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Tom Thibodeau’s lineup tinkering will soon reveal who Knicks really are

New York Post
New York Post
 2022-12-06

Twenty-four games into the season, the Knicks are 11-13. Two years ago, when the consensus around New York was that Tom Thibodeau had been right there alongside Jimmy Naismith nailing that peach basket into the balcony at the Springfield Y, the Knicks were also 11-13 after 24 games.

Now, of course, there is a steady hum — that sometimes spasms into a louder rumble — that maybe Thibodeau hasn’t just forgotten more basketball than the rest of us know (as the old hoops joke goes), but maybe he’s just forgotten how to coach.

A longtime NBA insider shakes his head at that.

“If it’s a player’s league,” says the insider, who has paid special attention to the Knicks this year, “how often do the Knicks put the best player on the floor? How many talented defensive players are in their rotation? I’m flabbergasted that in [the fans’] desire for the Knicks to be better it’s jaded them to think they deserve better.”

There has clearly been something of an uptick in the Knicks’ effort in the 24 days since Oklahoma City laid a 145-135 hurting on them at the Garden, though that hasn’t necessarily been reflected in the record yet. Beating Cleveland Sunday night was a certain positive step. Playing well Wednesday against their sudden nemesis, the Hawks, would be, too.

“They’re talented,” Thibodeau said of Atlanta Tuesday. “They’re long. They’re athletic.”

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Knicks head coach Tom Thibodeau
Jason Szenes

They are exactly the kind of team that’s given the Knicks fits the last two years because of all three of those qualities, and they have the extra treat of being centered around Garden anti-hero Trae Young. It would be a splendid time for the Knicks to be able to back up Sunday’s effort — and the ’90s-era defense it conjured — with another, especially with a spate of winnable games between now and the new year.

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And Thibodeau is tinkering. His new nine-man rotation of the moment includes Miles “Deuce” McBride now and excludes both Derrick Rose, one of Thibodeau’s all-time favorites, and Cam Reddish. Evan Fournier has been glued to the bench for 11 games. The notion of Thibodeau being stodgy and stuck in his ways has given way to what looks as much as ever like a Penn Plaza meritocracy.

“He said he wanted to give Deuce a look,” Rose said Tuesday. “I understood.”

Reddish’s thoughts on the matter are as yet unknown but what’s clear is that minutes are no longer distributed based on status but on earning them. Thibodeau has had less reluctance to keep starters on the bench than he ever has before. It’s all part of trying to figure out a rhythm and a pattern that works for this team.

Two years ago that’s exactly what happened, 11-13 blossoming into 41-31 by year’s end. Last year, 12-12 after 24 dissolved into 37-45. This is right around the time when both of Thibodeau’s previous two teams figured out exactly who they were, and who they would be. You get the sense we’re about to receive a similar message from this group.

“Relative to their competition,” the league insider asked, “what do you think their record should be?”

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Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau greets forward Julius Randle.
Charles Wenzelberg / New York Post

Right now the answer is probably 11-13 or so. Let’s check back on that number on New Year’s Day.

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