Thibodeau Elevating Expectations in New York


For the past two decades, the New York Knicks have been the laughingstock of the NBA.

Fans of the team were forced to endure bad draft picks, brainless coaching hires, and general incompetency from the front office. When Leon Rose became President of the Knicks in 2020 he promised fans change, all he needed was time, stating “Nothing about this is easy, or quick, so I ask for your continued patience.”

Despite Rose’s plea for fan forbearance, the wait may not be so long for a great team in Manhattan. The Knicks success last season shocked everyone, as Julius Randle emerged as a top-tier player.

The unsung hero of the squad, however, is head coach Tom Thibodeau and the defensive juggernaut he has created.

“Good Basketball Always Starts With Defense” – Bob Knight

Thibodeau was criticized for having poor team defense during his tenure with the Minnesota Timberwolves, mainly because he is known as a defensive-minded coach. But what he has done with the Knicks should erase any blemish from his record. He has transformed a misfit crew into a team that makes “every game feel like a playoff game”.

Two seasons ago, the Knicks posted an unimpressive team defensive rating of 112.4, ranking just 23rd in the league. Last season, they improved on that metric dramatically, shooting up to fourth at 107.8.

Whether it be youngsters Immanuel Quickley and Obi Toppin or a veteran like Alec Burks, it is clear Thibs has improved the roster’s overall defense, as they have all bought into the gritty, defensive culture.

Bringing out the Best in his Players

A big part of the team’s defensive success comes from Thibs’ ability to unlock a player’s potential. Take for example defensive stalwart Nerlens Noel. Thibs has turned a potential bust into a one-man wrecking crew in the paint. While he isn’t on the same level as someone like Rudy Gobert, Noel is not someone you want to drive on.

Noel was the only NBA player last season who averaged more than two blocks and one steal per game.

You could also point to a player like the aforementioned Alec Burks to prove Thibs’ impact on his player’s defense. Two years ago with the Sixers, Burks had a defensive field-goal percentage of 45.3%.  In his first season with the Knicks, that dropped to 39.7%.

Similar player trends can be seen throughout the Knicks’ roster.

“Thibs Hates Young Guys”– WRONG

If I had a dollar for every time I heard someone complain about the lack of young players in Tom Thibodeau rotations, I would be on an island somewhere with a drink in my hand (sadly still wouldn’t be enough to pay Joakim Noah‘s salary for this year).

“But Mike! He barely plays any of his young players!”

Actually, he plays them a fairly good amount. 21-year-old R.J. Barrett was 2nd in minutes last year and 15th for the entire league.

Before he got injured, 22-year-old big man Mitchell Robinson was 4th on the team in minutes. Quickley should’ve gotten more minutes last year. Obi Toppin was nowhere near ready. Thibs has been glowing about Knicks rookies Miles McBride, Quentin Grimes and Jericho Sims.

So next time you think “Tom Thibodeau doesn’t play his youngsters”, think again.

It was a good run

No one expected the Knicks to make the playoffs last year, and they ended up with the No. 4 seed. We were told Thibs wouldn’t work in New York, and he has completely proven everyone wrong. Last season was a success and no one can tell Knicks fans otherwise. We all  would have loved to see the Knicks win a playoff series, but Atlanta was the better team.

Julius Randle struggled in that series, but he revealed in his media-day interviews that he made things to difficult for himself.

The winner of last season’s Most Improved Player Award, Randle grinded to get the Knicks to the playoffs.

It seems Randle and Thibs have a great relationship, and they are sure to bring more winning basketball to New York within the next few years. The additions of Evan Fournier and Kemba Walker will elevate and space the offense that suffered last year. The rise of R.J. Barrett is real and the league is taking notice. Both of these combined will surely take some of the load off of Julius’s hands.

The sky is the limit for this tough, vibrant Knicks squad.

Follow us on Twitter @KnicksLead for the latest Knicks news and insight. 

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About Mike Perry

NBA and WNBA writer and podcaster

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