How has the signing of coach Thibodeau impacted Knicks’ season?
Over the past few years, the New York Knicks have been the most underwhelming team in the NBA. The 2013 Playoffs, where they were upset in the Conference Semifinals by the Indiana Pacers, was the last time that they made the postseason.
Ever since then the Knicks have undergone a painfully slow rebuild, finishing bottom of the pile out East on two occasions.
However, this year all that changed with the Knicks securing a fourth-place finish in the Eastern Conference.
There have been several reasons for their dramatic improvement, none more important than the arrival of new head coach Tom Thibodeau. Snapped up by the Knicks in July 2020, Thibodeau’s impact has been instantaneous.
The Knicks may have only played five games in this season’s Playoffs but getting there at all is testament to the coach’s incredible work. Below we take a closer look at Thibodeau’s new look New York team.
Who is Tom Thibodeau?
Thibodeau is one of the most respected coaches around. Playing college basketball for Salem State he took a job as assistant coach upon graduation. Aged just 25, he then rose to become head coach at the school.
Securing an assistant’s job at Harvard in 1985 he remained there for four years before being given his NBA break. That came in the form of another assistant coach role at the Minnesota Timberwolves. Thibodeau went on to help at the San Antonio Spurs, Philadelphia 76ers, New York Knicks and Houston Rockets.
During his assistant coaching career, he carved out a fearsome reputation as one of the best defensive minds in basketball. For instance, during the 2000/2001 season he helped the Knicks keep 33 consecutive teams to less than 100 points. This was an NBA record.
His defensive capabilities led to the Boston Celtics hiring him as an associate coach under Doc Rivers in 2007.
During his time at the franchise, the Celtics’ defensive performance improved considerably. His impact was most clearly seen in the 2008 NBA Finals where his defensive tactics helped the team lockdown MVP Kobe Bryant.
With his stock at an all-time high, Thibodeau was finally handed his first head coach position in 2010. During his first season at the Chicago Bulls, he racked up 60 wins — a record amount for a rookie coach.
If his talisman Derrick Rose had not suffered a string of injury problems, it is likely Thibodeau would have won a championship during his five years in Chicago. In 2015 the Bulls let him go and they have made the Playoff just once since.
After leaving, Thibodeau combined roles at the Minnesota Timberwolves and Team USA. He ended the former’s Playoff drought and also helped USA to gold at the 2016 Olympics.
Why the Knicks signed him
At the end of the suspended 2019/2020 season, it was clear that the Knicks needed a rethink. It had been another year of disappointment with the team’s poor record excluding them from the Bubble.
There were many issues with the Knicks but defensively they were particularly poor. They had the eighth worst defense in the league, with improvement required across the board.
This meant hiring Thibodeau made perfect sense as he has such a strong track record of improving teams at the defensive end.
His ability to take franchises into the Playoffs is another thing that attracted the Knicks. Their drought had not been quite as long as the one Thibodeau ended in Minnesota, but if something was not done it might have gone on to rival the Timberwolves shoddy record.
The Thibodeau effect
The impact Thibodeau had on the Knicks right from the get-go was pretty incredible. After eight games they were 5-3, a stunning improvement on the 7-1 they were at the same stage last season.
Although it was not all plain sailing for New York, the longer the season went on the better they got.
The highlight of the year was a brilliant run in April where they won 10 of their 11 games to finish the month. They also had a strong May, losing just three times to finish the season on 41-31.
As expected, the driving force behind the Knicks’ improvement was their defense. Under Thibodeau, they went from having the eighth worst to the third best defensive rating in the league.
Meanwhile, in transition they improved remarkably, chasing down their opponents’ fast breaks like their lives depended on it.
Offensively things improved as well. Special credit must go to Julius Randle who posited career best points per game, three-point percentage and rebounding numbers.
Derrick Rose — signed partway through the season — proved an inspired pick up, while RJ Barrett had an eye-catching sophomore year.
What the future holds for Thibodeau and the Knicks
Knicks fans have many reasons to be excited about the offseason, not only do they have one of the best coaches, citizens of New York will also soon be able to play sports bets online on NBA matches. The recent legalization of online sports betting in New York is something for local Knicks fans to look forward to for the next NBA season. New York fans will now have the opportunity to back Thibodeau’s team in upcoming matches and even predict if the Knicks could be NBA champion’s next season.
Not only are things on the up off the court, but they should also have the cap space to make some additions. New York will likely be looking for a scorer to take some of the points burden from Randle. Speaking of the Knicks’ star man, they have a team option on him so can be confident of keeping him around for another year.
With Thibodeau at the helm, New York is looking like a desirable location again. The Knicks are definitely ones to watch for the 2021/2022 season.