Analyzing Tom Thibodeau's Answers From His Knicks Introduction

John Schmeelk
July 31, 2020 - 9:46 am

Knicks fans heard a lot from Tom Thibodeau on Thursday, whether it was in his introductory press conference or other media interviews.

He talked about a lot of things, but here is what really stood out that should give Knicks fans an idea of how he is going to coach and lead the Knicks into the future.

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1. What’s The Timetable to Compete?
Both Thibodeau and team president Leon Rose were asked about this, and basically said that “we have not set a timeline.” Thibodeau stressed that improving a team is a process that requires different steps, none of which can be skipped. Something else he said in his one on one with Bill Pidto was more telling.

“We can’t fool ourselves. We must confront the facts. Where are we? We were at a -6.54 efficiency, so there’s a lot of work to be done. There has to be a commitment to improve.”

A -6.54 means the Knicks were outscored by about 6.5 points per 100 possessions, which was the fifth-worst mark in the NBA. It is a measure of efficiency on both sides of the ball, so Thibodeau is looking at the right numbers.

In other words, Thibodeau knows the Knicks are bad, and with the current talent on the roster, the team is years away from competing. But that doesn’t necessarily mean the team is entering a long-term rebuild.

2. Path to Improvement
Thibodeau mentioned four ways for the Knicks to improve. He stressed internal improvement and player development the most, but he also mentioned three other ways to get better: the draft, free agency, and trades. He stressed the team would use all four to improve.

In addition to talking about the young talent on the roster and his relationship with Leon Rose, Thibodeau stressed the Knicks’ stockpile of draft picks and potential cap space as ways to improve the team. In Minnesota, Thibodeau tried to win with young players in his first year before adding veterans to the team. It remains to be seen if he waits a year with the Knicks, or tries to bring in some veterans on multi-year contracts this offseason.

3. Changing with the League
Thibodeau spoke a lot about how the league has changed, specifically in the frequency that teams are playing four out/one in or five out offensively more. It means teams are playing smaller, with either four or all five players on the floor able to stretch the floor out to the three-point line with their shooting ability.

Thibodeau is someone that has traditionally played two bigs in his lineups, such as when he started Taj Gibson next to Karl-Anthony Towns in Minnesota. The way he talked about the changing league indicated he might be open to embracing some smaller lineups if he has the personnel to space the floor to allow for more penetration.  

“You never want to stay the same. You want to learn,” he said in reference to his year off and visiting other teams like the Warriors, Clippers, Heat, Celtics and Orlando. How much Thibodeau actually changes won’t be known until he starts coaching games, but he preached being open to new ideas from anyone.

4. The Young Players
Thibodeau did point out RJ Barrett and Mitchell Robinson as players with bright futures, but otherwise he went out of his way not to comment in detail on the rest of the roster. He said understandably that he wants to speak to and be around the players more before reaching any judgments.

Thibodeau did talk about watching how other teams develop their players, including dedicating a number of younger staff members to the job. Scott Perry stressed that a big focus in filling out the coaching staff will be player development. Thibodeau agreed player development would be a priority.

5. Autonomy
Scott Perry said Thibodeau will have full autonomy to fill out his coaching staff, but Thibodeau indicated a more collaborative approach where he would sit down with Perry and Rose to go through candidates and pick the best candidates to fill out the staff. Shams Charania previously reported that Mike Woodson would get a job in the organization, but Thibodeau said no final decisions have been made on his staff.

6. Learning Process
Leon Rose spoke about he got some ideas about his team by picking the brains of all the potential coaches he interviewed. When he got their opinions on the roster, and potential plans for the team, it gave him different perspectives and ideas of how the Knicks can move forward.

7. Core Values
Thibodeau listed five core values he would try to instill in his team: defense, rebounding, limiting turnovers, getting the ball to hit the paint, and sharing the ball with the extra pass. All of those items makes sense and shouldn’t raise any red flags.

8. The Three-Point Shot
Thibodeau did not mention the three-point shot per se, but he did talk about threes at different times throughout the day. He preached the keys to a good offense as generating lay-ups, free throws, and corner threes. Those are the most efficient shots in basketball. It is important to understand the true goals to have an efficient offense. Preventing those shots leads to an efficient defense, and Thibodeau understands that.

He did speak about understanding the difference between good and bad threes. He said there are teams that shoot too many bad threes just to be a high volume three-point team, which can lead to issues defensively in transition. Thibodeau’s teams are unlikely to be among the league leaders in three-pointers, but his history has shown he understands how to run an efficient offense, after finishing tenth and fourth in the NBA in offensive efficiency in his first two seasons in Minnesota.

9. Synergy
On more than one occasion, Thibodeau mentioned his relationship with Leon Rose and William Wesley as a key draw to the Knicks job. Thibodeau’s downfall in Chicago and Minnesota came from disconnects with either the front office or some players on his roster. Rose and Wesley’s experience in player management from an agent level should help them keep peace with the Knicks players, and their faith in Thibodeau should prevent conflict going up the management ladder.

10. Work
Nearly every answer Thibodeau gave referenced work. Young players have to be willing to put the work in to improve. Players need to work to be unselfish and help the team win. He is always working to learn more things and improve as a coach. Getting the Knicks back to prominence will require a lot of hard work from the entire organization. Thibodeau is a grinder. His players better be ready to be grinders, too.

Check out the latest episode of The Bank Shot, my Knicks podcast, with The Athletic’s Timberwolves beat writer Jon Krawczynski, where we did a deep dive into every narrative attached to Thibodeau. You can subscribe to The Bank Shot on most podcast platforms, including Apple Podcasts.

Follow John Schmeelk on Twitter: @Schmeelk

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