Can Tom Thibodeau get the Knicks back on track?


The Knicks have been a huge disappointment so far this season. The vessel can be righted, but her captain, Tom Thibodeau, must be prepared to make course corrections.

Despite having won four of their last five games, the New York Knicks are in desperate need of a change. We saw the fall, then the rise, of Kemba Walker as a starting point guard, the continued rise of Obi Toppin as a role player, and the early returns of the 2021 NBA Draft, especially Miles. “Deuce” McBride and Quentin Grimes entering their own in a few limited minutes. Despite this, the Knicks rank 19th in offensive efficiency, 18th in defensive efficiency and ninth in the Eastern Conference before their game against Oklahoma City.

This calls for some changes. The Knicks are bad at worst and, at best, stuck between playing their kids and their vets. Tom Thibodeau has been very hesitant to change his rosters, with Walker’s move this season being the only legitimate change. Even last season, he waited until Game 3 of the first round to completely eliminate Elfrid Payton from the starting lineup and rotation. Unlike last year, the Knicks don’t ride, so something needs to be adjusted.

Let’s talk about my ideal rotation. It’s a change from the current group. With Derrick Rose out for the next seven weeks or so, here’s my squad, from starters to reserves:

Kemba Walker, Alec Burks, RJ Barrett, Julius Randle, Mitchell Robinson; Obi Toppin, Evan Fournier, Immanuel Quickley, Quentin Grimes and Nerlens Noel. (Noel and Randle are currently in health and safety protocols; in which case Deuce McBride and Taj Gibson would enter the rotation, while Toppin would enter the starting lineup.)

Can Tom Thibodeau adapt?

The ultimate question here is: do the Thibs have the capacity to adapt? That’s a little unfair question for a successful NBA coach, but historically we’ve seen Thibodeau with short spins, slow basketball, and lean on his starters. The Knicks need almost the opposite of that. Basically, it’s a team that has to manage the pitch, create lines and play 9-10 guys per night. It’s a team that needs a few stretches of Toppin in the middle, Barrett in 4 and Immanuel Quickley running the show at the point guard.

And, for starters, Thibodeau doesn’t exactly follow his “best players will play” mantra. As I mentioned before, Toppin should have more minutes, but he wasn’t even giving young players a chance to prove themselves before the COVID outbreak either. Quentin Grimes, who looks like a high-ceiling wing thanks to his solid defense and outside shots, didn’t see the ground until the players missed the time, and now he’s having his first career start. to his credit 10 games later.

One of the most frustrating things last season – admittedly, just for me – was the lack of innovation and testing throughout the regular season. As a result, the Knicks clashed with the Hawks, made a real adjustment, and were eliminated in five games in the first round. When Julius Randle was suffocated and Barrett turned freezing, New York had nothing to contend with. At 17-18 years old and with no real chance of winning the NBA Championship this season, the Knicks are expected to bring in some of their younger players with more minutes, either with them leading them as assets to secure a star.

Thibodeau will he adapt? It’s hard to say, but I’ll lean no. He’s been pushing for more outside shots in the offseason, but another step is needed. With several players on this roster who can not only help turn the tide for New York this season, but can also form an appropriate rotation that provides balance in attack and defense, Thibodeau needs to be a bit more open to mix the rotation up more. , both on nightly and on a play basis, as his confidence in his starting lineup was misguided in the first half.

Randle and Toppin

Even before Julius Randle got into health and safety protocol, the Knicks had to transfer some of Randle’s minutes to Toppin. While Randle plays around 35.3 minutes a night, Toppin clocks just 15.7 minutes per game. The eye test suggests Randle could use a bit of rest, while Toppin could use those minutes, just to see where the fat in year two is with bigger minute samples.

