New York Knicks: Tom Thibodeau has New York off to a fast start in 2021

Tom Thibodeau (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
Tom Thibodeau (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images) /

Tom Thibodeau has the New York Knicks playing great basketball

Have the New York Knicks turned a corner?

New head coach Tom Thibodeau has this team performing at an unusually high level early. For the first time in years, it appears New York has a direction. Knicks fans may have a reason for optimism because they might not just be a hot start. There were some pieces on this team and they have finally found the right guy for the job.

Coach Thibodeau is no stranger to Madison Square Garden. He was on former Knicks head coach Jeff Van Gundy’s staff during their glory days during the late 1990s, which included a trip to the 1999 NBA Finals. He’d win NBA Coach of the Year in 2011 during his well-respected run the Chicago Bulls and build an identity for intensity. He’s sprinkled that same energy and pedigree onto this New York Knicks team.

We’ve seen flashes of greatness from Julius Randle throughout his career and he’s thriving even more with his new coach. He’s scoring more, playing with confidence, and been the key to the team’s success this season. With four games of 28 points scored or more, he’s looking more and more like a star by the day. He was the key force in the win over the Atlanta Hawks, another emerging team out East and even bigger against the Utah Jazz.

The Knicks have been swinging and missing on draft picks since Kristaps Porziņgis, but over the past few seasons, they’ve added a few studs. R.J. Barrett was a stud at Duke, and after an up-and-down rookie year, he may just take that next step this season. He’s a volume scorer, if he can find consistency and his shot selection improves, he’ll be a 20-point scorer by the end of this year. He was key in the victory over the Indiana Pacers, hitting four triples.

They haven’t been able to fully access their 2020 draftees yet. Obi Toppin will be a big piece to New York’s rotation when he returns from injury. The former Dayton Flyer can stretch the floor, finish at the rack, and has the versatility to play all three frontcourt positions. Point guard Immanuel Quickley has flashed and he’s in for a productive first year. Coach Thibs has called him “a student of the game” and after his fourth quarter against the Hawks, may be the starter at some point this season.

The Knicks 2018 draft coup wasn’t too shabby as well. Mitchell Robinson has the potential to one of the better centers in the league, and one of the premier rim protectors. His athleticism and shot-blocking ability may remind some of former Knicks center Tyson Chandler. After receiving inconsistent playing time during his first two seasons, it appears Kevin Knox II has found his role. With Barrett and Randle generating most of the offense within the starting lineup, a scoring role off the bench best suits him. With the expectations lowered, Knox could finally flourish under a great coach.

New York also had a relatively quiet offseason, but their few small signings pay off big early. Re-signing Elfrid Payton oddly may have been their best move. Coach Thibodeau loves scrappiness, and Payton gets after it. He’s been one of the better rebounding guards throughout his career and it appears he’s locked down a starting role.

We’d like to see Dennis Smith more, but the Knicks added two more under the radar guards who can light it up. It was only right Austin Rivers would play in the Garden. By following in his dad Doc Rivers’ footsteps, he may have found his most secure position since playing for him with the LA Clippers. After his clutch performance against the Utah Jazz, he may just be a Sixth Man of the Year candidate. He’s always been able to let the shots fly, and Thibs has given him the green light to run the second team.

Ten-year veteran Alec Burks appeared to find himself a role early too before the injury, averaging 20 points through three games. Though a small sample, Burks has always had that type of firepower and he figures to be effective off of the pine this season. Bringing 3-and-D vet Reggie Bullock back and signing Nerlens Noel were also good, culture progressive moves.

We’ve seen Tom Thibodeau win in Chicago and we watched him lead the Minnesota Timberwolves to the playoffs a few years ago. In arguably a better situation with a much easier playing field, Thibs leading this team to the postseason is very realistic.

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Time will tell and the standings will shape up soon, New York has something though. This franchise is indeed finding its identity after being lost for so long. This coach along with this core is a recipe for winning basketball.