Oct 8, 2016; New York, NY, USA; New York Knicks forward Lance Thomas (42) shoots over Brooklyn Nets guard Rondae Hollis-Jefferson (24) during the first half at Madison Square Garden. Mandatory Credit: Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports
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The New York Knicks could be without Lance Thomas for a significant measure of time. Who must step up during his absence and recovery period?
On Sunday, Jan. 15, New York Knicks forward Lance Thomas suffered an injury that could result in his being sidelined for the foreseeable future. The injury has been reported as an orbital fracture, as well as concussion-like symptoms.
According to Al Iannazzone of Newsday, Thomas has been ruled out indefinitely and will be fitted for a protective mask.
Noah would seem like the likely candidate to come off the bench. Hornacek hinted at KP playing 5 if he can play, and using Melo at 4.
Thomas was the victim of an inadvertent elbow from Toronto Raptors center Jonas Valanciunas. He didn’t return to the clash with the Raptors and now has two separate injuries to nurse and tend to.
Thomas will likely go through the concussion protocol, as well as needing a protective mask for his facial injury.
Though Thomas being sidelined by an injury could be a curse, it could also be a blessing. Players will need to step up in relief of the hybrid forward, which means defending at a high level, filling in at both forward spots, and spacing the floor.
The question is: which members of the New York Knicks must step up to replace and potentially improve upon Lance Thomas’ impact?
Oct 19, 2016; Boston, MA, USA; New York Knicks forward Maurice Daly Ndour (2) lays the ball past the reach of Boston Celtics forward Ben Bentil (50) during the second half at TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports
5. Maurice Ndour
Lance Thomas isn’t an elite defender by any means or metrics, but he’s been one of the few players who has consistently tried on defense. That’s a void to fill unto itself for a New York Knicks team that ranks amongst the worst in the NBA on the defensive end of the floor.
One could argue that the player who’s most likely to be able to defend at a high level is forward Maurice Daly Ndour.
Ndour is a 6’9″ hybrid forward with a 7’4″ wingspan, a 9’1″ standing reach, and explosive leaping ability. He’s a capable shot-blocker with active hands and an intriguing ability to create turnovers and come up with steals.
Ndour is also capable of switching on the pick and roll, and getting back in transition for quality contests of what have been easy shots in 2016-17.
Ndour’s length and athleticism would be a welcome addition to a defense that’s been missing those combination of traits. He’d provide a breath of fresh air to a Knicks team that’s been borderline effortless on defense.
For the New York Knicks to turn the season around, it’s players like Ndour who must step up and help the team improve on defense.
Jan 6, 2017; Milwaukee, WI, USA; New York Knicks forward Kristaps Porzingis (6) reacts after fouling out of the game during the fourth quarter against the Milwaukee Bucks at BMO Harris Bradley Center. New York won 116-111. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports
4. Kristaps Porzingis
The New York Knicks have been able to depend upon Kristaps Porzingis for consistent energy and effort on defense. One could very easily argue that he’s been the Knicks’ most reliable player on the defensive end of the floor.
Lance Thomas has filled in as Porzingis’ backup at power forward, which means the starter will need to step up.
Porzingis is currently averaging 19.4 points, 7.4 rebounds, 1.7 offensive boards, 1.4 assists, 2.0 blocks, 0.8 steals, and 2.1 3-point field goals made in 34.1 minutes per game. He’s done so on an efficient slash line of .449/.402/.789.
Unfortunately, Porzingis is currently battling a sore achilles tendon that’s both limited his availability and hindered his efforts on the court.
Porzingis has missed six of the Knicks’ past 10 games and struggled in his two most recent appearances. He shot 3-of-13 from the field against the New Orleans Pelicans and 3-of-10 against the Philadelphia 76ers.
Porzingis is low on this list because of the injury, but once he’s healthy, he must help the Knicks stabilize the defense.
Dec 22, 2016; New York, NY, USA; New York Knicks center Kyle O’Quinn (9) reacts after a dunk against the Orlando Magic during the second quarter at Madison Square Garden. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports
3. Kyle O’Quinn
The rise of Kyle O’Quinn has been one of the most encouraging aspects of the New York Knicks’ otherwise dreadful season. He’s rebounded at a consistently high level, is protecting the rim, and has even excelled as a scorer.
If the Knicks need someone to step up as the backup power forward, then O’Quinn has the capability of doing exactly that.
O’Quinn is currently averaging 6.3 points, 5.7 rebounds, 2.1 offensive rebounds, 1.1 assists, and 1.3 blocks in 15.4 minutes per game. He’s shooting an efficient 55.3 percent from the field and 69.4 percent from the free throw line.
O’Quinn has a career-high five double-doubles, including the 12 points, 11 rebounds, three assists, and four blocks he tallied in 17 minutes against the Chicago Bulls.
O’Quinn’s season averages translate to 14.7 points, 13.4 rebounds, 3.9 offensive boards, 2.6 assists, 3.0 blocks, and 1.0 steal per 36 minutes. He’s been one of the most reliable players on the roster and has played both power forward and center.
O’Quinn can’t fill Thomas’ proverbial shoes at small forward, but he can step up at the 4 to make his mark on a consistent basis.
Dec 31, 2016; Houston, TX, USA; New York Knicks forward Mindaugas Kuzminskas (91) shoots a three-point shot against the Houston Rockets during the third quarter at Toyota Center. Mandatory Credit: Erik Williams-USA TODAY Sports
2. Mindaugas Kuzminskas
The most valuable aspect of Lance Thomas’ role with the New York Knicks is his positional versatility. He’s backed up both Carmelo Anthony and Kristaps Porzingis at small forward and power forward.
If the Knicks are seeking a player who can play both forward positions, then Mindaugas Kuzminskas may be the best option.
Kuzminskas is currently averaging 16.4 points, 4.4 rebounds, 1.8 offensive boards, 2.5 assists, 1.5 steals, and 2.6 3-point field goals made per 36 minutes. He’s been thriving in recent weeks with what may be his best performances of the season.
Over the past three weeks, Kuzminskas has scored at least 10 points in four of his past eight appearances.
Kuzminkas proved how valuable he could be during a 104-89 victory over the Chicago Bulls. He scored a career-high 19 points in 30 minutes against the Bulls, including the 12 points he scored in the fourth quarter.
Kuzminskas may not be the defensive player that the Knicks are in dire need of, but he’s the opportunistic scorer who can stabilize the offense.
Jan 7, 2017; Indianapolis, IN, USA; New York Knicks forward Carmelo Anthony (7) dribbles the ball in the first half of the game against the Indiana Pacers at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. The Indiana Pacers beat the New York Knicks 123-109.Mandatory Credit: Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports
1. Carmelo Anthony
The New York Knicks have a number of quality reserves and promising young players who can fill Lance Thomas’ void. No matter how well they play, the Knicks’ hopes and prayers will only be answered if Carmelo Anthony improves.
Anthony has made a Hall of Fame career out of dominating at small forward, but he’s just as capable of thriving at power forward.
Anthony has been scoring at a high level in 2016-17, but he’s struggled on the defensive end of the floor. His effort has been consistently questioned and his facilitating touch has been erratic, as evidenced by his recording at least four assists in just 12 games this season.
For perspective, the Knicks are 8-4 during the 12 games that he’s recorded at least four assists and 10-18 when he fails to.
On the defensive end of the floor, Anthony must provide a more consistent impact. He doesn’t necessarily need to play at an elite level, but he must be able to hold his teammates accountable by giving the effort required by them.
With Thomas no longer available as a defensive failsafe to Anthony, he must step up and provide the Knicks with the necessary level of effort.