Toppin is currently average 19.6 points, 8.7 rebounds and 2.3 assists every 36 minutes leading up to perhaps his first start of the season against Oklahoma City. His energy is contagious, a legitimate game changer in the second unit. He doesn’t need the ball to be an effective player and he’s not completely bad on defense. All of these things could change the New York offensive. For the good? It remains to be seen. However, it’s safe to say that Toppin has indeed altered the weaknesses in his game to become a solid player.

Those extra minutes could help Toppin in weaker areas. It demonstrated a solid pick-and-roll game, able to finish easily over the rim, but there is room for improvement. Spacing could be a concern, as Toppin only pulls 21.6% from the outside in a small sample. While the 2.3 assists for 36 suggest a good passer, I would love to see Toppin develop that part of his game.

Evan Fournier’s move on the bench

It’s the only move the Knicks should make to get everyone back to their full strength, even though I’m not 100% okay with that. If Kemba Walker is to remain the playmaker, he will not be able to play with Evan Fournier. The Walker-Fournier-Randle trio played the second most minutes together and has a net score of -4.9. It’s not the worst, but when you consider that the first seven groups of three men were all from the starting lineup, it indicates a starting lineup that has struggled throughout the year.

Randle remains a mainstay in the starting rotation and Walker, especially with Rose, looks like he will continue to secure the starting position. That means Fournier, who signed a four-year contract worth $ 78 million last summer, is set to slip into a sixth man role.

While the optics of it would sting, it could be the best decision for both sides. The Knicks can get an offensive bump while Rose is in the second unit with Quickley, Fournier and Grimes on the job. As for Fournier, it would be an opportunity to relaunch his season. Currently averaging 13.2 points and a career-low goal scoring percentage, Fournier is in the midst of the worst season of his career. Shots are at a career low and the defense has taken a backseat this season.

However, Fournier remains a dead shooter, shooting 36.9% on six threes per game. His outside shot is still a weapon to open the offense, but what has been underused like him as a creator. According to game type data from, Fournier sports a PPP of 1.05 as a pick-and-roll ball handler and a scoring frequency of 43.4% in these games, good for the first on. the Knicks and currently ranks him in the 91st percentile. The problem? Only 21.6% of its parts are as an operator.

Move him to the second unit with another bullet handler like Quickley, a marksmanship threat to Grimes and when Randle returns a real pick-and-roll lob threat to Toppin, I think the responsibility would be huge for Fournier and would allow him to have a much more solid second half. Moving Fournier to the bench is a move that could hurt his confidence more than be useful and, again, it’s not great having to take your first offseason off the starting rotation not even 40 games in the first year. of his four-year contract.

But what is done is done. Now you have to figure out how to get the most out of Fournier, and with Walker starting now, it’s difficult to put Fournier back into the starting lineup with Waker and lead the same starting lineup that hurt New York for a big time. part of the season. Put Fournier on the bench, give him 25 minutes a night, and allow him to do a few pick-and-rolls and get him back on track.

The Knicks are three-game winners in a row looking to get back into the top six in the Eastern Conference. This lawsuit has taken a huge hit with Randle being absent due to COVID protocols. Without Randle, Rose and Noel right now, the Knicks will have to adjust and mix up the rotation and find a way to get wins and keep moving up in the conference.

However, I think it’s a very important stretch in Knicks basketball. New York has a chance to not only win, but also allow young people to be the catalyst for winning basketball. Randle’s loss is Toppin’s gain, as the sophomore pro shines in more minutes. Barrett should see more time with the ball, Quickley should see some lead time and the 2021 draft class – Grimes and McBride – should see minutes to help the second unit.

It is also the occasion for some adjustments with the veterans. Although the sample size is small, Kemba Walker appears rejuvenated and is expected to reclaim his starting point guard, but that could mean a change between Alec Burks and Evan Fournier. All Thibodeau would have to sit down and figure out how to handle and adjust if the Knicks are to have a chance at a top six spot.

Calling it the most important stretch of Knicks basketball is premature, but it’s the most interesting because it gives the team and their fans a potential glimpse into the direction the team is moving forward. .

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