The Knicks will take the floor at Madison Square Garden on Tuesday night for their preseason opener against the Indiana Pacers, the first showcase for the newly constructed squad and the first chance to answer some of the questions that will come with the new additions.
While the Knicks look improved on paper, three starters are missing from last season’s opening night lineup — Elfrid Payton and Reggie Bullock, who departed as free agents, and Mitchell Robinson, who remains sidelined while slowly working his way back from a broken foot.
In his second season leading the Knicks, Tom Thibodeau has not hinted how he will use the preseason games, but if last season is an indication, he will use them as a chance to see how the new pieces fit together.
Free-agent pickups Kemba Walker and Evan Fournier are expected to be in the starting lineup on opening night when the Knicks host Boston on Oct. 20. So somewhere in the four-game preseason schedule, you can expect Thibodeau to try to get a look at how those two work with Julius Randle, RJ Barrett and Nerlens Noel. Noel will be the starting center at least until Robinson is ready.
While some teams hold out their starters, Thibodeau played Randle and Barrett in all four preseason games last season — Barrett for more than 30 minutes per game and Randle for slightly under 30.
Last season, Thibodeau didn’t push Immanuel Quickley into the rotation at all in the first game, then used him sparingly in the second one before accelerating his playing time in the final two games and into the season.
That could hint at a similar strategy for rookies Quinton Grimes and Miles McBride, although the absence of two key defensive players in Payton and Bullock could push Thibodeau to look for an answer quickly.
"We’ll see," he said last week. "You look at your team and you try to analyze what the strengths and weaknesses of every player are and then you try to plug those in. Whatever your team needs in order to win, that’s what you try to take advantage of.
"We have a number of players that do a lot of different things well. We put the team first, so we’re asking guys to sacrifice. So whatever we need, we feel we have the answer on the bench."
What the preseason could do is provide a chance for some of the fringe players to prove themselves again. Kevin Knox was a regular rotation player out of camp last season before losing his playing time. With the waiving of Luca Vildoza on Sunday, the Knicks have a roster spot open. Unless they sign someone currently not in camp, that figures to be a battle between Dwayne Bacon and Wayne Selden, who was brought into camp last week.