We need to push pause on the Tom Thibodeau slander.
In case people have forgotten, this man can actually coach basketball. It’s no coincidence that the New York Knicks are the darlings of the NBA this season and currently hold the fourth spot in the East by a half-game.
The key to their success has been a Thibodeau staple called defense. Yeah, it turns out you can still win with defense in the league.
The Knicks are currently leading the NBA in three huge defensive categories: Fewest points allowed, opponent field goal percentage, and opponent three-point percentage. We shouldn’t be surprised that a Thibodeau-coached team is getting up in folks’ faces and making them work for every shot they get.
I remember when Thibodeau burst onto the scene as the Chicago Bulls head coach from 2010-2015. Those Bulls teams went to the playoffs every season, and made the conference finals in 2011. The Bulls were one of the most stout defensive teams in the league throughout Thibodeau’s tenure.
Now, when he went to Minnesota, he struggled to reproduce that success. But who before Thibodeau had any real success in Minnesota? In 2017-18, Thibodeau took that franchise to its first playoff appearance in 15 years. Thibodeau was fired by Minnesota just months later, in the middle of the 2018-19 season.
But those organization’s failures are less on Thibodeau and more on the Timberwolves in general.
The one coaching knock on Thibodeau has always been his lack of creativity on offense, but now, in his system in New York, he’s helped turn Julius Randle into an MVP candidate and he has R.J. Barrett playing the best ball of his young career. So something is clearly going right on the offensive end.
The Knicks are currently in a dogfight to keep hold of that four seed in the East, as Miami and Atlanta nip at their heels. But as long as the Knicks avoid falling into the play-in, they will be able to give someone a hard-fought playoff series. That’s something that Knicks fans haven’t been able to say for nearly a decade.
Thibodeau deserves a lot more credit for the turnaround of this franchise in just one season. He’s a good coach and has shown he can push teams to be better.