Tom Thibodeau on the hot seat amid Knicks lackluster start

Knicks head coach Tom Thibodeau.
Knicks head coach Tom Thibodeau.
AP Photo/Nick Cammett

The Knicks have started their season with a disappointing 6–7 record, and head coach Tom Thibodeau doesn’t appear to have answers for their many problems. 

Now, Thibodeau finds himself on the hot seat, with some insiders (and many fans) calling for him to be fired from his coaching position. 

Defensive breakdown 

Despite being touted as a “defensive guru” throughout his NBA coaching career, the Knicks gave up 145 points in an embarrassing loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder on Sunday afternoon, which was just the latest in their lackluster defensive play through 13 games this year. 

The Knicks have given up 116.8 points per game (6th-most in the NBA) and 14.1 threes per game (2nd-most in the NBA). 

Defenders have been wide-open on 22.3% of their three point attempts this season (defined as a shooter with more than six feet of space), which is the second-worst in the league — allowing 20.8 such attempts each contest. 

Shooters have over six feet when attempting 25% of their shots from anywhere on the floor against New York, which is third-worst in the NBA. 

On the boards, they’ve given up 46.4 rebounds per game, marking the fifth-worst performance of any team this year. 

All of that comes despite Thibodeau has preached the need to be aggressive on defense, and him playing lineups ostensibly meant to defend well against opponents. 

Those problems were evident on Sunday, when a Thunder team, that is in the midst of a rebuilding era and not meant to compete at the highest level, completely demolished the Knicks while on offense. The team couldn’t stop a nosebleed, let alone an opposing roster of NBA players. 

A rotation in flux

In Thibodeau’s defense, the Knicks roster is currently overflowing with good-but-not-great players, which makes the formation of a consistent rotation a big struggle. 

It’s not clear who the best options are in late-game situations, and that has shown itself through the beginning of the season. 

Obviously, there are some staples in the Knicks lineup, like RJ Barrett and newly-signed point guard Jalen Brunson, who unquestionably deserve minutes in the starting lineup and in crunch time. 

But beyond that, the team has several options at shooting guard: Cam Reddish, Quentin Grimes, Evan Fournier and Immanuel Quickley. All of them are averaging double-digit minutes per game, as Thibodeau clearly hasn’t  figured out how to make those pieces fit together. 

At power forward, the veteran coach has stuck with Julius Randle for the majority of minutes at the position, despite his obvious struggles this year. 

His RAPTOR metric (determined by a player’s individual plus-minus measurements and wins above replacement) is a -4.1 for his defense, which is the third-worst of any power forward in the league, as amNY reported on Sunday. On top of that, Randle’s ball-stopping tendencies have decimated the flow of the Knicks’ offense for large stretches of the game. 

Worse, Randle’s continued presence in the lineup has come at the expense of Obi Toppin, who has shown flashes of brilliance whenever he’s allowed on the court. The 2020 first-round pick has been waiting behind Randle since his debut in the NBA, but Thibodeau has stubbornly stuck to the veteran. 

Thibodeau needs to figure out his rotation, and how to maximize the pieces his front office has given him, but he’s shown little ability to do so yet. 

Hot seat heating up

This is Thibodeau’s third year on the sideline for the Knicks. He made the playoffs in his first year (and lost in the first round), but missed out on postseason last year. 

Now, the Knicks are below .500, and sitting with the 9th-best record in the Eastern Conference. 

They will now head on a five-game road trip to the west, where they will play some of the NBA’s best teams (Jazz, Nuggets, Warriors, Suns and Thunder). 

Knicks insider Ian Bagley of SNY, who reported that the coach’s seat is “warm,” and said “If you have another few of those games on this trip where the Knicks just look terrible, I think there’s going to be a big change made.” 

The Knicks didn’t come into this season to be mediocre. But that’s how they’ve played so far. So don’t be surprised if Thibodeau isn’t on the sidelines for much longer.

For more coverage of Tom Thibodeau and the Knicks, head to amNY.com.

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