Knicks making ‘significant’ changes under Tom Thibodeau

New York Knicks, Obi Toppin
Dec 11, 2020; Detroit, Michigan, USA; New York Knicks forward Obi Toppin (1) celebrates with teammates after a play during the fourth quarter against the Detroit Pistons at Little Caesars Arena. Mandatory Credit: Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

The Detroit Pistons aren’t an easy opponent by any means, as they feature Blake Griffin, Mason Plumlee, and Killian Hayes. However, the New York Knicks managed to keep them to just 84 points in the first preseason game of the season. Five Knicks had double-digit points, including Julius Randle, Obi Toppin,  Nerlens Noel, Elfrid Payton, and RJ Barrett.

However, it was their defense that rose to the occasion in the contest, as the Knicks failed to breach 100 points in an offensively stout league. Their suffocating defense was the talk of the night, though, as Thibodeau frequently called timeout after missed defensive assignments and preached to his players the importance of protecting the basket.

It is clear that the change from 2019 to now is significant, as the Knicks were routinely gashed defensively.

“It’s been a pretty significant change I would say,” Julius Randle said over Zoom on Saturday, when comparing his experience in 2019 to present day. “Just how we practice, how we go about it from day-to-day process of practice and game speed and all types of stuff.

“We’ve been drilling it nonstop since training camp started, just playing for each other, helping each other.”

New center Nerlenes Noel backed up Randle’s statement, confirming the intensity and different approach:

“Coach is definitely working with us to take defense to a whole other level, just making sure we have that intensity, defensive focus, let everything take care of itself on the other side.”

“We definitely have made it a focal point in our practices, to have that defensive intensity, from transition defense to talking to preaching high level-communication, and it’s going to be very contagious throughout the season to have that always as a backbone,” Noel said. “We all know you can make and miss shots from night to night. You just got to put your work in on your shots and hope for the best on that. But defense is an effort thing. We’re always going to base our game off of that.”

The New York Knicks can help themselves with their new mentality:

Defense can help in multiple ways, demoralizing your opponent and fatiguing them with physicality. This is the old Knicks way, dominating in the paint with big men and containing opponents at all costs.

That doesn’t mean the Knicks don’t need to score, though, and it will be a problem for them this season without capable shooters. They did drafted Immanuel Quickley, but he has to work his way into the roster. Expect to see a lot of bully-ball on the inside and elbow jumpers from the Knicks, who aren’t an elite three-point team.