The Knicks can’t count on the bench to elevate the starters any longer

During the first two months of the regular season, the Knicks relied heavily on the bench to supplement deficiencies from the starters. Former All-Star Julius Randle has taken a significant step in the wrong direction after landing a four-year, $117 million extension, and RJ Barrett has been streaky at times.

Injuries to Derrick Rose and Kemba Walker have also been difficult to replace, forcing the Knicks to ask bench players to play major roles, which was always unsustainable. To start the new year, the Knicks have been up and down with their success, winning five and losing five. The team’s latest three-game losing streak has been ugly though, dropping a tough game against the New Orleans Pelicans on Thursday night.

To start 2022, the trio of Alec Burks, Immanuel Quickley, and Obi Toppin has struggled considerably to contribute at a high level. In the month of January, Toppin is averaging a measly 4.4 points, 2.8 rebounds, and just 15.2 minutes per game. Quickley, on the other hand, is averaging 10.3 points, 3.5 assists, and 23.3 minutes on average. Somehow, with Derrick Rose missing a minimum of eight weeks, Quickley has actually experienced a reduction in overall minutes played.

Burks has seen 2.3 last minutes compared to December, scoring 9.8 points, 5.5 rebounds, 3.36, and shooting just 28.6% from three-point range. With all three of the team’s primary bench options struggling to start the year, the Knicks’ starters have been asked to pick up the slack, a turn of the tables.

With the team struggling, fans at MSG have been hostile, booing the home team and making their displeasure known. Against the Pelicans, starter Josh Hart stated that it was like playing “6-on-5”:

“It was like we were playing 6-on-5,” New Orleans guard Josh Hart told reporters, referring to the fans’ chilly response to the Knicks, after the Pelicans’ win at the Garden. “Usually on the road, your back’s against the wall, really the only guys that you have is guys in that locker room.

“Today, the fans weren’t on our side, but they just weren’t on their side, either.”

RJ Barrett’s response holds some merit but is also an awful excuse for simply lacking energy as a team:

“Teams get up to play in the Garden. This is a great place to be,” RJ Barrett, who starts alongside Randle, said after the loss said. “[Opponents] have a lot of pride. They want to succeed, they want to succeed here on the biggest stage. We just have to know that and come out and hit people first instead of playing from behind.”

The Knicks should be getting up to play at an extremely high level every single game, no matter the arena. That’s partially the problem of the team’s current issues and why relying on bench players to supplement the starter’s struggling is inefficient.