How OG Anunoby activates the New York Knicks and the NBA trade deadline

LIKE THE NEW YORK KNICKS took the court Monday afternoon against the first-place Minnesota Timberwolves, there was no question which player would take on the challenge of guarding Anthony Edwards.

One of the league’s brightest young stars, Edwards is precisely the type of strong, physical scoring wing that Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau’s teams have struggled to contain during his tenure.

But before Monday, Thibodeau’s Knicks had been without a player like OG Anunoby. And, when the game began, it was Anunoby who was glued to Edwards. (Anunoby defended Edwards during a team-high 34 half-court faceoffs, allowing just four shot attempts.)

Then, just over two minutes into the game and New York on offense, the ball ended up in Anunoby’s hands in the corner. Among the league’s top five three-pointers on corner kicks, he let it fly, with the shot hidden in the back of the net to a standing ovation from the Madison Square Garden fans.

As was the case in his victorious Knicks debut, there’s nothing flashy about Anunoby’s 3-and-D game. Unlike most of the players who populate NBA trade machines this time of year, Anunoby has never come close to averaging 20 points. His production during his first two games as a member of the New York Knicks (14.0 points and 7.0 rebounds) is not overwhelming. His greatest strength, his defense, remains difficult to quantify.

But style Anunoby’s play isn’t the reason New York sent Immanuel Quickley, RJ Barrett and the Detroit Pistons’ 2024 second-round pick to the Toronto Raptors to acquire him last week.

“It’s extremely easy,” Knicks star Julius Randle said when asked about the process of learning to play alongside Anunoby, who was a plus-19 in his debut in New York.

“Just play basketball the right way, that’s the best way I can say.”

On Friday night, Anunoby and the Knicks will hit the road for the first time together, heading up I-95 for a game at the Wells Fargo Center against reigning league MVP Joel Embiid and the Philadelphia 76ers (7: 30 pm ET, ESPN). A little more than a month before the trade deadline, the matchup will offer a glimpse into how legitimate the Knicks are as an Eastern Conference contender.

And after the Anunoby acquisition officially kicked off what is now a five-week sprint to the Feb. 8 NBA trade deadline, the Knicks (and the rest of the league) are waiting to see what dominoes will fall as a result.

BEFORE TRADING FOR Anunoby, the problem with the Knicks roster was twofold.

They just weren’t good enough defensively. For a team led by Thibodeau, long known for its defensive acumen and focus, New York ranking 19th in defense in consecutive seasons was proof that New York needed help to become a true contender in the This.

And league sources said there was an internal recognition that, after losing to the Miami Heat in the East semifinals last season, and fighting for a top-6 spot in the conference this season, Thibodeau had maxed out the group. existing equipment.

New York believes adding Anunoby is a step toward solving both problems. With elite perimeter players like Boston’s Jayson Tatum, Milwaukee’s Giannis Antetokounmpo and Philadelphia’s Tyrese Maxey potentially standing in their way this postseason, adding a wing stopper was paramount.

The 6-foot-7, 240-pound Anunoby has credibly defended all five positions and is the kind of defensive option Thibodeau hasn’t had with the Knicks: Anunoby, 26, has allowed the fifth-fewest points per opportunity in isolations over the last two seasons, among 116 players who defended at least 200 of those plays, according to Second Spectrum tracking. Toronto was 8.1 points better per 100 possessions with Anunoby on the court this season.

“Positional size, I think is important, [and] defensive versatility to defend multiple positions,” Thibodeau said of why the Knicks prioritized the forward.

“We think there’s still a lot of room to grow, he fits our schedule. That’s why we did it.”

But while Anunoby’s arrival addresses several problems, Quickley’s departure creates others. While he received much less attention, a few hours after the trade was consummated, the Knicks made another move: signing Miles McBride, who had been the team’s third-string point guard, to a three-year, $13 million contract extension.

Doing so was a clear sign that Thibodeau and the Knicks value the upside of the third-year guard out of West Virginia and believe he can become Quickley’s long-term replacement on the team, league sources said.

But during wins over the Timberwolves and Bulls, New York was outscored by 25 points in McBride’s 17 minutes, raising questions for Thibodeau after Wednesday’s win over the Chicago Bulls about the future of his second unit. “We have to try to find a rhythm. They need a little time, but we’ll figure it out,” he said.

