Do the Knicks Have Enough Pieces to Find Success Under Tom Thibodeau?
Updated: Aug 4, 2020
As the NBA restarts in the bubble, the New York Knicks find themselves on the outside looking in. After a disappointing season that saw the Knicks fire head coach David Fizdale and Team President Steve Mills mid-year, the Knicks are back at square one. Enter Leon Rose and Tom Thibodeau. Rose, a former agent who represented the likes of LeBron James and Allen Iverson, has made well-received hires in his short stint as team president. Rose has been able to squash concerns over his lack of experience by surrounding himself with competent basketball personnel.
The hire of HC Tom Thibodeau has been divisive, Thibodeau's reputation as a grinder has undermined his record of success. Thibodeau is one of the game's best defensive minds, a coach capable of getting the most out of his units on a nightly basis, but his team's history of injuries gives players and fans cause for concern. Let's evaluate the roster and see who may have a seat at the table on the newest iteration of the Knicks.
Mitchell Robinson has managed to become the Knick's star attraction in his two seasons in NY. Mitchell's statistical output won't blow you away, but his otherworldly athletic ability bleeds through the tape. Mitchell averaged 9.7 PPG, 7.0 RPG, and 2.0 BPG at 23.1 MPG. Mitchell is still very green; his body is coming around faster than his mind. The transition into the professional ranks for frontcourt players tends to be more nuanced; playing on the blocks requires physical maturity. Mitchell's most significant issues right now seem to be foul troubles and health. There is no player on the Knicks that stands to gain more from Thibideau's hiring than Robinson; there isn't a coach better suited to develop his game.
R.J. Barrett's rookie campaign didn't go as planned, but there were bright spots, particularly in spurts defensively. Barrett can get to the rim the larger. Still, broader concerns surround his shooting, Barrett was abysmal from the free-throw line shooting 61%, his numbers weren't much better from the three-point line where he shot 32%. Barrett will need to rework his shot for him to realize his potential as a top tier scorer.
Barrett, like Robinson, is incredibly young and has a lot of work to do on his body. Everyone in the organization has praised his attitude and approach thus far. While he might not have lived up to everyone's lofty expectations, his rookie season was most certainly a step in the right direction. Jayson Tatum has managed to turn himself into one of the game's better perimeter defenders in a relatively short time, Barrett has the length and lateral quickness to become a disruptor on both ends of the floor.
Kevin Knox and Frank Ntilikina were billed as "projects" on draft night and haven't done much to shake their labels. At 20 and 22 years old, both players have struggled mightily to make a consistent impact. Ntilikina has shown flashes defensively, but it seems like he'll never be the lead guard Phil Jackson hoped he would be. Knox's minutes declined as the season progressed, his defensive struggles and shooting woes have hampered his progress and confidence. Fans shouldn't close the book on Ntilikina or Knox; both players stand to gain valuable experience playing under Thibodeau, particularly Ntilikina. Their play this upcoming season will be crucial for their futures with the organization.
Julius Randle has been the Knick's most consistent player averaging 19.5 PPG, 9.7 RPG, and 3.1 APG. Randle had a bumpy start but began to settle in as the season progressed, his motor and penchant for pushing the ball in the open court make him a valuable piece on a depleted roster.
Elfrid Payton and Bobby Portis seem to fit Thibodeau's scheme and could prove to be valuable rotational pieces.
With changes coming to the salary cap as a result of the economic fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic the Knicks will continue to make cap flexibility a priority with future acquisitions. Everyone on the roster seems expendable at this point. The Knicks have their eyes on the 2020 NBA Draft in hopes of building a solid nucleus heading into the summer of 2021, where the Knicks will have two first-round draft picks and enough cap space to sign multiple max players. With a change in leadership, an influx of cap space and picks, there seems to be hope on the horizon. In the very least, the Knicks have settled in on identity, the same approach that led the Knicks to the Finals almost 20 years ago. Let's hope that revisiting the grit and grind of the Riley era brings more success than the last 20 seasons.