mikal bridges
July 9, 2024, 5:43 a.m.

How the New York Knicks Can Incorporate Mikal Bridges Into Their Lineup Next Season

Despite losing star center Isaiah Hartenstein to the Oklahoma City Thunder in free agency, the New York Knicks have emerged as one of the significant beneficiaries of the off-season thus far. The addition of Mikal Bridges without sacrificing any rotation players to the Brooklyn Nets, coupled with the retention of OG Anunoby, positions the Knicks as top-tier contenders for the 2024-25 season.

However, with the New York Knicks potentially possessing the deepest roster in the NBA, boasting a rotation of nine or ten players, head coach Tom Thibodeau faces the complex task of ensuring that deserving players receive adequate playing time. While injuries are an inevitable aspect of the sport, as the Knicks know all too well, they will begin the season with at least nine players requiring consistent court time.

Key Players and Projected Lineup

The core players anticipated to require substantial minutes are Jalen Brunson, Julius Randle, Mikal Bridges, OG Anunoby, Mitchell Robinson, Donte DiVincenzo, Josh Hart, Miles McBride, and a yet-to-be-acquired backup center (potentially Precious Achiuwa, if he returns). The first five players listed are expected to form New York's conventional starting lineup, although matchups and in-game scenarios will dictate the specific configurations employed at any given time.

Assuming Mitchell Robinson remains healthy in 2025 (a considerable uncertainty), the Knicks will likely predominantly utilize their standard starting lineup: Brunson, Bridges, Anunoby, Randle, and Robinson. Robinson is currently the sole true center on the roster as New York continues its search for a backup big man. Should Achiuwa return in this role, the responsibility of being the primary center will heavily fall on his shoulders.

Defensive and Offensive Strategy

This lineup is projected to be highly competitive, potentially ranking among the top three starting units alongside the Boston Celtics, Denver Nuggets, Minnesota Timberwolves, Philadelphia 76ers, and Thunder. It has the potential to be both a top-five offensive and defensive lineup, featuring four elite offensive players and three of the premier defenders in basketball.

Mikal Bridges and OG Anunoby form one of the league's most formidable wing defense tandems, offering a strategic advantage against players like Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown as New York strives to dominate the Eastern Conference. Additionally, Robinson's exceptional abilities as a rim protector and rebounder will pose a significant challenge for opposing offenses, including the NBA's elite.

Brunson and Randle have also demonstrated flashes of defensive prowess throughout their careers, and with reduced offensive burdens, they have the opportunity to further elevate their defensive performance.

Mitigating Robinson’s Offensive Limitations

Offensively, the primary limitation of this five-man group is Robinson's lack of shooting ability and limited ball-handling skills. While he excels as a screen-setter, lob threat, and offensive rebounder, his presence on the floor may impact the Knicks' spacing. Therefore, New York will need to employ creative strategies to utilize him effectively as a screener, roller, and off-ball screen-setter to generate space for his teammates.

Despite his offensive limitations, Robinson's defensive contributions significantly outweigh his deficiencies, although opponents may exploit his presence to challenge New York's offense.

One tactical approach to mitigate Robinson's offensive limitations is to occasionally remove him from the floor. While this strategy will only be effective in specific matchups, given his importance in guarding star big men and protecting the rim against frequent drivers, it presents an opportunity for New York to employ a small-ball lineup to enhance their offensive capabilities.

Small-Ball Lineup for Specific Matchups

Moreover, Anunoby has demonstrated his ability to effectively guard larger players, as evidenced by his defensive efforts against Joel Embiid in recent playoff matchups. Although using Anunoby at the center position may not be sustainable for entire games, it provides an intriguing option for specific scenarios.

This small-ball lineup could take one of two forms: Brunson, DiVincenzo, Bridges, Anunoby, and Randle, or substituting Hart for DiVincenzo to add more rebounding and toughness. This lineup would be an excellent closing five for New York, elevating their offensive potential.

This strategy could be particularly effective against teams like the Celtics, given Kristaps Porzingis' tendency to play on the perimeter, where Randle or Anunoby could adequately manage the matchup. This small-ball lineup may become the Knicks' primary lineup as they compete with Boston for Eastern Conference supremacy, enabling them to defend against a five-out attack while also matching the Celtics' offensive capabilities.

Utilizing Bench Depth for Strategic Advantage

One of the greatest strengths of the Knicks' roster is their exceptional depth, allowing them to bring Hart, DiVincenzo, and McBride off the bench. These three players played crucial starting roles in New York's last playoff run, during which they reached within one game of the Conference Finals despite significant injury challenges.

All three bench players are of starting caliber in the NBA, with DiVincenzo and Hart considered strong starters. The primary challenge will be determining which additional players complement them, as the Knicks have a wealth of options. The depth of the roster will enable the team to pair the bench trio with one or two starters at all times, creating yet another elite lineup for New York. This depth will pose a significant challenge for opposing teams' benches.

A preferred strategy would involve primarily using Brunson, McBride, DiVincenzo, Hart, and either Randle or the backup center. Bench units rarely have a dominant big man, minimizing the impact of the lineup's lack of size. Additionally, Hart and Randle are exceptional rebounders for their positions.

New York could also consider incorporating Anunoby into this group against smaller lineups. Whatever configuration they choose, it will result in a strong offensive and defensive lineup, allowing the Knicks to build substantial leads while resting their starters. If Brunson requires a rest, McBride and DiVincenzo have proven their ability to create shots effectively, even in playoff settings.

Defensive Stop Lineup

For defensive stops late in games or extended playing time, New York has a potent defensive option that does not significantly compromise their scoring capabilities. This lineup includes McBride, DiVincenzo, Hart/Bridges, Anunoby, and Robinson.

This group embodies Thibodeau's defensive ideals, featuring two elite point-of-attack defenders, two exceptional wing stoppers, and one of the NBA's top rim protectors. Moreover, this lineup excels in rebounding, particularly with Hart substituting for Bridges, a crucial advantage the Knicks held during the 2024 season. This group is also competent offensively, with four solid to strong offensive players.

This lineup will serve as Thibodeau's key strategy for neutralizing any potent offense the Knicks encounter.

Rebounding Dominance

Rebounding has been a cornerstone of New York's identity over the past two seasons, with the team consistently ranking as the league's best on the glass at both ends of the floor. This relentless rebounding has been a decisive factor in their playoff success, driven by Thibodeau's coaching philosophy.

If healthy, Thibodeau can deploy a lineup that dominates the boards: Brunson, Hart, Anunoby, Randle, and Robinson. For an even more aggressive approach, DiVincenzo could replace Brunson, given DiVincenzo's status as one of the best rebounding guards in the league. However, Brunson would provide better balance as an elite shot creator.

This five-man unit would be formidable against smaller teams in short bursts, maintaining effectiveness in other areas of the game. The versatility of the 2024-25 New York Knicks is their most exciting feature: they can deploy almost any five-man grouping with confidence, ensuring they excel in one aspect of the game without sacrificing overall performance.

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