Analysis: Thibodeau Hiring Shows The Knicks Are Interested In Wins, But Not In Winning


Disclaimer: The views expressed within this article are entirely the author’s own and are not attributable to Wessex Scene as a whole.

According to a report by ESPN’s NBA insider, Adrian Wojnarowski, the New York Knicks are closing in on a 5-year contract for Tom Thibodeau to become the team’s new head coach and their 6th in the last 5 years.

Since 1999, the decisions of the Knicks’ front office, through its various iterations, have been a comedy of errors which became painfully unfunny once a sexual harassment lawsuit was filed against the then-Knicks president, Isiah Thomas, in 2007. Now, 13 years later the situation has barely improved as the Knickerbockers landed a depressing 21-45 win-loss record in this year’s COVID-shortened season. And with this Thibodeau hiring, they potentially continue their decades-long streak of short-sightedness.

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At a glance, Tom Thibodeau’s hiring seems like a very logical move; he’s a well-respected former coach of the year (2011) with a 59% win percentage and in 2017-18, he dragged the Minnesota Timberwolves to their first playoff appearance since 2005. A compelling case for sure, especially given his history as a Knicks assistant coach in ’98-’04. But, the cracks which showed at the end of his Chicago Bulls tenure have, since his time with the Timberwolves, opened up into canyons and the Knicks have fallen straight in. In a few short years, Thibodeau’s style has proved to be out-of-date; as a hard-nosed defensive-minded coach, his methods have proven incompatible with this generation’s incoming players.

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The Knicks in their current state are rebuilding and relying on the development of young talents, such as R.J. Barrett and Mitchell Robinson  and those they hope to pick in the NBA draft. (It’s worth noting that Robinson just broke Wilt Chamberlain(!)’s field-goal percentage record, with an eye-watering 72FG%.) However, for some reason current players are not keen on being screamed at by their coach as Thibs is wont to do, which was a contributing factor to his dramatic exit from Minnesota. His methods have proven incompatible with the development of younger players, as seen in his failure to unlock Karl-Anthony Towns’ full potential (who has been putting up monster numbers since Thibodeau’s departure) and develop Wiggins into at least a competent, extremely expensive starter. Whilst he has been touted as a defensive mastermind, due to his revolutionary Strong Side Defence from his time with the Bulls, this no longer appears to be the case: His years in Minnesota saw the team ranked in the bottom three of defensive rating. Thibodeau would also need to embrace this modern NBA’s supremely essential 3-point shot, which his teams have never truly done—16th is the highest any of his teams have reached in 3-pointers per game— as seen in Towns now averaging a sniper’s 41% from 3-point range on double the attempts of his Thibodeau-coached years.

New York’s improvidence in this decision highlights the franchise’s impatience. Despite his flaws, Thibodeau will generate regular season wins for the Knicks, but all this will get them is a likely early playoff exit (if they were to make it) and worse draft picks.  The Knicks should be looking for a forward-thinking coach who will take the time to cultivate their young players and future draft picks. That said, I hope Thibodeau succeeds as his Bulls teams of the early ‘10s were fantastically fun teams—but unless their new hire has changed his coaching style dramatically, the Knicks are rushing towards 5 years of a few more unimportant wins and mediocrity. This, as opposed to the gradual rebuild to the greatness and meaningful winning which the ‘Mecca of Basketball’ deserves.


Philosophy and Politics Student at the University of Southampton. I mostly write about basketball.

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