The Knicks are fun?: It’s early but Tom Thibodeau has already changed the Knicks culture

Basketball was going to be revived in New York this season, with Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving putting on a show every night in Brooklyn. But the story thus far has been the New York Knicks.

Did I really just say that?

The Knicks are an unexpected 4-3 with a roster barely remade in the offseason but reconstituted and re-imagined by head coach Tom Thibodeau.

Gone are the days of stumbling into the arena with no game plan, no energy, no hope to win. Thibodeau has quickly changed the culture of the Knicks, the unexpected wins are just icing on the cake for now.

But we expected the Knicks to be more organized, competitive and respectable. After all that is what Thibodeau is all about. It is the other things happening that has Knicks fans excited.

Julius Randle, every Knicks fans most frustrating player to watch last season, has seamlessly turned into an all-star level player though the teams first 7 games this season.

Averaging 22.1 points and 7.4 assists, Randle is consistently producing as a first option and as a play maker. This has always been an upside many coaches have tried to unlock from Randle dating back to his Lakers days, but it seems Thibodeau has tapped into the underlying level of consistency and control that has evaded Randle his whole career.

R.J. Barrett, the second year wing, is also seeing a massive improvement from his rookie campaign. He is averaging 18.3 points, 7.6 rebounds and 3.7 assists per game. Efficiency and consistency have evaded him.

He scored 26 points, with 11 rebounds and five assists, in Atlanta, after 25 points the night before, but he had four faulty games before that. There are signs of growth, as well the persistence of questions about his jump shot. His field goal percentage, a low 40 percent, will be scrutinized until he can improve it or overcome his shooting woes. But the pure feel for the game and game situations has been a big leap year to year.

But the one truly great surprise thus far has been rookie guard Immanuel Quickley.

Some six weeks ago, there were draft analysts who argued that the team had reached for Quickley with their selection. Pundits have thought there were better guards on the board, and better overall talent left to choose from.

In less than a month, Quickley has become a fan favorite and a source of inspiration for the weary fan base, with some calling for him to be the teams starting point guard.

Coming into the league everyone knew the jump shot Quickley had, but his arsenal of dribbling moves and ability to draw fouls has injected loads of excitement into the lifeless fan base.

Of all the ways Quickley has adapted to the NBA with speed, none is more evident than how he already knows how to work the referees. He earned a whistle Monday when he bated Young into lunging at him on a 3-pointer, and it has become a go-to move for him already in his nascent career.

Quickley has turned that art into a craft, watching film of Young, Lou Williams and James Harden, while the Knicks coaching staff has plied him with examples to learn the nuances of the trade.

“The big thing is he’s a real student of the game,” Thibodeau said. “He’s watched quite a bit of Trae Young, and the one thing about NBA players, they’re very intelligent, they’re always going to figure out how the game is being refereed, and how they can take advantage of things. Some guys have really mastered it. So what happens is other players in the league, they watch it and they’re going to take advantage of it. I know what the rule book states and that’s why you want to teach fundaments and some guys get calls, some guys don’t, but I think what Quick has done — and it’s all set up with the shooting ability. Because you have to be up.”

That ability to draw fouls attracted Thibodeau to Quickley at Kentucky before the draft, and while it has appeared in the NBA too, there are other parts of his game that were less clear. He played off the ball in college, forced to sacrifice in a program that churns out pros, and his entire skill set was less apparent.

Quickley has been tasked with the point guard spot for the Knicks and looks comfortable. If he continues to flex his skills at the point, Quickley could become another one of those Kentucky-to-the-NBA success stories. Someone who needed the freedom of the league to show all that he could do.

“But at Kentucky you play with five other, six other NBA players, so you gotta sacrifice, and I think that’s helped me a lot coming into the league,” Quickley said. “I’m able to do more than just one thing. I’m able to not just spot up or play on the ball, but I can do both, guard both.”

The thing that will keep Quickley on the floor longer will be his willingness and ability to defend. That is the thing Thibodeau cares about the most. It is his first love.

But Quickley will be helped out by his running mate, the other half of #Quivers, Austin Rivers who is a pest defender. Rivers hounded Young and forced him into enough errors that it helped the Knicks pull away.

Young still got his; he scored 31 points and had 14 assists but he also had eight turnovers — three came in the fourth. Rivers stripped him on one possession when Young tried to go up to draw a foul on a 3-pointer; later Rivers drew an offensive foul with 1:22 remaining, further flustering the Atlanta guard.

“You start with his defense, then his ability to make a shot but the big thing is his ability to break you down off the dribble,” Thibodeau said. “I think that’s critical for our team.”

All of that, in combination, has injected unexpected life into the dormant Knicks fan base.

They have a winning record after seven games for just the fourth time in the last 20 years and an optimism that has been just as fleeting. But there are signs of it now, too.

This was always supposed to be a year of development for the Knicks, one with an eye to the future and a realism about what the present was. It’s conceivable, though, that they have developed into something already, even if the positive results eventually wear off and the long season bears down on them. The 2020-21 Knicks, they just might be intriguing after all, and that’s worth something on its own.

In Case You Missed It

Allow me to reintroduce myself: Steph Curry drops a career high 62 points, silencing critics

Tragedy and triumph: The dilemma of remembering the Lakers’ 2020 season

Leave a Reply