New York Knicks’ Austin Rivers has answer for slumping team

New York Knicks, Austin Rivers

After the New York Knicks started the 2021 season on a high note, winning five of six games during one stretch, they have since lost three in a row. This slump can only be attributed to a lack of chemistry and familiarity with Tom Thibodeau’s scheme. If you want to throw in a lack of talent, that would also work too.

The Knicks are dealing with significant injuries in the frontcourt, being forced to sign Taj Gibson as a supplement. Their defense has been lackluster, and their offense has completely taken a backseat. Over the last three games, they’ve given up more than 101 points in each and haven’t scored more than 89 points.

Most recently, against the Charlotte Hornets, star power forward Julius Randle scored just 11 points over 30 minutes, a disappointing performance. In fact, not a single Knick scored more than 19 points, with Kevin Knox representing their best offensive threat at 19. Knox has actually played quite well the past few games, shooting a career-best 40% from 3-point range and averaging 7.9 points over 21 minutes. Interestingly, the Knicks haven’t had the same starters for the first 10 games in at least 20 years, which is painfully awful.

The injection of new faces and coaches across-the-board was always going to catch up to New York, and they’re fighting through a tough stretch of games. They will face off against the Brooklyn Nets on Wednesday evening, who feature Kevin Durant. The Knicks are going to need big performances from their more reliable players, and one guy that has struggled the past two games is Austin Rivers.

However, Rivers has only made seven appearances this year and started in one game. He is averaging 28 minutes and 12 points per game, also passing the ball efficiently with 4.5 assists. He can be an influential player for the Knicks, but he simply doesn’t have the chemistry with his team yet. He acknowledges his lack of familiarity, stating:

“Our chemistry is not there yet, we’re still building,’’ said Rivers, who missed all of preseason and the first four games. “That’s why I’m saying be patient because I know it’s only going to get better and better. I haven’t had one practice this entire season. My first time playing with the team was against the Raptors [on Dec. 31]. So I’m still figuring it out.”

I do feel confident that Thibodeau will turn the team around — aggressive defense is his priority. Ultimately, as they continue to grow alongside each other and develop chemistry, we will see more consistent performances, but this is the building of something new and fresh, so there were always going to be speed bumps along the way.

Bullock’s injury forces Knicks to shake up starting lineup

Reggie Bullock of the New York Knicks

As the games keep on coming, the injury bug also keeps on hitting the New York Knicks.

Starter Reggie Bullock will not play Monday night in Charlotte due to a sore right hip, the Knicks announced.

Bullock has been averaging 28.7 minutes producing 8.5 points on 33.3 percent on threes, 4.5 rebounds, and 1.3 assists.

His outside shooting and defense will be sorely missed as Tom Thibodeau’s wing rotation is getting thinner.

The timing couldn’t have come at the worst time with the Knicks in the midst of a two-game losing streak. They have their plate full this week with a four-game schedule, including Monday night’s match against the streaking Hornets.

Bullock joins the Knicks’ injury list that also includes rookie Obi Toppin (strained right calf), Frank Ntilikina (sprained right knee), Alec Burks (sprained left ankle), and new signee Taj Gibson who is still undergoing health protocols before joining the team.

The Knicks are expected to bring Austin Rivers up to the starting unit to replace Bullock. But there’s also a chance that Kevin Knox will get the starting nod if Thibodeau opts to have a veteran leader on the floor for his second unit.

Meanwhile, Toppin is making progress with his recovery, although he hasn’t been cleared for contact.

“Right now, it’s 1-on-0, with some movement, jumping, change of direction, and that sort of thing,” Thibodeau said last Sunday.

“Then he’ll progress to 2-on-2, 3-on-3, and get to the point where he can get to 5-on-5 and get through practice,” he continued.

Toppin hasn’t seen action since the season opener.

Burks, on the other hand, is closing to re-evaluation later this week. The veteran wingman had been on a walking boot since Wednesday last week. He was initially given a 7-10 day timetable before he can be re-evaluated.

Follow this writer on Twitter: @alderalmo

New York Knicks: Austin Rivers injects confidence into team ahead of Sunday’s ‘big game’

New York Knicks, Austin Rivers

The New York Knicks head into another competitive game against the Denver Nuggets on Sunday evening. The Nuggets have won three of their last four games, scoring no less than 115 points. They are an offensive powerhouse at the moment, with their primary scores being Nikola Jokic, Jamal Murray, and Michael Porter Jr.

