Tom Thibodeau

The New York Knicks are off to a hot start and Tom Thibodeau’s old school, unorthodox ways are working to a tee.

Danny Small

It looked like the New York Knicks were destined for another losing season after losing their first two games. But Tom Thibodeau said, “not so fast.”

The Knicks have won four of their last five, including a dominant victory over the Milwaukee Bucks and road wins over the Indiana Pacers and Atlanta Hawks. How are the Knicks doing this despite the tough schedule and rash of injuries?

Look no further than Thibodeau. The one-time Knicks assistant is back on the sidelines of Madison Square Garden and he’s doing things his own way. But make no mistake about it, he has changed with the times.

Old School Thibodeau

Thibodeau has definitely adapted with the times, but there are still a few things that haven’t changed. First off, he’s still all about the defense. The Knicks are ninth in the NBA in defensive rating (106.1) and are actually winning games because of their defense. That’s new territory for the Knicks.

The last time they finished in the top half of the league in defensive rating was in 2011-12 when they were fifth in the NBA. Coincidentally, that was one of the last times the Knicks made the playoffs too. They have only finished higher than 20th in the NBA in two of the last eight seasons.

Thibodeau has a history of playing his best guys for major minutes. In today’s NBA world where “load management” and “general soreness” are all too common, Thibs is a throwback.

RJ Barrett and Julius Randle lead the NBA in minutes per game with 38.8 and 38.4, respectively. Injuries have certainly played a role in Thibodeau’s heavy reliance on Randle and Barrett, but it’s a bit concerning to see these guys playing 40+ minutes per game. That isn’t sustainable over a 72-game season.

But as time goes on and guys like Alec Burks, Obi Toppin, Nerlens Noel, and Frank Ntilikina return to the lineup, expect Randle and Barrett’s minutes to go down slightly.

New Knicks Attitude

Calling Thibodeau a “breath of fresh air” after David Fizdale isn’t the best analogy. Thibs is more like a punch in the mouth, but sometimes, that’s all a young team needs. Veteran Austin Rivers spoke about Thibodeau’s style following shootaround on Wednesday. It’s clear that there is a new attitude in Madison Square Garden.

Thibodeau’s gruff demeanor on the sidelines and in practice was expected. He’s always been that type of coach and the Knicks knew what they were signing up for when they hired him.

With that said, Thibodeau’s scowl rarely makes its way into the Zoom meetings with reporters after games and practices. To be clear, relations with the media are secondary to what happens on the court, but it does matter in New York City. Thibs spent nearly a decade as an assistant with the Knicks so he came into the job with an understanding of how the New York media operates.

He might not be as charismatic as past Knicks coaches, but he looks far more comfortable in front of the podium (or camera) than many of his detractors predicted.