What is a "Thibs Guy"?
Ever since things went south in Minnesota, the notion began to prevail around the NBA that only certain players were fit for the grinding, old school coach who has no patience for blown coverages and no time for pleasantries.
Thus, the notion of the Thibs Guy was born. The easiest way to identify someone who could be a Thibs Guy was by looking at the list of players who already were at some point - a notion that was driven home by no less than five former Bulls appearing on Minnesota's roster in the two-and-a-half years Thibodeau ran the Wolves.
As such, last week in this space, I looked at the five most likely candidates to fill such a role on next year's Knicks. History says at least one will find his way onto their roster.
But that still leaves several spots unoccupied, as the Knicks will likely have more open roster spaces to fill this offseason than any team in the league. Unless Leon Rose would like to convince the likes of Kirk Hinrich and Mike Dunleavy Jr. to come out of retirement, that means they'll have to hope the notion of a Thibs Guy is more expansive than it has been made out to be.
And maybe that's not so crazy. I spoke with The Athletic's Mike Vorkunov about this concept this week and we both agreed that the idea of today's players being unwilling to or unable to play for a coach like Thibodeau is overblown. Players who want to win and who take their job seriously should theoretically welcome a demanding tactician who proves his meddle by how much time he's willing to put into his craft. As former player after former player has noted, if you take your job seriously under Thibodeau, you will do just fine.
That being said, it helps to have players on the roster who can steady the ship when things get rocky. Last year, as defeat after embarrassing defeat piled up for the Knicks, and each one started to resonate less and less in the locker room, only Taj GIbson's "silent brooding", as Vorkunov put it, stood out. New York needs more players who will take losing this seriously, If they get enough of those, achieving universal buy in will be that much easier.
On that note, here are four free agents and one maybe available trade candidate who that fit the bill.
5. Jae Crowder
Jae Crowder made his impact felt at MSG this season when he got into it with half of the Knicks roster after Elfrid Payton pushed him into the front row at the end of a blowout loss to Memphis.
Crowder has since been traded and fits like a glove in Miami. There's a better than decent chance he simply re-ups there on a big one year deal as Miami hoards cap space for the summer of 2021.
New York would likely need to significantly overpay Crowder for him to consider them, but in many ways he's exactly what they need most outside of a point guard and/or shot creator: a big wing who can double as a stretch four. If the bubble has taught us nothing else, it's that more and more teams have no qualms with putting shorter players at that spot.
Is he perfect? No. Both the "3" (just 33.7 percent for his career) and the "D" (his teams regularly defend better when he's off the court) of his game are overrated at this point, but beggars can't be choosers, and the Knicks have been shaking the change cup for a while now.
More importantly, Crowder brings a toughness that can't be taught, and would do wonders for the Knicks locker room.
4. Aron Baynes
Baynes has yet to play in the bubble, originally because he was facing a steep uphill climb in his recovery from COVID-19, and more recently due to a bruised right knee. If he plays at all this season, it will likely be with significant minutes restrictions and in a reduced role.
Baynes would be wise to be cautious. He's a player who has made about $30 million in the NBA and this could very well be his last contract as a pro. In his absence, the Suns have turned to Frank Kaminsky and haven't skipped a beat, starting out 4-0 as the surprise of Orlando.
New York wouldn't be able to offer him a bigger role - the time for Mitchell Robinson to start games is long overdue - but they could give him a nice one-year payday that the Suns might be more tepid about offering. Even though he doesn't block many shots, Baynes is a defensive stalwart who can anchor a unit, as he regularly did for Boston in the two years prior to landing in Phoenix. He also spaces the floor, hitting 35 percent of his threes over the last two seasons combined.
Most of all though, he's the epitome of a lunchpail player, and New York hasn't had many of those over the last few seasons. Taj Gibson might be a Thibs favorite, but Baynes shooting arguably makes him the better fit for a roster currently devoid of that particular skill.
3. Matthew Dellavedova
If Dellavedova is getting consistent minutes for your team, the odds are that your team isn't very good.
He's also done his fair share of losing, having been a member of the Cavs for the last two years after gaining some acclaim with his gritty game and general demeanor during their initial Finals run after LeBron's return.
So why he is on this list? For one, Delly has always been someone who accepts whatever role he's given. He also plays the same way whether the team is up or down by 30, and most importantly, knows how to execute a scheme. It's no accident that he's been the Cavs best regular rotation player by on/off metrics in each of the last two seasons, according to Cleaning the Glass.
Even if he's the fifth guard in your rotation, he serves as a constant reminder to the four guys in front of him that even the slightest slippage will result in this annoying little dude getting your minutes. That alone can be well worth the vet minimum he'll likely cost.
2. Marcus Smart
Included here only because of every player in the current NBA, he is perhaps the most Thibodeau-esque of them all.
Smart has long made his bones on defense, as Boston has been better defensively with him on the court every year of his career. More than that, he's been the heart of the Celtics almost since he was drafted.
Despite that fact, Smart has started less than half of the games he's played in Boston, and at the moment is coming off the bench despite averaging a career high 13.2 points per game, including 2.3 threes per contest at a 35 percent clip.
On the year, he's eighth on the Celtics in usage rate. Last year he was 15th, and he has never once been in top five on his team. As he enters the final two years and nearly $27 million of his contract, it's not completely inconceivable to see Smart relishing the chance to play a bigger role, and with Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and Kemba Walker not going anywhere, it's unlikely that opportunity comes in Boston.
He'd get that chance and more on the Knicks. What would it take to get him, and would it be the right move? I'll be handling those questions in an upcoming column. Stay tuned.
1. Fred VanVleet
Perhaps an obvious choice, but of every free agent in the league, it's hard not to see VanVleet fitting perfectly under Thibodeau.
As someone who entered the league with chips on both shoulders after going undrafted out of Wichita State, VanVleet has gone from G-League denizen to valuable starter on a championship contender. Now, as arguably the best free agent on the market and only 26 years old, VanVleet is in line for a major payday.
Would it be worth it for the Knicks to give it to him? I did a deep dive on Freddie earlier this summer, and in short, while he doesn't have the playmaking chops to be a point guard on a high level team, his combination of skills makes him an incredibly valuable piece in a league that values shooting, decision-making, ball-movement, and defensive IQ more than ever.
In other words, while he likely won't live up to whatever the Knicks will have to pay to acquire his services, he's also not going to wind up as the type of contractual albatross that Tim Hardaway Jr. became shortly after he was signed.
That also doesn't mean signing him is the right move. Liquidity is still arguably the Knicks best asset, and using up a large portion of the cap on a player without a realistic All-Star ceiling brings up other team-building issues, some of which I touched on recently.
It's not hard to see Leon Rose's decision about whether to put the full court press on signing the Little Guard That Could being the defining one of his tenure, as it would likely set the tone for what team New York plans to be next season.
If nothing else, getting VanVleet (and maybe a few more of the guys on this list) in the building would give fans a squad they'd enjoy watching far more than any Knicks team of recent vintage.