Tom Thibodeau effect already impacting new-look Knicks

NBA: New York Knicks at Cleveland Cavaliers
Tom Thibodeau has the Knicks sitting at 2-2 through four games.
David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

A .500 record four games into the season is not usually something to write home about, but the New York Knicks are often an unusual case — and it rings true as the new year approaches. 

The Knicks are winners of two straight after a shocking blowout of the high-powered Milwaukee Bucks and a methodical closeout of the Cleveland Cavaliers, which featured a 28-point, 12-rebound, 11-assist triple-double from the ever-improving Julius Randle.

In a year where the unprecedented and unpredictable has controlled the world, it’s only fitting that competence from a Knicks franchise that has been dysfunctional for decades is a trivial addition to the list. 

But that’s what having a truly competent head coach will do as the hiring of Tom Thibodeau has helped revamp the Knicks’ culture. This is truly a team that will go all-out for their coach.

“I think Thibs, from the start of training camp, just did a great job of just implementing his system of how we want to play,” Randle said following Tuesday night’s win over Cleveland. “We don’t have to second-guess where we’re going to be on the floor. We have great spacing and if the defense is collapsing, I can depend on whoever it is to cut or to be in the right (place). And just make the easy play. We’re all just trying to make the easy play, the right play, and play for each other unselfishly.”

Sometimes it’s difficult to find that unselfish brand in today’s NBA, but Randle is quickly becoming the poster child for that team-first mindset. Tuesday night was the third time in just four games that the forward had seven or more assists in a game. Last year, he had just one game of seven assists in 64 outings.

Thibodeau’s philosophy is also rubbing off on the Knicks’ defense — most notably their transitional game. As noted by SNY’s Thomas Dee, the Knicks committed 25 turnovers against the Cavaliers, but only allowed 27 points off of them. 

That’s a willingness to do the little things correctly, like making up for a teammate’s mistake by hurrying back to play defense. 

That’s something that hasn’t been seen in quite some time from a Knicks team.

“He’s coach that demands every player to go out there and play the right way. I think he let that be known from Day 1 in camp that we’re not going to force shots,” veteran guard Reggie Bullock said after his 17-point, seven-rebound outing against the Cavs. “We’re going to share the ball, we’re going to try to play the right way. As long as you’re playing hard on offense, on defense, moving the ball, every player on this team is going to get a chance.

“That’s what he harped about at the beginning of the season and it’s just guys that are trying to buy in and do those things on a nightly basis. If coach sees that, your number will be called. It’s just all about us playing together, not one player is going to be able to do it. It’s about all of us doing it together and going out and competing and playing hard.”

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