa (5) defends during game four of the second round for the 2024 NBA playoffs at Gainbridge Fieldhouse. Mandatory Credit: Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports
Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

After charging to a 2-0 series lead over the Indiana Pacers early in the Eastern Conference Semifinals, the New York Knicks have hit the skids, dropping both Games 3 and 4 in Indiana as the series heads back to New York tied 2-2.

OG Anunoby joins a long list of Knicks injuries

May 2, 2024; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA; New York Knicks forward OG Anunoby (8) looks on from the bench during a timeout in the first half against the Philadelphia 76ers in game six of the first round for the 2024 NBA playoffs at Wells Fargo Center. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports
May 2, 2024; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA; New York Knicks forward OG Anunoby (8) looks on from the bench during a timeout in the first half against the Philadelphia 76ers in game six of the first round for the 2024 NBA playoffs at Wells Fargo Center. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

The Knicks’ struggles of late can be largely attributed to the slew of injuries the team has faced, with OG Anunoby being the most recent victim of the injury bug. In Game 2 against the Indiana Pacers, Anunoby was in the midst of the best playoff game of his career, scoring 28 points through the first two and a half quarters.

Anunoby’s barrage came to a stop late in the third quarter, when the forward suffered a hamstring injury while attempting a layup, the last thing the Knicks wanted to see. Anunoby would not return to Game 2 after exiting and would remain out for Games 3 and 4.

Anunoby’s status for the remainder of the series remains very much up in the air. The latest update from head coach Tom Thibodeau suggests that the two-way wing’s return is not imminent, as he has been limited to “pool work” and has not begun running since suffering the injury.

Precious Achiuwa started in place of Anunoby in Games 3 and 4

May 6, 2024; New York, New York, USA; Indiana Pacers forward Pascal Siakam (43) controls the ball against New York Knicks forward Precious Achiuwa (5) during the second quarter of game one of the second round of the 2024 NBA playoffs at Madison Square Garden. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports
May 6, 2024; New York, New York, USA; Indiana Pacers forward Pascal Siakam (43) controls the ball against New York Knicks forward Precious Achiuwa (5) during the second quarter of game one of the second round of the 2024 NBA playoffs at Madison Square Garden. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

In both Games 3 and 4, Precious Achiuwa took over Anunoby’s place in the starting lineup, which yielded poor results. After losing Game 3 in heartbreaking fashion thanks to an Andrew Nembhard go-ahead 3-pointer in the closing seconds, the Knicks were embarrassed in Game 4, losing 121-89 and trailing by as much as 43 at one point. Achiuwa managed just 13 points combined through the two games, and it’s clear that the Knicks’ plan of sacrificing offense for defense has not worked.

The Knicks have produced poor results without Anunoby

Judging from the eye test alone, it’s clear that the lack of spacing that comes with a frontcourt featuring Josh Hart, Achiuwa, and Isaiah Hartenstein has hurt the Knicks’ offense drastically, giving Jalen Brunson and Donte DiVincenzo limited room to operate and get open looks. That lack of spacing has resulted in very slow starts offensively for the Knicks, falling behind by double digits early in both Games 3 and 4.

A lineup change is needed for the Knicks to have a chance versus high-powered Pacers offense

NBA: Utah Jazz at New York Knicks
Jan 30, 2024; New York, New York, USA; New York Knicks head coach Tom Thibodeau reacts during the fourth quarter against the Utah Jazz at Madison Square Garden. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

If the Knicks want to have any chance at matching Indiana’s explosive offense and regaining control of the series, it begins with a lineup change. Starting Miles McBride instead of Precious Achiuwa until Anunoby is able to return to action gives the Knicks the best chance at weathering the injury storm. While this move would make the Knicks lineup considerably smaller, the ability to respond to the Pacers’ high-powered offense has to be New York’s top priority going forward.

McBride gave the Knicks lineup a jolt in the regular season, in 172 minutes this season, the five-man lineup of Brunson-McBride-Divincenzo-Hart-Hartenstein posted an impressive 31.1 net rating, the highest of any Knicks lineup that played more than 96 minutes this season.

The results with Achiuwa instead of McBride weren’t necessarily bad, as the five-man lineup of Brunson-Divincenzo-Hart-Achiuwa-Hartenstein posted a 6.4 net rating across 189 minutes, but if Games 3 and 4 are any indication, sacrificing offense by starting Achiuwa is simply not a viable option in this series.

The Knicks will look to bounce back after Sunday’s Mother’s Day Massacre in Game 5 on Tuesday. With the series now tied 2-2, how the Knicks manage their ever-so-thin rotation could be the deciding factor in the Knicks’ chances to advance to the Eastern Conference Finals.

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