While the Knicks have been solid this season, their defense is inconsistent. They are an aggressive basketball team under Tom Thibodeau, but they are still finding their sea legs as they piece together their starting five. They have won five of their last seven games, but their most recent loss to the Oklahoma Thunder was a bit disappointing.

In the loss, NY allowed 101 points and didn’t see any of their players breach 20 points. While Julius Randle averages a double-double per game, he only recorded 18 points and struggled at times. They simply need more production from their bench, as the starters are incapable of pushing carrying the load.

One player who understands the significance of Sunday’s game is Austin Rivers was made a positive impact so far this season.

“Tomorrow’s a big game, man,” Austin Rivers said Saturday’s practice. “Just for the fact that we have a back-to-back and we head to Charlotte right after the game. We dropped a game that we felt like we should have won [Friday]. Going into the game, we felt like that’s a team that we should beat. So when you mess up like that, when you mess with the game, the game pays you back. You gotta get back on track.”

It is clear that the Knicks are capable of winning tough matchups, but they have to do it more consistently so they can bounce back from losses.

Head coach Tom Thibideau re-affirmed that the New York Knicks are still a work in progress:

“We’re a work in progress. We’re striving to be a 48-minute team. If we don’t play hard and with great intensity and share the ball and play unselfishly, it’s going to be tough. I like the resiliency of the team. We gotta have that fight every night. Some nights we may fall short, but we gotta learn from it and get ready for the next day.”

I believe that the Knicks will continuously improve as the 2021 season moves onward. Thibodeau has clearly made an early impact on these players and their desire to win. As they continue to learn his system, growth is expected.

Lofty expectations, Thunder knock down Knicks

The weight of expectations has slowed down the rampaging New York Knicks.

Following a three-game win streak and a surprising 5-3 start, the Knicks enjoyed the national spotlight. They entered Friday night’s game against the visiting Oklahoma City Thunder as odds-on favorites for the first time this season.

The result was a disastrous 101-89 loss, a growing pain reminder, as the Thunder caught the Knicks’ defense napping after shaking off a sluggish start.

The Knicks led at the start, but there were ominous signs early on that it would be a long night.

Julius Randle, who is playing like an All-NBA player to start the season, ran into early foul trouble. He was held scoreless in the opening half.

Without Randle, whom Thibodeau referred to as their engine, their offense became stagnant.

The Knicks had only 19 assists and shot just 36 percent from the field.

The Thunder exploited the the Knicks’ woes and took the lead for good in the third quarter.

The Knicks, though, teased another fourth-quarter comeback when Austin Rivers beat the buzzer with a triple to cut the Thunder’s lead to six after 36 minutes of action.

But there were no Rivers heroics nor Knicks comeback this time. Only a hard slap in the face.

“Once we gave up the lead and we got behind, I think we tried to get out of it individually. I think the intentions were good, but we just went about it the wrong way,” Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau said postgame.

Thibodeau pulled out Mitchell Robinson (6 points, 5 rebounds, 2 steals, 3 blocks) in the fourth quarter, who he said was not feeling great. His plan to go small ball and generate some offense backfired as the Thunder repeatedly attacked the paint.

After a horrible 21 percent start from the field, the Thunder took command by shooting 63 percent in the next three quarters.

As the game wore on, the Knicks’ defense continued to loosen up with their every miss.

The pair of Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (25 points, 10 rebounds, 7 assists) and Hamidou Diallo (23 points, 11 rebounds, 2 assists) led the Thunder. They were the better ex-Kentucky players on Friday night at The Garden.

The Knicks’ own Kentucky alumni played sub-par with Randle limited to just 18 points while Kevin Knox (3-9), rookie Immanuel Quickley (1-9), and the returning Nerlens Noel (0-1) struggled to find their rhythm all night. Even RJ Barrett’s shooting struggles from the perimeter continued. He had 19 points on 21 shots.

The Knicks appeared poise to coast to an easy win at home when they built an early 17-7 lead. But the Thunder quickly erased their lead. And the Knicks played with fire.

“In this league, as soon as you start feeling too good about yourself, you’re going to get knocked down,” Thibodeau said.

The Friday night beatdown at The Garden was a cautionary tale for these Knicks after a fairy tale start to this season.

There will be more challenges ahead, far more formidable than this one, but Thibodeau hopes his young team will continue to grow and treat this as a wake-up call.

“From top to bottom, we didn’t get it done. We’re capable of doing much better than we did,” Thibodeau said.

