Thibodeau Has Flipped Often-Frustrating Knicks


New York Knicks fans are ecstatic.

With a nine-game win streak ending just a week ago, fans are surely confident the Knicks are primed for a long playoff run.

Jalen Brunson was playing like one of the best guards in the league before his injury. Julius Randle is in the mix for an All-NBA appearance. Immanuel Quickley catapulted himself into sixth-man-of-the-year talks. Josh Hart has been a perfect fit since his trade. Other role players have contributed whatever the team needs from them.

The most important person to the team’s recent success, however, is head coach Tom Thibodeau.

Earlier in the season, Thibs earned a lot of criticism and found himself in the hot seat. Thibodeau’s early struggles and his lack of willingness to make changes made fans furious. Moreover, the Knicks were a surprisingly bad defensive team, given Thibs’ long-time focus on that side of the ball.

All the doubts disappeared, however, as the Knicks have managed to escape the play-in race as it stands now. Sitting fifth, can the Knicks upset a higher-seeded team in the first round?

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Enhanced Rotations Prove a Winning Formula

A big part of the Knicks’ early struggles came as a result of Thibs not wanting to adjust his rotations.

This changed in December, when he decided to cut minutes from vets like Derrick Rose and Evan Fournier. As a result, players like Quickley and Quentin Grimes earned more minutes and touches. Their impact in the lineup has been clear.

The Knicks are 7-6 with two games remaining for March. Excluding garbage time and injuries, only nine players saw the floor. This rotation also took New York through their recent win streak and led them to their current standing.

Thibs has undeniably found the perfect rotation. Deploying this over his past groupings have been key in their turnaround. And by deciding to move away from some of the veterans in the team, the Knicks have developed a better idea of who they are. Players like Quickley and Grimes give them a fun and youthful element, while others like Brunson keep the team steady. Overall, Thibs placed his trust in these nine players, and they have earned the respect.

Knicks Have Rekindled Defensive Identity

Thibodeau’s decision to play a tighter rotation provided the team with more of an identity. With Mitchell Robinson as the defensive backbone, the Knicks now reflect something closer to what we’ve come to expect from Thibs’ teams.

Jalen Brunson is also a gritty player who will do what is required of him on defense. Even Randle has started playing with more drive on that end. He even credited Thibodeau with rekindling the team’s defensive identity.

Josh Hart, however, is the best example of the team’s identity. Ever since he joined the Knicks, Hart has filled the rotation with energy, grit and accountability. After a loss against the Charlotte Hornets, Hart expressed they could not blame the result on energy and fatigue, despite many players taking any opportunity to blame this for their losses.

Under Thibs, Hart has contributed to a sense of accountability and grit the team needed. Both his personality and defense made him perfect for a Thibodeau team, and the results speak for themselves.

It’s not just the defense, but the confidence with which the team handles itself. During the Knicks’ double-overtime win over the Celtics earlier this month, Hart defended Tatum without any fear for the MVP candidate. On both ends, Quickley proved time after time that he feared no-one Boston threw at him, dropping 38 points (15/28 FG, 5/12 3PT, 3/4 FT) and seven assists while adding four steals and two blocks.

Despite the Celtics being a top team, the Knicks played them as if they knew they were the better team, even without Brunson in the lineup.

Thibs has managed to instill both a sense of accountability and confidence in his players during the latter part of the season. As a result, the Knicks are going into the playoffs confident they can go toe-to-toe with anyone.

Wholesome Result

Despite the criticism Thibodeau earned earlier this season, the stats support his work.

During March, the Knicks have had a top-six offensive rating. They’re also right outside of the top-10 net ratings in this time and have a positive record.

Both the regular-season record and stats support the Knicks having a genuinely good team that no one should consider an easy out. Even after the slow start, a disappointing season for RJ Barrett, and some situations with Brunson and Robinson to end the year, Tom Thibodeau has coached New York into a contender to upset some of the Eastern Conference favorites.

With Thibs in the middle of a five-year contract, Knicks fans should continue to support him. After a deeply disappointing 2021-2022 campaign, New York is playing their best basketball in years.

He deserves your respect.

About Jesús Feliciano-Batista

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