The New York Knicks have moved to their own version of the “The Delete 8 Bubble” in the second phase of the league-mandated organized team activities. And new head coach Tom Thibodeau has started to acquaint himself with his new team, particularly his young players.
Thibodeau is inheriting a young roster with underachieving former lottery picks. One of them is former Kentucky Wildcat Kevin Knox, who is coming off an underwhelming sophomore season and whose name has been floated around in trade rumors.
“Kevin’s come in and he’s done quite a bit of work. I’m getting to know him and he’s getting to know me and it will take some time. But I like what he’s done so far,” Thibodeau said during yesterday’s zoom call with New York media.
Knox regressed in his second year after a promising rookie season. His scoring dropped from 12.8 to 6.4 points. He played sporadically during the Knicks’ tumultuous season, which saw David Fizdale getting fired, that led to a major organizational revamp.
“Yeah, and not just with Kevin, but with all the players,’’ Thibodeau said of Payne’s role. “I’ve known John Calipari a long time and every year I would get Kenny’s input on all the draft candidates. I always thought he was very insightful and he knew the players extremely well. So I thought when we had the opportunity to get him, that just made a lot of sense on a lot of different levels.”
Thibodeau and the Knicks hope Payne could parlay those relationships into on-court success.
Payne has built a reputation as a player’s whisperer back in Kentucky. Under his guidance, Kentucky was able to produce future NBA top picks and future league stars in Anthony Davis, Karl-Anthony Towns, Bam Adebayo, Devin Booker, Jamal Murray, and Tyler Herro, among others.
“Kenny is someone I’ve always talked to over the years about the upcoming draft, but I never really saw him teaching on the floor, but I had heard great things about him,” Thibodeau added.
Now that Thibodeau saw first-hand how Payne teaches in great detail, there’s a prevailing hope that Knox would be able to turn the corner in his make-or-break third season in the league. But he was quick to temper any unwarranted expectations that he and his staff would unlock Knox’s potential or anyone from the team overnight.
“There’s no magic formula where you gonna get everything done in one day. I think it’s about establishing and building the right habits to be successful. So you put in the foundation of an offensive and defensive system and how are you gonna go about your business. I think it’s all about building the right habits so the team can improve and get better as time goes on,” Thibodeau said.