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Derek Fisher Needs to Work on Rotation With Arron Afflalo Back in Lineup

Hector Amezcua/Zuma Press/Icon Sportswire

New York Knicks fans had been waiting patiently for Arron Afflalo to be healthy. As optimistic as the 4-4 start was, Afflalo’s veteran scoring was much anticipated both in terms of complementing Carmelo Anthony as well as keeping Sasha Vujacic on the bench.

In Afflalo’s return to the lineup against the Charlotte Hornets on Wednesday, Vujacic hit the bench pretty hard after averaging 23 minutes per game, while Anthony had some of the pressure taken off him, which allowed him to find some easier shots throughout the flow of the offense. Afflalo himself played 28 minutes, connecting on 6-13 shots from the field and finishing with a dozen points and six rebounds.

However, the presence of Afflalo still seemed to make the rest of the lineups a little clunky. Part of that could be a lack of practice time and some rust on his part, and he hasn’t had much of a chance to get acclimated to some of the young lineups that have had success early this season.

Unfortunately, as much as Vujacic needed to see his minutes reduced, it was surprising that Jose Calderon didn’t see a reduction as well. He actually played 28 minutes, more than his season average. In his defense he delivered, knocking down six of his nine shots and scoring 13 points. The members of the backcourt that saw their minutes decrease were Jerian Grant and Langston Galloway, who each played only 19 minutes despite averaging 22 and 28 minutes on the year, respectively.

Thomas Duffy already made the case that Grant needs to play over Calderon, and he’s absolutely right. Grant needs the starter’s minutes, even if he doesn’t start. Derek Fisher trusted Calderon down the stretch, and the trust paid off as the veteran point guard knocked down a few shots, but he just doesn’t bring the energy and athleticism on either side of the floor.

The bigger shakeup from Afflalo’s presence was fewer minutes for Galloway, who’s been playing with confidence this year. For him, his 19 minutes and four points were season lows. He didn’t get to the free throw line and failed to grab a rebound for the first time this season, and he didn’t record an assist for only the second time through eight games. Since we’re knocking Galloway’s night, let’s not forget that he only took one three, which he missed, after averaging four attempts per game from deep.

Now, all that kind of sounds like a list of reasons why Fisher was justified in limiting his minutes, but from what I’ve seen this season is that Galloway thrives off minutes and responsibility. He excelled with the bigger role last year and early this season.

Afflalo isn’t messing all of this up himself. The frontcourt minutes shifted as well. Robin Lopez and Lou Amundson played 31 and 15 minutes in this game, while Kyle O’Quinn, Lance Thomas and Derrick Williams had their floor time wane.

It can’t be easy finding the right minutes combinations on this team, with so little in terms of polished talent. However, part of the allure of the Knicks early in the season was seeing these young guys going hard and playing at a fast pace. That was the identity that had Knicks fans thinking this season wasn’t going to be a total disaster. The positivity came from fans seeing Melo and Kristaps Porzingis surrounded by the high energy of Grant, Galloway, Thomas, Williams and O’Quinn.

New York was hoping it would be able to add Afflalo without taking anything away, but that just isn’t possible. Truthfully, Afflalo is more important to the immediate success of the team in terms of what he can bring offensively, and his size gives them additional versatility on defense where the smaller Grant and Galloway may struggle a bit. And as mentioned, he has that ability as a scorer that makes Melo’s life easier.

Anthony was a bright spot in the game, scoring 29 points even if it took him 25 shots to do so. He struggled early but got hot in the third quarter and made some big shots as the offense became stagnant. If the Knicks are going to compete for an eighth seed, Afflalo is going to need to be good, and he needs to allow Melo the room to be great.

As optimistic as Knicks fans may be, I’m not sure they even expect them to sneak into the playoffs. Everyone seemed happy watching those young guys fly around for the first eight games, and the only complaints were that Calderon and Vujacic were playing too much, and that some people still hated Melo.

Ultimately, it’s just one game and doesn’t represent any trend that Afflalo is going to screw up what was a 4-4 Knicks team (now 4-5). The minutes early in the season were never going to stay steady throughout the year, and if fans missed some of the young guys, Fisher has plenty of time to rectify the distribution.

It isn’t Afflalo’s fault the minutes were thrown off in his return, and it isn’t his fault the team lost. The bottom line is that in part because of a pair of big Afflalo buckets in the final two minutes, the Latvian Lurch was about a tenth of a second away from this all being moot, with fans taking on a completely different tone surrounding his return.

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