Five Way-Too-Early Conclusions from Tom Thibodeau's Knicks Intro Presser

Jonathan Macri

Death, taxes, and the Knicks introducing a new head coach who will finally lead them to the promised land.

Seasoned fans will know by now that the first rule of Knicks introductory pressers is to not talk about Knicks introductory pressers, mostly because the same things get said every time, and why waste your breath.

That said, as Leon Rose, Scott Perry and Tom Thibodeau spoke to the virtually assembled media on Thursday afternoon, there was very little talk of the end goal, and instead a greater focus on the means by which the organization hoped to arrive there. Given the current state of the franchise and the many promises made by the previous regime, it was encouraging, even if it was a bit predictable.

With the caveat that what Thibs says and what Thibs does may wind up being two very different things, here are five early conclusions we can reach from his first words as Knicks head coach.

1. He knows this might be a long haul

"We have a lot of work to do."

Of everything said at the press conference, this quote from Thibodeau might be the most obvious posturing that occurred. 

If the Knicks proclaim that they are a long ways away and plan to invest heavily in their youth, that gives off the impression that they value their young players, which can only help in potential trade discussions. And we know there will be trade discussions (Thibs even mentioned trades as one possible avenue towards improvement).

Even so, when Thibodeau discussed how he would approach player development, he acknowledged that regardless of what a team is doing to help young players off the court, getting them live game action is also an important part of the process. He referenced the fact that the Knicks have a young roster several times, and mentioned their bevy of picks in upcoming drafts as part of the appeal for this job. He also had a chance to say that the playoffs would be a goal and neglected to do so.

All in all, fans worried about the organization pulling out all the stops should have their fears quelled...for now at least.

2. He might start to play smaller lineups

When our own Howard Megdal asked Thibodeau about his penchant for playing lineups with two traditional big men and how that might change amidst a league that is increasingly going small, he acknowledged that he would likely need to adjust from the way he's always done things.

"The league has changed,” Thibodeau said while noting the prevalence of four-out, one-in and five-out offensive schemes. He also spoke about the demise of the post up - something he relied on heavily with Karl-Anthony Towns in Minnesota.

But he also made sure to reference last year's Finals participants, Toronto and Golden State, as two teams who did a lot of their playmaking from the post and how effective that could be in certain situations.

Like a lot about this team, the ultimate answer is going to become much clearer once the roster is more set in stone, but this is encouraging nonetheless.

3. He will not run guys into the ground

When asked about minutes restrictions and how much he planned to play his best players, Thibodeau had an interesting response:

"I think when you look at the league, and you see the load management...I think, positionally based, you look back five years and you would see that LeBron, Durant, Harden, the late Kobe Bryant - those guys were all playing 30 to 35 minutes." Thibodeau talked about how he would then need to use a defensive counterpart on his own team, such as Jimmy Butler or Luol Deng, to counterbalance those elite offensive players. "But those numbers have gone down, so you're not going to be at that disadvantage where they have their best player out there and you won't"

Thibs also mentioned more positional versatility and how that could increase the ability to throw different matchups at most players. He also said that he would rely on his sports scientists and athletic trainers to make sure players aren't overextended. 

Again, just words, but ones he will be held to from now on.

4. He will use the G-League

This is something he said during his time in Minnesota as well, so it should be taken with a grain of salt.

With that caveat, the Knicks have had one of the more respected G-League operations in the NBA for a while now. They're also a year removed from moving up to select Iggy Brazdeikis and they have three picks in the first 40 selections in the upcoming NBA Draft, not to mention Kenny Wooten on a two-way contract and the possibility of retaining recent waiver pickups Jared Harper and Theo Pinson.

In short, the cupboard is stocked with more young players than can possibly see time with the big club. It wouldn't be a surprise to see this promise come true.

5. He has a set of priorities

Coach Thibodeau mentioned five things in particular when noting what would be emphasized in the system he plans to run in New York:

  • Defense
  • Rebounding
  • A low number of turnovers
  • Pounding the paint
  • Sharing the ball

Most of these are obviously basketball 101, with the possible exception of getting the ball into the paint. In fact, five of the eight worst offenses in basketball (including the Knicks) were among the top seven in frequency of shots taken around the rim last season. 

It should be noted that Toronto and the Lakers were also near the top of the league here, so this, again, will be another thing that comes down to personnel. With Mitchell Robinson, New York does have one feather in its cap.

More notable than what Thibs did mention is what he didn't. Specifically, nowhere in the press conference was it said or even intimated that shooting a high volume of 3-pointers will be a priority. This is unsurprising, not only given his history as a head coach, but his reluctance at April's Sloan analytics conference to say that shooting a ton of threes was a prerequisite for offensive success in the modern league. So put a TBD next to this one.

All told, it was a good start for a head coach that seems to know he has his work cut out for him, but by his own words at least, is more than up for the challenge.

Rarely do people get a chance to do their dream job. Tom Thibodeau now has his.

Let's see what he does with the opportunity. 

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