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Sunday, March 3, 2024

How Knicks newfound Bojan Bogdanovic, Alec Burks depth can mask recent struggles

Bojan Bogdanovic and Alec Burks should be big for the Knicks amid their injury woes.

The New York Knicks have lost two straight games and three out of their last four, and much of that has to do with injuries. But last Thursday’s trade that landed Bojan Bogdanovic and Alec Burks in New York should result in a Knicks team that is better prepared to tread water before their stars return. 

Injuries adding up for Knicks

The Knicks are pretty banged up at the moment. Mitchell Robinson, who underwent ankle surgery in December, was the first major injury of the year. Julius Randle suffered a shoulder injury (non-shooting arm) in Miami in late January, and he will remain out until at least after the All-Star break.

OG Anunoby will be out for at least three weeks after recently undergoing a minor procedure to remove a loose bone fragment. Isaiah Hartenstein has been out for two games with a strained Achilles that also cost him two games in January. And Jalen Brunson recently missed a game with an ankle injury — although he returned to action in a loss to the Indiana Pacers on Saturday night.

Tom Thibodeau to blame?

Head coach Tom Thibodeau has a reputation for leaning on his star players a little too much, and it’s assumed that it results in injuries. That’s probably overblown, as any coach in their right mind wants their superstars on the floor as much as possible. However, the narrative isn’t entirely false.

Coach Thibodeau inarguably leaves stars in too long after a game is already decided. And that absolutely impacts injuries. For example, Randle’s injury came with 4:27 remaining in the fourth quarter andwith  New York ahead by a comfortable margin (115-98).

Granted, 17 points is not a “safe” lead in the modern NBA. But it is squarely the coach’s responsibility to understand the pace of the game and manage his or her players accordingly. And Thibodeau is the last coach anyone expects to pull players when a game is ostensibly in hand.

But ultimately, Thibodeau is a brilliant coach, and you have to take the good with the bad. End of story.

Trade deadline deal should alleviate strain on Knicks’ role players

New York Knicks forward Bojan Bogdanovic (44) reacts during the first quarter against the Indiana Pacers at Madison Square Garden.
John Jones-USA TODAY Sports

Fortunately, the Knicks’ front office pivoted perfectly prior to the trade deadline, adding key depth to a team badly in need of it. 

Prior to the trade (and including Saturday’s game against the Pacers), New York was leaning heavily on a select few players. In particular, Josh Hart and Precious Achiuwa were averaging more than 38 and 40 minutes over the last five games, respectively. That’s not sustainable, at least not if they want to win.

By adding Bogdanovic and Burks — and not sending out any rotation pieces — the Knicks’ just added important reinforcements that should help simply by adding healthy, talented bodies.

Once healthy, New York now boasts a minimum of nine players who should be in the team’s  rotation: Brunson, Donte DiVincenzo, Anunoby, Randle, Hartenstein, Robinson, Bogdanovic, Burks, and Hart. And that does not include Miles McBride, Achiuwa or Jericho Sims.

And if New York gets entirely healthy before to the playoffs, look out. Since the December 30 Anunoby trade, the Knicks have been a defensive behemoth, holding teams to less than 104 points per game. That’s the team that Knicks’ fans are hoping to see in the stretch run of this season.

Hopefully, Bogdanovic and Burks can steady the ship until everyone returns. And once that happens, New York is even deeper and more difficult to prepare for.

Health is still a hurdle, even after the trade

Even with Bojan Bogdanovic and Alec Burks in tow, the Knicks must still hope for health. Julius Randle must return as the player he was in January. OG Anunoby must do the same. And everyone else must remain healthy. But that’s not all that has to go right. The Knicks must also win games, and do so against some good competition. The Knicks currently have the 13th-hardest remaining schedule, according to Tankathon. They have two games remaining against the Boston Celtics, one against the Cleveland Cavaliers, one against the Denver Nuggets, and one against the Oklahoma City Thunder.

Fortunately, the Knicks’ post-All-Star break schedule is spread out, meaning they can allow their players a requisite amount of time to heal up without hurting their playoff seeding too badly — although getting healthy sooner than later is ideal.

Possible silver linings for Knicks

New York Knicks guard Alec Burks (18) shoots the ball as Indiana Pacers forward Doug McDermott (20) defends during the second quarter at Madison Square Garden
John Jones-USA TODAY Sports

One thing that could realistically swing the Knicks’ fortunes is Robinson returning from injury. The Knicks have the seventh-best defensive rating in the league, giving up 112.7 points per 100 possessions. Imagine adding the Blockness Monster to the fray? New York hasn’t had Robinson available since the Anunoby trade, and the two of them together could easily anchor one of the best defenses in the league.

Robinson is a legitimate defensive presence. He was averaging a career-worst 1.3 blocks per game prior to injuring his ankle in December, but that’s probably because opponents firmly understand that it’s unwise to challenge him. He is also an offensive rebounding machine, averaging a league-best 5.3 offensive rebounds per game.

Robinson is scheduled to return to on-court activities following the All-Star break. And while there is currently no official timeline on an actual return to the Knicks’ line-up, it is widely expected to happen before the playoffs.

The All-Star break is just around the corner, and New York only has two games remaining before it. While every game is important, the Knicks would be well-served to allow their team a little extra time for some much deserved rest and relaxation.

But after the break, the Knicks should hope their players are healthy and ready to roll. If they are, the sky is the limit. If they are not, this Cinderella season could quickly turn into a nightmare.

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