Defense or Die: Knicks’ RJ Barrett says ‘it’s defense first’ under Thibodeau

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Despite the front office adding Evan Fournier and Kemba Walker this off-season, the New York Knicks still have one goal in mind, maintaining an elite defense.

Neither Fournier nor Walker are known for their defense, but the latter has an understanding of how the Knicks operate on that end, stating:

“One guy gets beat, you have to expect your teammate to be there,” Walker said. “And I felt like (the Knicks) were just on a string defensively last season.”

Last season, the Knicks had the fourth-best defensive rating at 107.8, behind the Los Angeles Lakers, Philadelphia 76ers, and Utah Jazz. In fact, the Knicks ranked fourth in opponent points in the paint and second in opponent fast break points. They also ranked in the top 10 in defensive rebounds, showcasing how important Nerlens Noel was to their success last year. I would be remiss not to mention Julius Randle and his rebounds skyrocketing to 10.2 per game, including 9.0 defensive.

Young shooting guard RJ Barrett knows the importance of defense under head coach Tom Thibodeau. After taking a big step forward in his progression last season, Barrett is focused on playing aggressive defense that gives his team opportunities in transition. That is where Thibodeau sees second-year power forward Obi Toppin playing a big role, as he was a transition maestro during his time at Dayton.

“Always, it’s defense first,” RJ Barrett regarding Tom Thibodeau’s style in Year 2. “You’ve always got to play defense if you’re going to play for him. That was the message. That’s what’ll make us at the end of day, help us get to level we want to get to. Sharing the ball. Moving the ball.”

Being a disciplined defender is a great way to get on the court if you’re a Knick. That is why rookies Miles McBride and Quentin Grimes could play a quietly productive role this upcoming year, especially if injuries begin to arise. Thibodeau drafted them for their defensive attributes, but their offensive capabilities are just an added bonus.

Interestingly, the Knicks have posted over 100-points in all three of their pre-season games and have showcased their scoring potential in conjunction with defensive prowess. They’ve allowed a high of 104 points and kept two of their opponents to 100-points or below. If they can carry over this type of production into the regular season, the Knicks will be an incredibly difficult team to beat.