On his own merits, an argument can be made the time has come after two Knicks playoff games to either bench RJ Barrett or limit his minutes.
He was unable to deal with Cavaliers All-Star Darius Garland in Game 2. He’s made just six of 25 shots from the field. He’s struggled to beat his man off the dribble or finish in the paint against Cleveland big men Jarrett Allen and Evan Mobley, going 5-for-14 in such situations.
There is no clear answer as a replacement.
Immanuel Quickley has looked like a shell of the player who became a Sixth Man of the Year finalist.
Quentin Grimes has not been nearly aggressive enough, taking six total shots in the two games and making only one of them.
And Josh Hart already is playing major minutes, and is dealing with a left ankle injury.
If the Knicks are to win their first playoff series in a decade, they are going to need more out of all three of their young wings — Barrett, Quickley and Grimes.
Let’s start with Quickley, who posted career highs in scoring (14.9), rebounds (4.2) and field-goal percentage (44.8) during the regular season.
Against Cleveland, he has as many turnovers (four) as made shots (four).
Most concerning is his passivity.
Far too often Quickley has not been involved in the offense, standing off to the side, waiting for the ball to find him. And when he does get the ball, he has struggled getting into the paint against the Cavaliers. Only three of his 13 field-goal attempts have come inside. It is similar to the issue Barrett has had.
But at least with Quickley, it is a rather small sample size after he put together a terrific season.
Barrett shot a career-worst 31 percent from 3-point range during the regular season. In March, that figure was a mere 26.7 percent. In seven career playoff games, including the 2021 series loss to the Hawks, Barrett is shooting 34.7 percent from the field and 25 percent from 3.
Now, Barrett did some other things well in Game 1, such as notching six assists and four steals. But in Game 2, he didn’t record a single assist in 33 minutes.
Grimes has been a non-factor on offense. He has seemed timid, unwilling to take shots unless he’s wide open. The Cavaliers also have contributed to Grimes’ troubles by cutting off his patented baseline drives.
Considering how well Grimes closed out the regular season, scoring in double figures in his last nine games — including six 20-point performances — it has been somewhat of a surprise.
Clearly, the Knicks need more from Barrett, Quickley and Grimes if they are going to advance. And while the emergence of one could negatively impact the playing time of the other two, that’s a risk the Knicks might gladly accept at this point rather than watching all three search aimlessly for their games.
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Tom Thibodeau’s stay-cation
Thibodeau isn’t a big beach guy.
He doesn’t use the summer to work on his tan.
The Knicks coach is a basketball maniac, and he offered a peek into his obsession before Game 2 on Tuesday, when he said he begins to prepare for the superstars he’ll face in the fall in July and August.
“That’s what you use your offseason for,” Thibodeau said. “You evaluate all the things that transpired in the previous season. You try to generate new ideas for the upcoming season. Once the rosters are settled in, you start planning for who your opponents are.”
Thibodeau said he focuses on opposing stars — think: Jazz-turned-Cavaliers guard Donovan Mitchell — crafting game plans against them based on his team’s personnel, and he has an array of notebooks and folders on all of them.
“[You] devise a plan of things that you think will give you the best chance of having success,” he said.
The process continues throughout the season.
Prior to this year’s All-Star break, Thibodeau joked that he would be spending his time at Club Tarrytown, his nickname for the Knicks’ practice facility. Reminded of that, he joked: “Club Tarrytown, it’s a resort.”
Change of season in Cleveland
Go to the hotel bar, hit the local diner, take a walk around town, take a peek at the posters hung everywhere.
Cleveland is all about the Cavaliers.
I spent five days on the shores of Lake Erie covering the first two games of the series, and you couldn’t go anywhere without hearing about Mitchell, Darius Garland and company.
On Sunday, I ate dinner at the Renaissance Hotel bar, and there was nonstop Cavaliers talk.
They wanted to know what was wrong with Evan Mobley after his shaky Game 1 performance.
They bemoaned the Cavs not trading for Josh Hart, the Knicks wing who was such a key part of their series-opening win.
They reflected on the LeBron James era, happy to not have to worry on an annual basis that their star would want to go elsewhere.
For a city so enamored of the Browns, this spring it’s all about basketball.
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