Knicks poised to play with faster pace with younger roster

Alder Almo
Obi Toppin, Julius Randle, Knicks
Feb 8, 2022; Denver, Colorado, USA; New York Knicks forward Julius Randle (30) comes on for forward Obi Toppin (1) in the second quarter against the Denver Nuggets at Ball Arena. Mandatory Credit: Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

The New York Knicks deliberately got younger to keep in step with the quickening pace of the league.

They got rid of the ineffective and injury-riddled Kemba Walker and other veterans, Nerlens Noel and Alec Burks. Replacing them are 26-year-old rising star Jalen Brunson and promising 24-year-old modern big man Isaiah Hartenstein.

Former MVP Derrick Rose is only the Knicks player on the roster above 30. But Rose, who will turn 34 on Tuesday, slimmed down to his rookie weight (195 lbs), as challenged by Tom Thibodeau via email, in the hopes of staying healthy for the entire season.

The Knicks have 11 players aged 26 and under. They will enter the season as the 11th youngest team in the league.

“Pace is oftentimes determined by your players.”

Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau via NY Post

One of Thibodeau’s myths is he is old school and his coaching style is outdated. In his first season, he coached the slowest-paced (96.32) Knicks to a fourth seed in the East. Last season, he adapted to the current league trend of shooting more threes but the Knicks’ offense was still among the slowest, second to the last in pace (96.42), only quicker than the Dallas Mavericks (95.64) who reached the Western Conference Finals.

For Thibodeau, a quicker pace isn’t just boxed on running the breaks. But it also means quick decision-making and faster ball movement in the half-court.

“Obviously you’re thinking about what are the right type of shots and how do we create those shots. We can’t do it at the expense of taking bad shots. They have to be the right shots. So we want to play with pace and we want to create movement.”

Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau via NY Post

For the last two seasons, the Knicks heavily depended on Randle’s playmaking, which has stagnated their offense more often than not.

But this year promises to be different with Brunson expected to run the point and a healthy Rose backing him up, which means fewer touches for Randle. But it doesn’t mean his scoring has to decrease significantly.

“The more offensive weapons that you have, it makes the game easier for everyone, and then the other thing, too, is we’ve got to get [Randle] some easy scoring opportunities. When he had the ball [last year], I think he had a lot more attention, particularly coming off the year he had [in 2020-21]. Teams were locked into him pretty good.”

Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau via NY Post

The plan is to have a more efficient Randle. That’s where Brunson and Rose, the Knicks’ best player in the Atlanta playoff series, come in to help execute it.

“We want [Randle] to score a lot of different ways, so not just with the ball, but moving without the ball, running the floor, cutting, and that sort of thing. I think that’s one of his strengths, his speed and athleticism. 

If we can get him into those positions, I think we can get some easy baskets where he doesn’t have to work as hard as he had to work last year. I know with Jalen and Derrick, that helps a lot.”

Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau via NY Post

With a top-heavy roster featuring three players — Randle, Brunson, and All-Star hopeful RJ Barrett — who will command the ball and attention from opposing defenses, Thibodeau hinted that he would also rely on the rest of the young core to complement them despite no edict to play them from the management.

Quentin Grimes, who was made untouchable in the Donovan Mitchell pursuit, is expected to eat into Evan Fournier’s playing time. The 29-year-old Frenchman averaged 29.5 minutes as a nominal starter last season, often riding the bench in the closing minutes.

Meanwhile, Immanuel Quickley will share backcourt duties with Rose in the second unit. But the biggest question that hangs over the organization remains: where the minutes will come from for Obi Toppin, who exclusively serves as Randle’s backup.

“Coach [Thibodeau] controls all that. I’m ready whenever my name is called, just like every other player. Whenever my name is called, I’m going to try to give my 110 [percent] every day.”

Obi Toppin via SNY

The former lottery pick exploded toward the end of last season after the Knicks decided to shut down Randle. But he was also made available in the failed Donovan Mitchell pursuit, signaling the Knicks are heavily invested in Randle more than Toppin.

This will be one of the intriguing storylines to watch as the season goes on that will be contingent on Randle’s performance.

Will Thibodeau prove that old dogs can learn new tricks?

We will see a glimpse of the Knicks’ new-look offense on Tuesday when they face the much younger Detroit Pistons at the start of their preseason games.

Follow this writer on Twitter: @alderalmo