No good deed goes unpunished at the New York Knicks.
Earlier this month, center Jericho Sims was the Knicks’ 12th man, a de facto part of the cleanup crew in dire situations. He was nonetheless a natural choice to take on extended responsibilities when Mitchell Robinson injured his knee in the Nov. 4 win in Philadelphia, despite the dreaded “DNP-CD” appearing on his boxing score five times in his first seven games.
In the last few games, Sims has turned his 12 into a nine. He gained the trust of head coach Tom Thibodeau when he opted for a nine-man rotation.
Sims was by far the first contingency option in terms of inner depth (replacing Isaiah Hartenstein), but he had yet to earn his role. That’s the environment in which a second-round draft pick plays out in a two-way deal, especially in a system Thibodeau oversees where younger players must do whatever it takes to get the honor and veterans a longer one Taking a break… and sometimes even that isn’t enough.
Sims has proven himself worthy and then some: Even without Robinson, the Knicks (8-8) still sit third in the NBA in rebounding (46.5), thanks in part to Sims’ recent efforts . The last four games, including the first three legs of a five-game Western Conference tour, have been a particularly striking spectacle: Sims has played at least 18 minutes each night (and in just 16 of 41 appearances in his rookie year). scored 9.3 rebounds per night with 8.3 points.
That short but fruitful leg includes a pair of double-doubles that included career-best scoring (11) and offensive rebounds (8, part of 13 total) in Tuesday’s 118-111 win over the Utah Jazz.
Thibodeau sounded most impressed with the Sims’ contributions outside of the box score.
“What I like about him is the pressure he puts on the rim. It forces the defense to collapse and opens up other things for us,” Thibodeau said of Sims after a win in Denver on Wednesday. “He gets his screens out pretty quickly. He plays over the edge and I like that part of him.”
According to Thibodeau, the Knicks have averaged 115 points in their last four. His Wednesday counterpart, Nuggets head coach Mike Malone, also had kind words for Sims, relate to him as “one of the most athletic bigs in the NBA”.
As this is Knicks basketball, an awkward situation looms in the midst of the success: Robinson’s return is relatively imminent, just as he is listed as questionable (along with Cam Reddish) on the team’s injury report for their penultimate game of Western Swing on Sunday in Phoenix (3:30 p.m. ET, MSG). The Knicks get a little Thanksgiving vacation until Friday, after the road trip ends Monday in Oklahoma City. Drastic rotation decisions would likely be made for the return to Madison Square Garden against Portland.
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Sims has undoubtedly proven himself worthy of staying longer, but it’s worth wondering what will happen to his minutes when Robinson returns. One could argue for a three-man rotation in the middle, but that wasn’t how Thibodeau went about it. Many fans will find that convincing him to take Julius Randle and Obi Toppin down at the same time is hard enough.
The Knicks may be financially obligated to advance the Robinson/Hartenstein combo. All three got new contracts from the Knicks over the summer, the two veterans are currently on the table as a combined cap hit of nearly $25 million. Sims, on the other hand, makes just over $1 million.
Could Sims possibly be traded? That might be worth calling out to rivals desperate for rebound depth, like Dallas or the Los Angeles Clippers (the latter recently relieved of Hartenstein’s services). The Knicks have had little, if any, hesitation in filling their draft closet, aware that not all of them will be used. Previous trades were used to successfully build a Jalen-Brunson budget before proceeds dangled in an ultimately futile bid for Donovan Mitchell off Utah.
One thing is for sure, Sims makes an impression when he pursues what may be his best career opportunity yet.
“I think he earned his time last year and played really well in the second half of last season,” Thibodeau said. “Arrived, spent a lot of time here this summer, ready to go. We threw him into the Minnesota game; played great. It gets so much better every day. There’s a lot in it. High energy. Very athletic. So I think he will keep growing.”
“I love playing with Jericho,” added teammate and reserve mate Immanuel Quickley. “He brings a different dimension that I think a lot of players in the league have. He’s really athletic. He’s really good on defense, offensive rebounds. He brings a really good dynamic to this team.”
Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags
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