The New York Knicks are going into the 2020-21 season with a revitalized sense of success. While upper management didnâ€™t appeal to some of the more highly touted free agents on the market, new head coach Tom Thibodeau has no plans to lay down to competition next season.
Winning is the ultimate goal, and playing the best five players on the roster is essential for Thibodeau. He will not give preferential treatment to younger guys in need of development. Winning is often times the best form of growth, and the Knicks need to start putting Ws on the board before anything else.
However, changing the entire team’s mantra and mentality is essential, especially after years of losing seasons and demoralizing play. The new focus is defense, as youngsters on the roster have noted that Thibodeau plans to be an exhaustively defensive team that wears opponents out over the course of a game.
RJ Barrett backed up his coachâ€™s philosophy:
â€œWeâ€™re going to go out there and play hard. Be a tough defensive team and get out and run â€¦ just try to outwork our opponents.â€
Eighth overall pick Obi Toppin is not known for his defensive attributes but rather his ability to dominate in transition and bully opponents in the paint. Heâ€™s also a solid shooter who is hoping to develop this upcoming season at 22 years old. If thereâ€™s anything clear when it comes to Obi, itâ€™s that he loves basketball and wants to be the best player he can be for his hometown Knicks.
â€œHonestly just playing defense,â€™â€™ Toppin said when asked about Thibodeauâ€™s main message Sunday. â€œPlaying defense is going to help us win games. Everybody on our team has the ability to score the ball. We just got to lock in on the defensive side and stay connected. All of us are great players and weâ€™re here for a reason. If we lock in on the defensive side, the offense is just going to come.â€™â€™
One of the best ways to improve defense and overall effort is to have better stamina than the opposing team. Toppin is one of the best players in terms of conditioning entering the draft and will hopefully be a force for the Knicks on both sides of the floor. It is oftentimes tumultuous for rookies to play an entire game with minimal rest, but Toppin seems to be capable.
â€œWe just had to run up/backs full court,â€™â€™ Toppin said. â€œI believe itâ€™s like 10 times in under a minute. Iâ€™ve done plenty of them doing it with [Kenny Payne]. So me running up and down with the guys, my wind is perfectly fine. I hardly get tired. Iâ€™m pretty ready on the conditioning side.â€
With this new defensive mentality, it leads me to believe we will see point guard Frank Ntilikina far more often than one might imagine. While his offensive capabilities are limited based on his past performances, he has worked this off-season tirelessly to improve his shooting mechanics and flow. Nonetheless, defense is still his primary attribute, and if Thibodeau plans to attack opposing teams constantly, Frank needs to be on the floor a solid amount.