How to Manage the Rotation

Jeff Hornacek has some tricky situations to figure out but we have advice on how to navigate a shaky bench and fragile starters

Photo: Julie Jacobson/AP (via NYTimes)

Part of an initial head coaching tenure is the coach discovering how best to deploy his players. With a team like the Knicks, a squad with serious roster turnover from last season, this process takes longer than normal.

It’s on Jeff Hornacek and his crew to determine how this specific conglomerate of players can mesh together and play to the best of their abilities.

Knowing which starters to keep on the floor with the second units and knowing when to give Carmelo Anthony and Kristaps Porzingis their fair share of rest are things that previous coaches have not done successfully. Hornacek is going to be put to the test right away, and has already shown some tendencies that we can use to project how the rotation is going to look for the rest of the season.

So far, there hasn’t been a ton of surprises, but it’s still worth looking at the first couple of contests to see the gut reaction of the coaching staff.

Photo: Michael Reaves/Getty Images (via NYTimes)

The starting unit of Rose, Lee, Anthony, Porzingis, and Noah has performed adequately thus far. They’ve managed a +2 across two games together, and showed some nice signs in last night’s game (via

You could tell that they were still getting used to playing together when they played the Cavs with all the turnovers, but it’s still so early in the season. Those turnovers are going to happen. As the season goes on, they should be able to gel together and show improvement.

The second most popular unit Hornacek has thrown onto the floor is Rose-Holiday-Anthony-Porzingis-Noah (this lineup also has the Knicks’ highest plus/minus with +15). The only thing that has surprised me a little bit is how much Justin Holiday has been playing over the first couple games. He hasn’t been a rotation player to this point in his career, but the coaching staff clearly has faith in his ability to blossom into that role. Passable up until this point, tracking Holiday’s minutes will be something to note moving forward.

Here’s a look at the minutes played by each Knicks through the first two games:

via ESPN (vs. Cleveland)
via ESPN (vs. Memphis)

So far, it is fairly obvious that Hornacek has established his backup crew as Jennings, Holiday, Thomas, O’Quinn, and Hernangomez. Willy has seen the fewest minutes of the bunch, and hasn’t done much with those minutes so far. Hornacek has done a good job of sprinkling in starters with those guys, which really is essential for any coach to do now. Playing an entire unit of backup players is not ideal, and it’s something that former Knicks’ coaches have stubbornly done over and over.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I think Kuzminskas should get a chance to be a part of this rotation. Lance Thomas was a godsend for the Knicks last year, but he hasn’t been quite the same this year, with a -20 rating. I don’t want to jump to conclusions, and it’s ridiculously early in the year, but there has to be room on the wing for Kuz to get some minutes. His ability to run the floor and use his athleticism to snare offensive rebounds and drive to the hoop could really help a second unit that has been unimpressive thus far. I will stand by getting Kuz some minutes until the day he is no longer a Knick.

The Knicks haven’t used Porzingis much at center yet this year, and the only prominent lineup that has featured him there (Rose-Holiday-Thomas-Anthony-Porzingis is an ugly -11 in limited minutes). Again, it’s important to note that it is so darn early in the season, so that number really isn’t indicative of the potential that Porzingis can unlock by playing the five. Throwing a lineup like the above one with Lee instead of Holiday could have some real ability to stretch defenses thin and force them to guard the perimeter tightly.

Early season rotations are always tough to predict, but the Knicks have been pretty honest with the players that they are giving burn to so far. I would like to see more lineups with Porzingis at center, leaving Noah to play 25–30 minutes per game. Making sure Joakim stays healthy is going to be essential, because that dude’s lower half is worrisome. I know everyone loves Brandon Jennings, but I like how Hornacek has used him in a fairly limited role so far. Jennings is on record saying that he doesn’t care about sixth man of the year or any other singular awards, simply hoping that the Knicks will make the playoffs. That type of unselfish behavior is what you love to see from bench and role players that are relied on to portray that type of attitude both on and off the court.

The Knicks have some guys on this bench squad that can play, and I’m pleased with what Hornacek has done so far. We’ll see if he can keep it up.

Matt Spendley, senior writer

What do you want to see the most, KP at the 5? More Kuz? Combo Rose and Jennings? Let us know over at our Facebook and Twitter.