Fire Tom Thibodeau! That was the chant from many New York Knicks fans during the early part of the season. It was well known that Thibs was on the hot seat and it seemed there was no way out.
The Knicks’ front office had passed up on Donovan Mitchell, and no more “stars” were available to come to the rescue. Knicks social media was calling for not only Thibs’ head but front office head Leon Rose’s job, too. Then something happened and we have to admit we were surprised as anyone else. Here are three reasons for the Knicks’ recent stunning turnaround.
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Tom Thibodeau started playing the New York Knicks’ ‘kids’
Evan Fournier, Cam Reddish and Derrick Rose were out of the rotation. Thibs went to a nine-man rotation and it included Miles “Deuce” McBride. You can imagine the ire spewed by the Knicks faithful to find out that sophomores Quentin Grimes and Deuce McBride were in and fan favorites Cam Reddish and vet Derrick Rose were out.
Hadn’t Reddish proven himself? He had a 26 point game (a loss) and a 22 point game (also a loss). Unfortunately Reddish wasn’t consistent. Rose is an indispensable veteran and hopefully there’s a place for him in the the Knicks’ organization. But it seemed that Thibs didn’t see a place in the every game rotation.
Deuce McBride went to West Virginia. And if you know anything about its program, it is defense oriented. Quentin Grimes went to Houston where I’m told the coach is a bit like Thibs. So two players who have had defense ingrained in them should not be sitting on a Tom Thibodeau bench. Question is, why have they not been played before? I understand that Summer League is summer league, but they were in the Summer League Finals and played well. They more than proved their defensive skills.
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Defensive focus for the New York Knicks
Eight games ago the Knicks lost to the Dallas Mavericks by 21 points inside Madison Square Garden. A five-game losing streak at home. It seemed to be the straw that broke the camel’s back. Julius Randle called a team meeting to hold each player accountable. But it was more than time for the coach to be accountable. And he was.
The addition of McBride with Immanuel Quickley, Isaiah Hartenstein, Jericho Sims and/or Barrett-Randle have been a defensive dynamite in the second unit. The next game was against the Cleveland Cavaliers, also in the Garden. The Knicks held the Cavaliers to 34.9% from the field, 22.9% from beyond the arc and to only 39 rebounds to the Knicks 54. The Cavaliers were also held to 81 points for the game.
It didn’t stop there. Not only were the Cavaliers held to under 100 so were the Atlanta Hawks, Sacaramento Kings and the Chicago Bulls. It became the “thing” the Knicks tried to do. Keeping opponents under 100 points.
In November the Knicks’ opponents had a plus/minus of 2.2. This December, it’s -10.0. The Knicks’ defensive rating is 111.5.
Mitchell Robinson has become the Knicks defensive juggernaut. He has pulled down 93 offensive rebounds this season. In the last seven games Robinson, has 75 rebounds, 38 of which were offensive. Robinson menaces his opponents in the paint causing turnovers. It’s one of the primary reasons for New York’s current seven-game winning streak heading into Tuesday night’s outing against the Golden State Warriors.
Jalen Brunson has been the one constant for the New York Knicks
We shouldn’t say just Brunson. But Jalen Brunson is a point god who makes every one on his team better. The sullen, moody Julius Randle from last season, has been transformed into this smiling, happy teammate.
During this seven-game winning streak, Randle is averaging 26.7 points and 11.4 rebounds while shooting 42.7% from the field and 33.3% from three. RJ Barrett ,who suffered since the beginning of the season, has played much better recently. The recently-extended wing is averaging 22.3 points and 6.4 rebounds while shooting 44.6% from the field and 35.9% from beyond the arc during this seven-game span. Imagine a Knicks team that will do this from now on. It has been said that a good Knicks team is good for the League.
Maybe it just took the Knicks 23 games to gel. No, it took the Knicks having a point guard who made them change. A floor general who will put the team on his back and not give up. Not until the very last second. A point guard who would not accept a 10-13 record, one who demands the same from his teammates.
So far this season, Brunson is averaging 20.8 points and 6.2 assists while shooting 46.9% from the field and 37.3% from distance.
The last seven games finds the New York Knicks blossoming into a team that according to rival coach Rick Carlisle of the Indiana Pacers is as good as any team in the NBA.