We’ll soon find out when the Knicks play three games in the next four days, beginning Sunday against the Denver Nuggets, last season’s Western Conference finalist.

Follow this writer on Twitter: @alderalmo

The New York Knicks are getting the most out of one free agent signing

New York Knicks, Austin Rivers

The New York Knicks are red hot, and it has been years since we’ve been able to say that. Not only have they won five of their last six games, but they’ve been dealing with significant injuries that have decimated their frontcourt and forced players like Julius Randle to play extreme minutes. The extra work hasn’t bothered Randle one bit, as he continues to dominate. The Knicks have now scored 100+ points in three straight games, beating the Indiana Pacers, Atlanta Hawks, and Utah Jazz consecutively.

On Wednesday evening, the Jazz started off the contest with a healthy lead. At one point, the Knicks were in an 18-point hole, but magic from new free agent signing Austin Rivers propelled them to victory. The son of Doc Rivers scored 14 straight points in the second half, including four consecutive three-pointers to force the New York back into the contest.

Believe it or not, this is the best start the Knicks have had since 2012, as Rivers finished the game with 23 points and shot 9 of 14 from the field. After missing the first five games of the year with a groin strain, Rivers has made an emphatic return, proving that he is capable of starting on any team with his aggressive defense and clutch offensive performances.

“I’ll tell you one thing, he’s never lacked,’’ Thibodeau said. “He never lacked confidence.”

“He wanted to play them one-on-one, including Kevin Garnett,’’ Thibodeau said. “Rivers wanted to play (Kevin). Austin really thought he could beat him.’’

The New York Knicks are seeing their players reach their potential, but why?

Confidence and motivation are two things you find in star players, and while Rivers might not be an above-average player, he produces flashes of elite talent at times. His father convinced him to join the team in New York, where he could earn more starting minutes and feel as though he was needed instead of just a complementary piece.

The victory over Utah not only produced an impressive result, but it also was the Knicks’ lowest turnover game of the season with 12. Every starting player had a positive +/-. Kevin Knox and Immanuel Quickley were the bottom of the team regarding minutes played, as Rivers earned 32. That number continues to climb considering his performances as of late, but point guard Elfrid Payton has also taken how much larger role on this team, posting 22 points and shooting 10 of 15 in the win.

Ultimately, this is a squad that is playing for each other and seems to have something special. Sometimes, playing simple basketball instead of getting too intricate and analytical can be a positive thing. Thibodeau told Rivers to go out there and play, despite not knowing the system altogether and missing significant time to open the year. Having fun can be the ultimate reason for success.

Knickerbocker swagger: Rivers delivers in another Knicks comeback

New York Knicks head coach Tom Thibodeau watched Austin Rivers grew up with the swagger of a Knickerbocker.

It runs in the blood.

Austin’s father and Thibodeau’s good friend, Doc Rivers, played two-plus years in New York.

On Wednesday night, Thibodeau watched the younger Rivers flaunt that swagger in his first game as a Knickerbocker in The Garden.

Rivers delivered dagger after dagger in a scintillating fourth-quarter show. His 14 straight points in the final 4:16 sucked the life out of the Utah Jazz in a 112-100 come-from-behind win.

“I’ll tell you one thing he’s never lacked. He’s never had a lack of confidence,” Thibodeau told reporters, recalling one episode in Boston when he was Doc’s assistant coach.

“When we had all these Hall of Fame guys. I think [Austin] was still in high school. And when he comes up to visit his dad, he wants to play all of them one-on-one. One day, in particular, Kevin Garnett wouldn’t want anyone to score on him. So he’s coming out to practice, and he sees Austin. And Austin wants to play. Austin really believed he could beat him. That’s the mindset that he has. He never lacked the confidence,” Thibodeau continued.

That’s what the Knicks lacked in the past seven years — confidence.

Rivers has injected that to these gritty Knicks that have suddenly become emboldened.

Before the season, Rivers preached that their job is to make New York attractive to stars and make the Knicks great again.

But with the core of last season’s lottery team infused only with a pair of rookies and veteran role players led by Rivers, these Knicks were hardly given a chance.

Rivers talking about playoffs during the media day was as crazy as the idea of him beating Garnett one-on-one.

Then the Knicks routed Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks, 130-110.

People dismissed it as an aberration—just a part of the weird day in the NBA where upset became the recurring theme.

And it looked like it was after the 17-point loss to the Toronto Raptors in Rivers’ season debut.

Even after they found themselves at the wrong end of history, Rivers’ confidence remained intact. He went to Instagram to assure the anxious Knicks fans.

