Predicting Tom Thibodeau’s Effect on the Knicks

Despite what many people may think, Tom Thibodeau has had a very successful career in coaching.

  • He won Coach of the Year in the 2010-2011 season
  • Won coach of the month 6 times
  • He won a title as an assistant coach with the Celtics in 2008
  • Has served as an assistant coach for Team USA because of his knowledge defensively
  • His overall record as a head coach is 352-246 (58.9% win percentage)

Those are all high honors that were well deserved. Unfortunately though, his old-school tactics have failed him to an extent.

Tom has to trust players in order for them to have a chance and he always tends to lean towards the vets. However I do think there are players that will benefit with his arrival.

R.J. Barrett:

Tom Thibodeau has had major success with wings in the past with guys like Loul Deng and Jimmy Butler. These guys were grinders. They had great work ethics and played both ends of the floor. R.J. has the work ethic to be a really good player I believe, but he’s never been near the defender Deng and Butler were. On the bright side, R.J.’s box plus minus on defense was -1.5 as opposed to his offense was -2.8. Now Barrett’s a way better offensive player. He’s still needing to improve his jumper, but a lack of spacing really clogged driving lanes so they obviously didn’t put the right pieces around him yet. I am slightly concerned that Thibodeau’s teams are usually not great 3 point shooters, but he still has had success with good drivers in the past and found a way to make it work. If Barrett can earn his trust.. It’s very possible Tom can unlock some defensive potential, because he has the size and athleticism to be a good defender. He just needs to buy in a little more and understand angles. Tom is an upgrade over Fizdale for Barrett’s sake. Thibodeau definitely has a better track record with talented wings. The one Tom didn’t have success with was Andrew Wiggins, but there have been rumors about his work ethic for years now so that shouldn’t surprise anyone with Thibodeau’s reputation that those two didn’t mesh well. Overall though, Barrett’s number’s should be for the better eventually. Expect R.J. to be a more well-rounded player and be more of the focal point for this team offensively. 

Mitchell Robinson:

Tom Thibedeau’s experience with the Celtics, Bulls, and team USA should pay dividends for one of the best young rim protectors in the NBA. Thibedeau’s experience with Kevin Garnett as well as helping Joakim Noah receive DPOY honors will help Robinson become a potential DPOY candidate. Tom is one of the best defensive minds in the game. He is a little old-school, but his knowledge and experience is priceless. It’s also ridiculous that Robinson only averaged 23 MPG last season. Thibs would play him more than that based solely on how much he loves defense. Tom also always has strong rebounding teams. Robinson isn’t a great rebounder at this point in his career but expect those numbers to improve on both the offensive and defensive glass.

Elfrid Payton:

Payton’s defensive first mentality will automatically get him bonus points with Thibs. He also plays hard and is very coachable. I would expect Thib’s to use him and possibly start him over a potential PG that gets picked in the lotto. Tom doesn’t value shooting like most other coaches so that works to Payton’s advantage as a career 28.9% 3 point shooter.

Vets

Thibs has always preferred the more experienced players. I mean Taj Gibson most certainly benefits, because some could even say Tom is borderline stalking the man. Gibson was in Chicago when Thibs arrived. He was in Minnesota when Tom arrived. There is little doubt that Gibson will have an important role in the rotation as he has always been Thib’s favorite. I think Ellington – despite being only 6’3 – should earn some minutes as Tom respects established shooting specialists if the Knicks decide to pick up his team option. Then anyone they might pick up in F/A would most likely benefit if they’re a vet. 

Now while a lot of New York’s current key players benefit, there are many players now, and potential players that won’t.

Kevin Knox:

Knox has had a very bumpy start to his career. He has struggled to stay healthy. Despite only missing 8 games, it has seriously affected his playing time. This is unfortunate, because Knox has the potential to be an impressive forward that is athletic enough to finish at the rim off cuts and lobs, but can also stretch the defense. His shooting percentages are misleading. He has only shot 33.7% from 3 so far despite having very impressive mechanics. Shooting is also very mental, and Thibs is not patient. To add on to that, Knox is a liability defensively right now so his playing time is going to be very limited. His career with the Knicks is in severe jeopardy.

