Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau pushes back on load management: ‘Only way to get better is by working’

Tom Thibodeau, New York Knicks
Nov 21, 2021; Chicago, Illinois, USA; New York Knicks head coach Tom Thibodeau reacts after a play against the Chicago Bulls during the second half at United Center. The Chicago Bulls won 109-103. Mandatory Credit: Jon Durr-USA TODAY Sports

The New York Knicks looked gassed during their three-game losing streak before they snapped it against the Los Angeles Lakers on Sunday.

Julius Randle’s legs were heavy at home in a tough loss to Charlotte before they flew out to West Coast. He was bottled up in Sacramento and the first night of a back-to-back in Los Angeles. But the Knicks’ two-time All-Star regained his footing against his former team Los Angeles Lakers.

Randle has played all games this season. He’s logged the most minutes this season and after their double-overtime win in Boston two Sundays ago, the Knicks forward joked about finally subscribing to load management.

On average, Randle only ranked 15th with 35.9 minutes per game. That means no Knicks player is in the top 14.

Toronto has two in the top five, with league leader Pascal Siakam (37.5 minutes) and Fred Van Vleet(35.0 minutes. Boston has two in the top 11, with no. 2 Jayson Tatum (37.4) and Jaylen Brown (36.2). Philadelphia has James Harden at no. 5 with 36.8 minutes per game.

A model franchise is the Milwaukee Bucks, but that’s because they have so much depth that they can afford to play Giannis Antetokoumnpo for only 32.5 minutes per game, 73rd in the league.

But because the Knicks have Tom Thibodeau as their coach, who is allergic to the widespread load management practice like a virus that weakens the team’s stamina, questions about it will not stop.

Nowadays, if you ask Thibodeau about load management, he will resort to jokes like “I don’t understand the question’ or “Are you the minutes’ police now?”

He’s grown a sense of humor in countless years of deflecting those questions.

But on Sunday night, after a much-needed victory against the Lakers, Thibodeau went the distance to discuss the divisive topic.

“We talk about pacing the team right, so there’s a number of different ways, and I know it’s invoked like ‘oh, this guy played 38 minutes tonight, so therefore, that’s too many minutes.’ Well, how do you know what he did the day before? How do you know what he did in practice? You don’t know, right? So to say someone played 38 minutes and then you know that they should need rest well, that’s not true.”

Thibodeau then list of ways to manage the load of his players without them sitting games.

“If you’re scrimmaging in practice, maybe you hold him out of the scrimmage, or maybe you have a sub with him. Maybe he has a couple of reps, and he’s out, or maybe he does nothing. Maybe he just does recovery so there are a lot of different ways to do it,” Thibodeau explained. “So you trust the medical people, trust the player.”

Perhaps Thibodeau is incensed with the notion that his team is gassed because he has one of the youngest rotations in the league. No player logging in heavy minutes is above 28 years old.

“We know we have a very young team. So when you have a young team — and Julius is just going into his prime — so the only way they’re going to get better is by working,” Thibodeau said. “[If] they don’t work, they’re not getting better.”

The Knicks have become better throughout the course of the season, rising from a 10-13 start to become the fifth team in the East to reach 40 wins.

But as the intensity of the season heats up with the playoff race, the question “do the Knicks — who are fighting for the fifth seed — have more left in their tank?” will never go away until they have a deeper postseason run than what they did in Thibodeau’s first year with the team.

Follow this writer on Twitter: @alderalmo

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