Tom Thibodeau’s aggressive style of coaching wears thin on some players, but he might be the right guy for the New York Knicks.
The Tom Thibodeau smoke is rising above Madison Square Garden. The former New York Knicks assistant coach seems to be the preeminent favorite to land the head coaching gig for next season.
In February, the chances at Thibs landing the job were set at 90% by one report and multiple reports confirmed this, although not every confirmation had a convenient percentage attached to it.
Now, according to Marc Berman of the New York Post, the Houston Rockets and the Brooklyn Nets are interested in Thibodeau as well. The Rockets appear to be destined for a divorce with Mike D’Antoni after so many years together.
The Nets, much like the Knicks, have an interim head coach and are likely to move forward in another direction.
Where there’s smoke there’s fire and it appears likely that Thibodeau will be pacing an NBA sideline before long. The coach has his flaws, but he might be a natural fit for this young team in need of some nastiness.
New Yorkers love to reminisce about the rough-and-tumble Knicks squads of the ’90s. The front office tried to dupe the fans into thinking that “take no shit” attitude was back in New York last season, but that wasn’t the case. Instead, David Fizdale was fired before the calendar turned to 2020 and the Knicks were well out of the playoff hunt.
If the Knicks truly want to become that hard-nosed team that starts and ends with defense, Thibodeau is the guy. Although his style of coaching has a tendency to wear down players after a few years, he could be perfect for the young core assembled in New York.
It’s clear that the Fizdale way of being a player’s coach didn’t work. Thibodeau uses a much different style, but one that was forged in the ’90s while he was an assistant under Jeff Van Gundy.
Defense, defense, defense.
That’s the name of the game for Thibodeau and even though the NBA is an offense-first league, the Knicks need to have a strong defensive identity if they plan to become a playoff team anytime soon.
RJ Barrett is a willing defender who has the athleticism and moxie to guard multiple positions. Mitchell Robinson is an eraser at the rim and a future Defensive Player of the Year candidate. Frank Ntilikina is one of the best perimeter defenders on the planet and his insane length makes him a nightmare for opposing guards.
The foundational pieces for an elite defense are already in place. Perhaps Thibodeau can figure out how to unlock the athleticism of Kevin Knox on that end of the floor as well.
Keeping Mike Miller around
This is actually a much more important topic than most Knicks fans realize. After Fizdale’s firing, interim head coach Mike Miller stepped in and did a tremendous job under the circumstances. He led the Knicks to a 17-27 record—about a 31-win pace—and deserves a legitimate shot at becoming the full-time head coach.
However, with all of the reports surrounding Thibodeau, it seems likely that president Leon Rose will bring in his own man.
If that’s the case, the Knicks need to make a pitch to Miller to keep him in the fold. Miller’s work with Mitchell Robinson over the last two years has been off the charts. The lanky center’s development from a second-round question mark to one of the best young players in the league has been nothing short of remarkable.
Keeping Miller on as Thibodeau’s top assistant would be a good way to keep some continuity for the young guys on the roster.
Get with the times
There are a lot of good things to like about Thibodeau—former Knicks assistant, defense first, and a .589 career win percentage.
However, there’s a reason why he left Chicago and Minnesota unceremoniously. His in-your-face style of coaching has a shelf life with most players not named Jimmy Butler. His relentlessness can be too much for some players to handle. Scaling back on this is a good idea for any coach in today’s NBA.
Another criticism of Thibs, and one that matters more in terms of Xs and Os, is that his offense isn’t conducive to the modern NBA. Many feel that Thibodeau is stuck in the 2000s (some say the ’90s) and he has to update his philosophy to get with the times.
Well, according to Berman, after being fired by Minnesota, Thibs has kept busy with other teams.
“Since being ingloriously ousted in Minnesota amid his third season as coach/president, Thibodeau had attended various NBA/college practices. He has spent lots of hours embedded with the Clippers, Warriors and Celtics, among others, trying to keep close to the game,” Berman wrote.
That’s a good sign.
With that said, Thibodeau has a history of success as a coach and his ties with the Knicks should make his transition to the Big Apple much easier. He might not be the best option, but Thibs wouldn’t be a disaster.