Julius Randle:

While Randle did not fit Fizdale’s system, don’t expect him to fit better in Thib’s. Randle is best in a fast past, spacing focused offense that gives him room to attack the defense on the break and at the rim first and then can punish them from outside on occasion. That is not Tom’s system. Thibodeau is a slower pace, defensive first mindset and doesn’t worry about making sure everyone gets consistent touches to stay engaged. That will not happen. Expect it to be a primarily pick and roll based offense with R.J. having the ball in his hands and for everyone else; their usage will change offensively game to game. Thibs also likes going to the post when Randle is much more efficient at scoring on the move. Last year Randle shot 46.0% from the court. As a Pelican and his last year as a Laker with Luke Walton and Alvin Gentry as his coaches, he shot 53.8% from the court. Don’t expect the Knicks to move off Randle, but also don’t have high expectations for him to flourish with Thibs. 

Dennis Smith:

Dennis Smith is someone Thibs is not gonna want to waste his time with. Smith’s character isn’t great to say the least and if Thibs has a guy like Elfrid who can provide similar production as Smith right now in their careers, Thibodeau would definitely go with the guy he trusts. As mentioned previously, Tom Thibodeau is not the most patient, and to groom Dennis Smith will take a lot of patience. Smith’s game isn’t a bad fit though in Tom’s system so it’s not impossible they can’t make it work, but it’s most certainly unlikely.

TBD:

Whichever PG the Knicks Draft:

The hiring of Thibodeau makes it evident the Knicks don’t have their eyes on LaMelo Ball as that would be an utter disaster. Too many egos colliding and his laziness on defense would drive Tom mad. 

There are point guards the Knicks could draft though not named LaMelo. Killian Hayes and Tyreese Haliburton would have to be the top 2 players I expect them to draft. 

Tyreese is a little older and is 6’6 with a 6’11 wingspan. He would be a player that would make sense for Thibodeau in terms of effort, defense and decision-making.

In my personal opinion though, Killian Hayes makes more sense. First of all, he has higher upside as a prospect with his shot-creating potential. It also makes sense that he can play off the ball a little more and defer with more reliable shot-mechanics than Habliburton. He also has good vision – not as good – but still more than serviceable. He possesses good size at 6’5 and is a little stronger than Haliburton and can even fill into his frame more with wider shoulders. 

A concern though, is that his defense needs some work and while despite there being potential, Thibs could just want the better player/defender right now. Even worse though, is if he has whichever rookie he drafts splits minutes with Elfrid Payton.

In Minnesota, Tom did not even play Kris Dunn and he was recognized as a great defender coming out of college. So it’s hard to say if Tom’s mindset/personality has changed. Tom’s been doing T.V. now for a year or so.. It’s hard to know what to expect.

Overall Analysis:

Obviously there are pros and cons to this hiring. It is better than what they had previously, but it’s possible they could have done better. 

This feels like a safe hire. Thibodeau can help win games now, but hasn’t proven he can be more than a first round exit in 5 seasons. Tom’s strategies have been negated since the small-ball era arrived and Thibs has not been able to adapt. 

The only way Thibs makes it through his contract is if he makes R.J. into an All-NBA type player. That’s got to be his biggest priority. If he can develop R.J., they should be able to compete for a playoff spot in the East. Probably not this year, but maybe a year or two because they do have a lot of work still to develop and get the right core that matches Thib’s style. This hire is not one that should have them ecstatic, but it is better than what they had.

Thibs is a good fit in the city of New York as he can handle the pressure of the press, media, and lofty expectations. It shouldn’t come as a surprise if Thibs eventually can get them to the playoffs within the next 2-3 seasons, which some may consider a win for the Knicks. Overall though, this hiring felt safe. There were more coaches that have had success in the small-ball era available, but Tom is smart (but stubborn) so it will greatly depend on his willingness to adapt to today’s game while keeping some of the roots of his schemes if he wants to find true success. 

Article Written by Bradley Patten
Tom Thibodeau’s coaching history and player stats found on Basketball-Reference (https://www.basketball-reference.com)

Published by bsscouts

This account is run by Bradley and Sean (BS) Patten. We are twin brothers who are passionate about basketball and want to make it into the NBA industry. We will be posting articles regularly​ on the NBA and up and coming NBA prospects.

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