NBA Insider Sheds Light on Knicks’ Handling of Anunoby Elbow Injury

The OG Anunoby injury saga is starting to get concerning, but the Knicks might be strategizing his return towards the bigger postseason picture.
March 16, 2024; Sacramento, California, USA; New York Knicks forward OG Anunoby (8) shoots the
March 16, 2024; Sacramento, California, USA; New York Knicks forward OG Anunoby (8) shoots the / Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Ever since the trade on December 30th that sent him from Toronto to New York, the OG Anunoby saga has had its amazing twists and confusing turns for the Knicks.

In his first month in orange and blue, the Knicks were one of the hottest defensive teams in the entire association and posted a 15-2 run in January to put themselves in the conversation for a top-3 seed in the Eastern Conference. Not long after, Anunoby injured the elbow in his shooting arm, becoming one of a handful of important Knicks’ players placed on the shelf in the midst of an important stretch of the regular season. 

Upon his return to the lineup on March 12th with the issue repaired, the Knicks immediately felt his presence again during a key west coast trip that saw them go 3-1 against some of the elite teams on that side. New York held the Sixers at home and then the Blazers and Kings to 93 points or less and developed one of the best defensive ratings in the NBA during the month of March. 

Yet, Anunoby played in just three games before returning to the bench with nagging side effects of his elbow ailment. The Knicks have been playing the game of “injury maintenance” with their starting small forward, hoping that he could shake off the post-surgery inflammation and return to mint condition at the precipice of the postseason. 

With each passing game, the story hasn’t seemed to change with Anunoby, whose injury was recently updated to elbow tendinopathy on Monday. The uncertainty is creating heavy concern among fans wondering whether they will see their two stars perform before or during the playoffs and if they’ll still hold a chance among the elite teams in the East. 

Appearing on the “NBA Today” show on ESPN to discuss the status of the Knicks missing pieces, lead NBA insider Adrian Wojnarowsi pinpointed that the Knicks’ approach is strategic and aimed at having Anunoby ready for the postseason. 

“OG Anunoby, I’m told that the Knicks…that elbow…they don’t want him in & out of the lineup,” Wojnaroski told ESPN’s Malika Andrews on Monday’s show. “They want that injury, the inflammation, irritation, to go away—that when they bring him back, he can stay back.”

“They’ve certainly got to look at the big picture of having him healthy ready hopefully for the postseason— that doesn’t mean he won’t come back during the regular season…This is an organization right now that wants to play it safe w/ Anunoby…”

Outside of Wojnaroski’s insight, the reports have indicated that Anunoby’s renewed absence comes down to pain tolerance and not wanting it to inhibit his performance on the court. Some believe the 26-year-old wants to be 100 percent before he steps back out to help his team attack their playoff run and that the team should just sideline him until the final regular season contest on April 14th. 

While fans would like to see him establish a groove again with his teammates in the final few games of the schedule, this approach seems like the right move. The Knicks are in the midst of a two-game skid following close losses with the Spurs and Thunder, but they still sit at 4th in the East with a 44-30 record and have their chance at sneaking out the 3rd place spot held by the Cleveland Cavaliers. 

In the final eight dances before the postseason, the Knicks have a handful of matchups they should take as they look to wrap up a top-6 spot in the conference picture. They face an inconsistent Miami Heat team on Tuesday night, meet the Chicago Bulls three times and hold one more visit from the Brooklyn Nets before it's all said and done, meaning they hold a nice chance at finishing strong with the persevering pieces they’ve had in the lineup. 

Since Anunoby left for the second time, the Knicks are 4-3 and have only allowed more than 113 points in just two of those seven contests. They still hold the ninth-best defensive rating, 14th best turnover rate and ninth overall defensive rebounding percentage, some stats that have factored in more quality offense on the other end of the floor. 

Nevertheless, the Knicks’ overall defense prowess does take a hit when Anunoby isn’t available, especially when it comes to slowing down the star players that they’ll be faced with in the playoffs. There is also a concern that him and Randle’s absences have affected the depth of the roster and the efficiency that’s needed in the second unit due to guys playing heavy minutes in Tom Thibodeau’s rotation. 

That is why the Knicks need to let their guy rest that elbow until it’s time to grind. So that his elite defense can be the counterpunch that fuels the team’s aspirations for a deep run and takes some of the onus of players that are traditionally bench weapons from burning out in critical moments when Jalen Brunson and company are earning their rest. 

It feels like the sirens are being heard all over the Big Apple as New York approaches the postseason without any positive sign of being fully healthy. The Knicks will be prepared to perform under any circumstances thrown their direction, but their hope is that their strategy for Anunoby pans out and at least sets him up for a much needed return on the start of round 1 on April 19th. 

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