Thibodeau has begun to address the roster change by sometimes splitting Randle and Brunson, who have played more minutes together (1,079) than any two-man combination in the NBA this season. The Knicks have had at least one of their two stars on the court at all times over the last two games.

As the next five weeks go by, there is also the expectation that more deals will occur in New York.

IT WAS ONLY It was a matter of time before Quickley was transferred.

Quickley, last season’s Sixth Man of the Year runner-up and the favorite to win the award heading into this season, wanted to get paid money as a starting point guard. Doing so was never financially viable for the Knicks.

Quickley, 24, and the Knicks exchanged extension offers before the October deadline, league sources said. But with him seeking more than $20 million per year, and with Brunson dominating minutes at lead guard, a new deal would have made it difficult to build the roster under the new luxury tax rules.

The failure of both sides to come to an agreement on an extension signaled to rival teams that Quickley’s name would come up in trade discussions.

As a result, New York and Toronto revived Anunoby trade talks dating back to last season. In doing so, both teams won, as Toronto landed its point guard of the future to play alongside rising star forward Scottie Barnes (the deal also brought in Canadian National Team star and Toronto native Barrett), while New York he got the wing defender and three-point shooter he desperately needed.

And the Knicks probably aren’t done.

Even after trading for Anunoby, the Knicks are still armed with all of their future first-round picks, plus four others (the Dallas Mavericks’ top-10 protected pick in the 2024 draft, the NBA’s top-4 protected pick Milwaukee Bucks in the 2024 draft). The 2025 draft and future protected first-round picks from the Detroit Pistons and Washington Wizards) and nearly $40 million in expired contracts.

League sources said New York will explore its options heading into the trade deadline in hopes of improving this team’s chances of making the playoffs. The Knicks would love to throw that mountain of picks at a franchise-changing star, but that would require one to be available. They rarely do.

If such a deal does not materialize again in the next five weeks, New York will continue to look to make the kind of incremental improvements it has made repeatedly over the past year.

At last year’s trade deadline, the Knicks added Hart, now the team’s top reserve. This summer, they acquired free agent DiVincenzo, now their starting shooting guard, using the mid-level exception. And now they’ve landed Anunoby, who immediately steps into a minutes-heavy role as the starting small forward.

So where else could the Knicks add a smaller piece to bulk up the roster? One particular area of ​​need is at backup center (Thibodeau wants a true rim-protecting center) after Isaiah Hartenstein successfully replaced Mitchell Robinson as the team’s starting center after the latter suffered an ankle injury in December. which will probably end his regular career. season. Another scorer or ball-handler off the bench could also become a priority if McBride fails to take over the backup point guard spot that Quickley’s departure has opened up.

While the Knicks continue searching for a market, the Raptors will too. League sources expect Toronto to part with two-time All-Star forward Pascal Siakam before the trade deadline. The Bulls, New York’s opponent on Wednesday, are trying to move All-Star guard Zach LaVine, but as ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported, there is no market for the three years and more than $135 million remaining on LaVine’s contract. The Atlanta Hawks, five games under .500 in what has been a disappointing season, could move Dejounte Murray between now and the trade deadline.

And Cleveland, despite losing starters Darius Garland (jaw) and Evan Mobley (knee) to injuries, has shown no interest in moving star guard Donovan Mitchell, league sources said. Mitchell is 18 months away from being an unrestricted free agent and the Cavaliers are tied with the Knicks and Orlando Magic for sixth place in the East at 19-15.

With 12 teams in each conference one game out of the 10th and final play-in spot, there will be plenty of teams motivated to make moves to try to improve their chances of making the postseason, and try to recreate the Miami Heat’s run. and the Los Angeles Lakers accomplished last season by advancing to the NBA Finals and the Western Conference Finals after play-in, respectively.

Just don’t expect much to happen anytime soon. According to ESPN’s Bobby Marks, 64 of the 84 trades over the past five seasons that began in October occurred in February, and the Anunoby deal, which took place on Dec. 30, marked just the sixth deal to be made by the At the end of December.

New York, however, didn’t wait to get its man.

“[Anunoby is]I guess you can say he fits right in,” Brunson said. “He can be very special here.”

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