“It’s all Thibs”: Derrick Rose credits Tom Thibodeau for his latest rebirth and Knicks success

The symbolism runs deep for these New York Knicks.

Tom Thibodeau is not just New York’s head coach but a window in its past, the tether to the golden generation of the 1990s. Julius Randle is a reminder of how fleeting this all can be; just a year ago, he was a failed free-agent signing who signified their franchise’s aspirations and its shortcomings.

And then there is Derrick Rose, who is symbolic for struggles and rebirth. Maybe the documentary title of the 2021 New York Knicks.

At 32, an age for most at which decline is near or already set in, he is in his second prime. Gone are the days of his MVP days in Chicago, but Rose has risen once again to a NBA player a team can depend on to run their offense. Maybe it is thanks to Head Coach Tom Thibodeau, who has always gotten the most out of the former MVP.

He has replaced unmatched athleticism with new skills and refurbished himself by embracing alternative training routines. Rose is a smarter, more efficient scorer this season, and it has fueled the Knicks second half surge.

On the 10-year anniversary of his MVP award, Rose scored as many points as he did in his first game after winning the trophy, albeit in vastly different ways. For Rose it is just the latest chapter in an ever winding road of his career.

“It’s crazy,” Rose said. “The story is crazy. I’m just happy to still be here and playing decent basketball. I’m very appreciative and that’s dope.”

He finished out his first stint with the Knicks with one more knee surgery, a coda to a disappointing season. He averaged 18 points per game, but the numbers were empty calories on a 31-win team. He had crowned the Knicks one of the NBA’s new super teams, a proclamation that would be mocked often over that season.

It was another difficult lesson for the organization: a compilation of brand names alone do not build a winner. The franchise was once again undermined by its own bravado.

But this season, the Knicks have good karma, the type that comes with patience and a culture.

They have built a roster that fits together and conditions that optimize their best players into performing at new heights. While Randle is undoubtedly the star and RJ Barrett the budding young talent coming into his own, Rose has catalyzed the team’s rise over the last three months.

There is a clear delineation for the Knicks at Rose’s arrival. His trade transformed the team.

New York was floating around mediocrity before the Knicks traded for him in early February, when they sat at 11-14 with the seventh-worst offense in the league. They have taken off since, putting up the NBA’s sixth-best offense since March 27, when Rose returned from a long absence due to COVID-19.

The Knicks are 21-8 in the 29 games Rose has played. They have outscored opponents by 11.8 points-per-100-possessions when he’s been on the court compared to off it and, according to Cleaning The Glass, the Knicks have played like a 69-win team with him on the floor.

Rose has been efficient and effective. He is averaging 14.3 points in 26.3 minutes per game and distributing 4.1 assists. And in his last 5 games, Rose has been a 21 point per game scorer, coming up clutch against championship contenders.

“He just plays to win,” Randle said. “He plays the game the right way, knows who he is as a player, knows how to get to his spots. I think he’s even more skilled now than he was back then.”

Rose’s impact has been immense. Despite Elfrid Payton being the starting point guard, Rose has become the Knicks’ primary point guard. He checks in during the most crucial moments of the game. When he’s on the court, he takes some of the burden off Randle and gives the Knicks a guard who can push the ball up the court with pace – a frenetic firecracker for a mostly glacial team.

While the points don’t come the same way they did during his pre-ACL days, Rose is still a dynamic, efficient scorer. Rose is now a pull-up and off-the-catch threat. He’s shooting 40 percent from 3 with the Knicks and 45 percent on non-corner 3s, something he lacked during his MVP days. That proficiency has made up for his decreased chances at the rim and inability to finish consistently.

Rather than the explosive dunks and acrobatic finishes, Rose now thrives in a floater and pull up jumper as he gets defenders on their heels.

The on the court play is just one aspect of Rose’s impact on the thriving Knicks. Rose has played the leadership role to a tee.

While Obi Toppin has struggled this season, he looks like a different player alongside Rose. Toppin’s field goal percentage jumps by 5.9 points when he’s playing with Rose (to 52.4 percent) as compared to without him, and there’s a 36-point difference in the Knicks’ net rating when Toppin is on the court with Rose as opposed to when he’s not.

Remember when Knicks nation was concerned that Rose would negatively impact Immanuel Quickley? Yeah that didn’t happen. Quickley plays the majority of his time alongside Rose, and the rookie’s 3-point shooting is 10 points higher (45.6 percent) when they share the backcourt than when Rose is not out there. Together, they make a formidable pair: The Knicks outscore opponents by 5.9 points in the 16.1 minutes per game they play at once.

Lately, the Knicks have relied on Rose more frequently. Payton has been relegated to an opener, while Rose has played 30-plus minutes four times in the Knicks’ last six games and seven times altogether for the Knicks already. It’s a threshold he didn’t reach often in Detroit; he did it 10 times in 65 games with the Pistons.

Rose attributes everything to Coach Thibodeau.

“It’s all Thibs,” Rose said. “Really, the team, whatever they need to do, to go out there and play. It wasn’t a set number or anything. In the past, people was throwing out different numbers. They were saying if I played over 26 minutes that I would get injured or crazy stories like that, which I didn’t understand because you have an hour-and-a-half practice, and I’m on my feet moving around in practice for an hour-and-a-half, two hours during training camp and all that. They overlooked the practice. How are you going to overlook me being on the court for an hour-and-a-half to two hours in practice, but you’re telling me I can’t play more than 26 minutes in a game? It makes no sense.

“Especially with the way that I play now. I’m not driving every time. I changed my game. I feel like it was always an excuse, and now Thibs is allowing me to be out there. I don’t pay attention to the minutes … As long as we win, I don’t care.”

No one is probably less surprised to see this than Rose’s longtime coach. Their relationship, working and personal, has grown over the course of 11 years, three different teams and several rebirths.

Now, in New York, they are thriving again. Thibodeau has a roster that has embraced his hard-charging ways, and in Rose he has a disciple who can carry out his orders and perform, too. It is a partnership, Rose said, based on trust.

“He knows how hard I fought to get back,” Rose said. “He knows I’m a gym rat. He knows I’m a student of the game. He knows where my heart is at. And it’s vice versa. I know how much work he puts into this craft. I know how he preps before every game, and we’re seeing the results of it. He came here, he had a great young group. They’re playing tremendous throughout the entire year.

“Me coming here, trying to give them more confidence or let them be vocal and let them know what I see on the floor. It’s working. But Thibs is somebody I can trust to the end, and I know that it’s vice versa.”

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