Knicks

Tom Thibodeau Must Trust His Bench

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Throughout the coaching career of New York Knicks head coach Tom Thibodeau, he has always been known as a guy that deploys his starting players more than any other coach in the league.

His stars consistently summit the top of the league leaders in minutes per game, and his benches are usually relatively short.

While this is acceptable in the playoffs, oftentimes it can be spun around as wearing down your players and not putting a quality bench to enough use. Both of these statements apply to the current state of the New York Knicks.

Over the past two months, we have seen the Knicks overhaul their roster. Multiple trades have seen the team completely overhauled, an unprecedented winning streak saw the team become the hottest in the NBA for five weeks, and now injuries have seen their depth tested.

While said depth has been brilliant, it wouldn’t have been in this position if not for them playing more in the first place. Precious Achiuwa has been a defensive and rebounding revelation. Donte DiVincenzo has been shooting the ball like prime Klay Thompson for six weeks. Jericho Sims looks like a functional rotation big man. Deuce McBride brings excellent off-ball shooting and stingy on-ball defense. Bojan Bogdanovic and Alec Burks bring veteran leadership and an infusion of offense.

Yet, Tom Thibodeau insists on playing his starters the eighth-most minutes among all 30 teams.

In the last few weeks, we have seen Julius Randle, OG Anunoby, Isaiah Hartenstein, Jalen Brunson, Bogdanovic and DiVincenzo all go down with different injuries. That isn’t even including Mitchell Robinson receiving ankle surgery late in 2023. Some of these have been freak accidents, but a lot of times these players are picking up wear-and-tear injuries from overuse.

Back in December, Jalen Brunson suffered an ankle injury late in the Knicks’ double-digit loss to the Celtics. Thibs reportedly had “no regrets”.

The good news is all of the injuries this team has sustained seem as though they are not season-ending. All of the aforementioned players will be back for the playoffs, barring unforeseen changes. However, Thibodeau is going to have to be very cautious about their minutes when they return, and if this team is going to make a run come mid April, their bench will be the key in doing so.

The Knicks possess the league’s eighth-best bench +/- per game, but are 27th in the NBA in bench minutes played per game. That is a number that is going to have to increase to ensure the freshness of the healthy players and continue to give opponents different looks with other players playing big roles. The top three teams in the NBA in bench +/- per game are the Celtics, Pelicans and Thunder, all of whom are perceived as at least playoff threats, and at most one of the favorites to win the NBA title.

Thursday night’s win over the Philadelphia 76ers saw the Knicks dominate wire to wire. Bogdanovic contributed 22 points and three steals off the bench, while Jericho Sims chipped in four points and ten rebounds. Brunson shot just five for 18 from the field with seven turnovers, giving the Knicks a real chance to win a game with other players stepping up.

This is surely a rough patch in terms of personnel for the Knicks, but help is on the way. Julius Randle, OG Anunoby and Mitchell Robinson continue to inch closer to returns from their injuries. But in the meantime, especially when the stars have an off night, it will be crucial for Tom Thibodeau to consider the long game, and trust the ammunition he has been given off the bench.

We know what the big names will bring come playoff time. It’s up to Thibodeau to make sure those guys are in one piece when that time comes.

About Tim Fell

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