Top 5 Former Tom Thibodeau Players Who Could Wind Up on the Knicks
If you didn't groan (or grunt, in the spirit of the Knicks new head coach) after seeing the title of this article, you're a kinder soul than most.
Of all the knocks on Tom Thibodeau - that he's relentless with practices (not true), that he buries his young players (it depends), or that he's lost his defensive edge (remains to be seen) - the one that can't really be denied is his penchant for relying on those he's comfortable with.
In Minnesota, President of Basketball Operations Thibs went out and acquired former Bulls Jimmy Butler, Taj Gibson, Luol Deng, Derrick Rose and Aaron Brooks for coach Thibs to inject into his rotation. In just two-and-a-half years on the job, five former players has to be considered a lot.
In New York, Thibodeau won't be wearing both hats, but it's foolish to assume he won't have some input on the roster, especially with more than half of the spots potentially up for grabs.
With that in mind, let's look at the top five former Thibodeau players who could wind up wearing orange and blue, the likelihood each becomes a Knick, and whether it would be a good idea or not.
(One name you won't see here: Jimmy Butler. The Heat are surely gearing up for a run at Giannis, not at the expense of Butler, but to pair them up. If three times ends up being the charm for Thibs and Jimmy Buckets, it won't be for some time from now)
5. Dario Saric
Likelihood: Under ten percent. Saric only played 26 games for Thibodeau following the Butler trade, and while he only got one start, he did see an average of 23 minutes. That said, the Wolves were nearly seven points per 100 possessions better when Saric was off the floor than when he was on under Thibs' watch.
Good move? It depends. If the Knicks can trade Julius Randle to open up their starting power forward spot (unlikely) or convince Randle to come off the bench (ditto), Saric would profile as the type of stretch four that the team desperately needs. He's also an age (26) that is more in line with the rest of the Knicks core than some of the other possible options for such a role.
He's also a restricted free agent, and unlike the Wizards with Bobby Portis, the Suns may not be so amenable to letting him go to sign a bloated one-year deal with another team. It's doubtful the Knicks make a big play in terms of years and/or dollars for a supporting piece like Saric, so this one seems more far-fetched than the others.
4. Jeff Teague
Likelihood: 15-20 percent. Teague was Thibodeau's handpicked replacement for Ricky Rubio a season after he arrived in Minnesota, and the head coach continually played his chosen point guard big minutes despite Teague's own intimation that some of the bench players needed a bigger role.
Good move? Doubtful. While Teague is familiar with Thibodeau's defensive preferences and knew where he was supposed to be on the court, his age (32) and physical shortcomings (Teague and ball screens have never been a match made in heaven) make it unlikely he'd be the point of attack defender the Knicks need to keep that end of the floor afloat. The difference between the Timberwolves defensive rating with him vs Tyus Jones at the helm was stark (the starting lineup with Jones in Teague's place gave up 11.7 fewer points per 100 possessions during the 2017-18 season), and Teague's numbers from last year with the Hawks don't provide much hope.
All that said, if the Knicks can't nab the guy who I have as number on on this list, decide to move Frank Ntilikina primarily to the wing, and need a competent backup for a rookie starter at point guard, Teague could make sense on a one-year deal. If nothing else, his 35.6 percent mark from deep (albeit on low volume) is better than anything they currently have on the roster.
3. Zach LaVine
Likelihood: 25 percent. Before I get accused of Knicks For Clicks, I've maintained since the day they hired Leon Rose that the Knicks would do everything in their power to swing a trade for a young-ish player with an All-Star ceiling sooner rather than later. LaVine fits that bill, and as Ian Begley reported, the Knicks are at least monitoring his availability.
As I've written about recently, expecting New York's target to be of the caliber of a Devin Booker or a Donovan Mitchell is a pipe dream, at least anytime soon. LaVine, unlike starrier names, might be eminently more available as quickly as this offseason.
Good move? Potentially. Trading for LaVine would represent an incredibly volatile risk/reward gamble, and that's without even considering what the Knicks would have to give up. It would be the ultimate bet on Thibodeau's ability to turn a talented but highly imperfect player into a winning contributor.
It's true that LaVine is nearly four years removed from the 47 games he played under Thibs as a third-year pro, but his penchant for lackadaisical off-ball defense and poor decision-making offset his scoring brilliance (12th in the NBA at 25.5 points per game) and ability to stretch the floor (38.0 percent from deep this season; 37.5 percent for his career). That said, LaVine praised his old coach earlier this year, so if the price is right, his shot-creation and spacing could be exactly what the Knicks need.
2. Taj Gibson
Likelihood: 50 percent. You don't have to look far for evidence that Gibson is a Thibs favorite. He routinely closed games in Chicago over higher profile players like Carlos Boozer and Pau Gasol, and started every game he played for Thibodeau while in Minnesota. He's also the only former Thibs disciple currently on the Knicks roster, and couldn't speak highly enough of the Knicks new head man when asked about him this February.
Good move? Yes...at the right price, and in the right role. Whatever the Knicks issues were last year, Taj Gibson wasn't one of them. There's no question he can still help a team, both on the court and in the locker room.
But the Knicks have a certain athletic freak waiting in the wings at center that needs to start games yesterday, and as we touched on already, are desperate for more spacing in the starting lineup. $10 million - what Gibson's team option is worth this season, $1 million of which is guaranteed - is a lot to pay for a backup five, especially in the league's current economic client.
If the Knicks decline the option, Gibson may favor going to a team closer to winning than New York figures to be, even if it means playing for someone other than the man under whom he's seen his best days as an NBA player.
1. D.J. Augustin
Likelihood: Better than 50/50. It's almost too obvious. Augustin had his best statistical season under Thibs in Chicago, averaging 15 & 5 on 41 percent shooting from deep while playing just over 30 minutes per game. The Knicks are in desperate need of a floor-spacing point guard, and while Augustin dipped to 34.5 percent from three this season as he adjusted to a bench role in Orlando, he's a free agent and would likely jump at the chance for a starting spot.
Good move? Yes. I can see the pearl-clutching now: a soon-to-be 33-year-old taking valuable minutes from a rookie point guard who represents the Knicks future, all so the team could win a few extra games in the present.
All I can say is that the train is exiting the station, whether or not the "draft and develop" crowd is on it. The Knicks are playing to win next year, and Thibodeau's hire is the surest sign of that yet. Rookie point guards do not traditionally help such an effort.
Despite the drop off in his shooting, the advanced stats say Augustin was the most helpful difference-maker the Magic had this season, especially on defense. He won't blow anyone away, but he's a shooting threat who is competent at running an offense - easily the Knicks biggest need.
Perhaps just as importantly, he's always been comfortable playing alongside other ball handlers throughout his career, most recently with Michael Carter-Williams and Markelle Fultz in Orlando. Both of those pairings produced excellent results, so it's easy to see a scenario where New York drafts a point guard and then runs some smaller lineups that get both guys on the court at the same time.
With the Magic facing a high payroll already and the prospect of having to overpay to keep Evan Fournier, the smart money says Leon Rose will have a chance to reunite D.J. with his former head coach. Here's betting it comes to pass.