The Knicks have a big financial decision looming with OG Anunoby

New York Knicks forward OG Anunoby (8) during the third quarter against the Denver Nuggets at Madison Square Garden
Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Over the last 17 games of the season, the New York Knicks have embarked on a 15-2 run (have won nine straight) and not by coincidence. This impressive turn of events has led the Knicks to produce a 32-17 record as they sit in third place in the Eastern Conference, only five games out of first.

Uniquely enough, this exciting run began on New Year’s Day. But the most fascinating wrinkle of all comes down to the fact that on December 30, 2023, the Knicks traded for former Toronto Raptors small forward OG Anunoby, sparking an intriguing notion that just maybe this trade was the difference maker the Knicks were looking for all along.

In the 14 games Anunoby’s started for the Knicks (averaging 35.7 minutes), he’s posting 15.6 points per game, 4.6 rebounds, 1.8 steals, 1.5 assists, and 1.1 blocks while shooting a career-high 51.6% from the field. Though some might think Anunoby and former Knicks forward RJ Barrett are similar players (seeing they swapped teams following the trade), they are actually quite different. In fact, their own unique differences in talent have played a major role in why the Knicks thrived throughout the month of January.

If you look closely at the numbers between Barrett and Anunoby, there are two glaring differences between the two, and the Knicks have benefited tremendously from the latter’s skillset. The first distinction is that Anunoby brings a much higher efficiency level from the field than Barrett has over his career while also taking fewer shots per game.

While Anunoby has a 47.5 career field goal percentage, Barrett’s career average is significantly lower at 42.8%. And over the 2023-24 season so far, Anunoby averages 11.7 field goal attempts per game while Barrett averages 14.8 (and in previous seasons, it has been higher). Uncannily enough, Barrett is now shooting 55% from the field ever since he became a Raptor. But over four and a half years as a Knick, Barrett didn’t have a single season where he shot over 45% from the field.

The Knicks Are a Better Team with OG Anunoby

With Anunoby now a Knick, scorers like Jalen Brunson, Julius Randle, and even shooting specialists like Donte DiVincenzo and Quentin Grimes can receive more opportunities to put points on the board. While at the same time, the team has a much more efficient scoring outlet that will make the most of his shot attempts in Anunoby.

The second key skill that Anunoby brings to the table that Barrett just doesn’t match, is his defensive prowess. From the number of steals and blocks per game to the physical nature of his defensive presence (especially on the perimeter), Anunoby’s provided the Knicks with a major boost defensively despite already being robust in that area. This is not to mention that Anunoby is 6 foot 7, 232 pounds while Barrett is 6 foot 6, 214 pounds, fortifying their ranks with a much more imposing defender.

On the other hand, what Barrett brings that Anunoby doesn’t do as well is rebounding. However, do the Knicks really need more rebounding? The answer is no, seeing the Knicks are third in the league in rebounding thanks to the likes of Randle, Isaiah Hartenstein, Josh Hart, and now have more rebounding help with newcomers Precious Achiuwa and Anunoby.

Though it might seem like a small change, adding Anunoby had a big ripple effect on the Knicks’ ability to strengthen their shooting efficiency and become even more challenging to face defensively. Prior to the New Year, the Knicks were 17-15. And to see such a massive swing in success, now posing as legitimate Eastern Conference Finals contenders, it does beg one question: Should the Knicks re-sign Anunoby to a new contract following the 2023-24 campaign?

The four-year deal that Anunoby received in Toronto came with a player option for the 2024-25 season. That means, by June 29, 2024, Anunoby has the choice to either return to the Knicks for one more season with a base salary of $19.9 million or opt-out and become an unrestricted free agent. If he chooses to come back, the Knicks won’t have to worry about much until the following summer. But if he doesn’t, should the Knicks capitalize on bringing him back to a new deal?

The answer is yes. But re-signing him to a long-term, four-year deal like he had with the Raptors is something the Knicks should avoid. Though the soon-to-be 27-year-old is entering his physical prime and coming off a solid tenure in Toronto, a strong half-season with the Knicks might not be enough to warrant such a big, new deal.

If Anunoby is open to a smaller, two-to-three-year contract, the Knicks should try to re-sign him and give him the proper opportunity to prove his worth and become the key asset he can be for this title-aspiring franchise.

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