The main catalyst for the New York Knicks turnaround is Tom Thibodeau. Hiring Thibs as the head coach is the best thing to happen to the franchise since 2013.
Thibs has been better than advertised. Not one single soul on planet Earth thought the Knicks would be in the playoff hunt this season. I’m an optimist and even I didn’t predict this much success so early.
Back in December, I said, “If the Knicks can stay in the race for the 10th seed, I’ll be happy.” Now, I’m expecting to secure a spot in the play-in game at the very least. The expectations have changed and a lot of that can be contributed to Thibs.
From Day 1, the defense has been the Knicks’ calling card. Wait, the Knicks play defense? Yes, the Knicks play good, team defense. The Knicks rank first in points allowed, field goals allowed, opponents field goal %, and opponents three-point percentage. Overall, New York is third in defensive efficiency.
On the offensive side, Julius Randle is in the midst of a career season that could lead to a substantial payday at the end of the season. RJ Barrett continues to improve his jumper especially from behind the arc. RJ’s three-pointer was a liability a season ago at 32%. Now, he’s shooting 38% from three including an incredible 45% in his last 40 games.
There’s no doubt that Thibs has instilled a winning culture in a franchise that’s been allergic to success for most of the 21st century. What they lack in talent, the Knicks make up for it with effort and hard-nosed defense. As a fan, it’s refreshing to see a Knicks’ team that loves to compete and will be in dogfight nine out of every ten games.
As great as Thibs has been, there are a few fatal flaws to his coaching style. Frankly, these flaws have cost the Knicks numerous games. The Knicks own a putrid 2-8 record in games decided by three points are fewer. At 25-27, the Knicks are below .500 for the first time since Feb. 23.
Thibs’s rotations at the end of games are head-scratching. Being a defensive-minded team keeps the Knicks in most games. However, the Knicks struggle to generate offense especially late in the fourth quarter. The Knicks don’t have “the guy” who can generate offense and get a bucket. Randle has been awesome, but he’s not the guard who can create his own shot that the Knicks so desperately need.
When is the last time the Knicks had a point guard that defenses had to gameplan for? Who is the last point guard that could get his teammates easy baskets in the final minutes? If my calculations are correct, Stephon Marbury, who hasn’t played for the Knicks in over a decade, is the answer.
This lack of a true point guard is a huge problem, which is why playing Elfrid Payton over Derrick Rose at the end of games makes my blood boil. I don’t want to turn this into the “Shit On Elfrid Payton Hour.” Payton is a nice player, but he’s extremely limited on the offensive side of the ball. Thibs plays Payton at the end of games for his defense. In theory, that’s a good decision, but when Randle is getting double-teamed and RJ can’t create off the dribble, do you trust Payton to make a play on the offensive side of the ball? Rose is the closest thing the Knicks have to an offensive threat at point guard. Rose needs to finish games, especially with a struggling offense.
Then, there’s Randle, who doesn’t look healthy. Randle suffered a thigh injury a few games ago and hasn’t looked the same since. Despite recording a triple-double against the Nets, Randle did not shoot the ball well against the Celtics (9-23 from the field). I am NOT saying Thibs caused Randle’s injury. However, I can’t help but think logging 37 minutes a game has taken a toll on Randle’s body. If the Knicks want to win in May, they will need a healthy Randle at full strength. I hate leading the charge for the “Minutes Police,” but would it kill Thibs to rest Randle during a blowout?
Tom Thibodeau is an exceptional coach who knows how to get the most out of his players. If the Knicks can land a star and an offensive point guard, this team can be one of the best teams in the Eastern Conference.
There is a lot more love for Thibs than hate. In fact, I don’t hate Thibs whatsoever. It’s frustration, not hate. I don’t want Thibs to change his personality, but some minor adjustments to his strategy could be the difference between a playoff loss and a playoff win.
Do you love or hate Tom Thibodeau? Leave your thoughts in the comments below or tweet us, @unafraidshow.