Just 19 games removed from signing a $54 million contract this offseason, Robin Lopez has continued to underwhelm during his first campaign with the Knicks. His productivity has been low and he's often failed to make an impact playing alongside the team's other starters.
Players like Carmelo Anthony, Kristaps Porzingis, and Arron Afflalo have little trouble creating their own offense, and in turn, their own spacing in order to get higher-percentage shots off. Lopez's ability to set screens and move well off the ball isn't necessary for these other more prominent players to find success on the offensive end.
But the utilization of Lopez's secondary skills has been helpful when playing with the reserves. After starting against the 76ers on Wednesday, Lopez went on to primarily play with the team's second unit. His presence helped as his teammates got cooking. Four reserves scored eight points or more in 22 minutes or less, and Lopez boasted a team-high plus/minus of +14.
The big man's minutes have been sporadic thus far, playing less than 24 minutes, or half a contest, nine times this season. Even as head coach Derek Fisher experiments with various rotations, Lopez is rarely seen on the floor during crunch time.
Perhaps the Knicks aren't very concerned, but Lopez isn't pulling his own weight. He's been a liability or arguably even a waste on the offensive end. He's a defensive specialist who has thus far primarily struggled to assert himself down low. Some may argue that his presence alone helps and takes the pressure off Porzingis, but as the rookie becomes more aware and seemingly more confident and sure of himself on the court, Lopez fades away even more.
He's failed to perform or put up expected numbers, and thus, has been depended on less and less as the season has progressed. But the Knicks should figure out how he can make more of an impact.
At this point, it's not worth suggesting Lopez be moved to a bench role entirely. The team's rotation is so varied and sporadic that he's not getting important minutes as it is. But the Knicks shouldn't be afraid to mix things up and go "small" by inserting someone like Lance Thomas or Derrick Williams in the starting lineup (with Porzingis subsequently at the five) if a given matchup allows. This would help the team pack a bit more of a punch to start things off. Playing against an opposing reserve big man might also take pressure off Lopez in the interim.
Regardless of whether or not he starts or comes off the bench initially, a solid case was made on Wednesday night to roll Lopez out with the reserves more often. Unlike previous seasons, New York's bench actually has a lot of firepower. The reserves could use someone to set screens and throw his body around to make things even easier. Lopez might be more valuable to them than the starters.