Rivers has since walked the talk.

“He understands what it takes to win,” Thibodeau said of Rivers. “He understands the difference between the first three quarters and the fourth quarter and the intensity that’s involved.”

The next three games saw Rivers delivering clutch plays in the fourth quarter. But none were bigger against the Jazz.

With the game tied at 96-all, Rivers scored on a floater and a barrage of three-pointers that could have rocked The Garden if fans were allowed.

“Oh man, I can’t imagine. I can’t wait! They’re gonna be here soon enough. We just keep building and get better for them,” Rivers told Rebecca Haarlow in the postgame interview.

The Knicks (5-3) keep on building and grinding, showing the grit and heart that defines the city of New York.

For the second straight game, they stared at another huge deficit and fought their way back.

The Jazz led by as many as 18 in the opening half before the Knicks cut it down to a dozen halftime deficit.

New York native Donovan Mitchell, French big man Rudy Gobert, and Filipino-American guard Jordan Clarkson each had 10 points in the first half.

After allowing the visitors to shoot a staggering 42.1 percent from three and 53.5 percent overall, the Knicks tightened their defense after the break.

“Everybody is all-in. At halftime, when we were down, everybody just said ‘chip away.’ We have so much spirit. Coach [Thibs] just doesn’t let us quit,” Rivers said.

“EP (Payton) was huge in the second half. Julius (Randle) was huge. RJ (Barrett) stepped up. Reggie (Bullock) hit big shots. Kevin (Knox) played great defense. I can go down the line. Mitch (Robinson) was great. It’s a total team effort,” Rivers added.

The beauty of this Knicks team is the sum of all its parts.

Mitchell Robinson once again anchored the Knicks’ defensive wall in the second half. He continued to hold the fort sans his backup Nerlens Noel (sore knee, ankle sprain).

The youngest starting center in the league held his ground against Gobert stuffing the stats sheet with nine points, 13 rebounds, two assists, three steals, and three blocks.

Gobert, who had 14 points, 12 rebounds, and five blocks, was rendered ineffective in the second half scoring only on two field goals.

The Knicks were also able to slow down the usually prolific Mitchell. The Jazz star was a measly 4 for 14 after the break that was emblematic of their offensive woes.

The Knicks’ suffocating defense choked the Jazz to just 24.4 percent from three and 35.4 percent overall in the brutal second half.

After watching rookie Immanuel Quickley close out the game in Atlanta on the bench, Payton got his turn.

The Knicks starting point guard played sharp throughout (22 points, eight assists, +/- 25). Thibodeau stuck to a seven-man rotation to close out the game after Quickley went scoreless in six minutes in the opening half.

Thibodeau referred to Julius Randle as their engine. And he played exactly like that, especially in the third quarter where the forward pumped in 14 points. RJ Barrett and Payton contributed eight apiece during that 15-point turnaround.

Randle bucked his worst first quarter to still finish with All-Star numbers — game-high 30 points, 16 rebounds, and seven assists.

Reggie Bullock, who was questionable until the warmup, chipped in 12 points, 10 coming in the second half.

“I’ve been on bad teams before. This is not one. I can promise you that. I don’t know where we’ll end up, we have so much work to do, it’s really early in the year, but I do know the spirit is different,” Rivers told reporters after the game. “The willingness to work and learn is different.”

Rivers’ last sentence encapsulates the swagger of these Knickerbockers.

Follow this writer on Twitter: @alderalmo

New York Knicks: A surprise duo is blossoming right before our eyes

New York Knicks, Austin Rivers

When the New York Knicks made an improbable comeback and beat the Indiana Pacers this past weekend, most were surprised at the results. The Knicks weren’t expected to start the season strong, especially after losing the first two games of the 2021 regular season campaign. However, they bounced back in a nice way, as they currently sit 4-3 on the year and are making significant progress on a daily basis.

However, the return of Austin Rivers and Immanuel Quickley has sparked a jolt within the team. Against Indiana, Quickley finished with nine points over 15 minutes, and Rivers secured 15 points over 17 minutes. That sparked a bit of interest in head coach Tom Thibodeau’s mind, and he utilized them more frequently against the Atlanta Hawks, a game that was quickly slipping away in the first half.

The New York Knicks are picking up steam thanks to some developing players:

In the victory, the Knicks scored 113 points against the Hawks. Quickley scored 16 in 19 minutes of play, staying on the court the entire fourth quarter. He hit all six of his free-throw attempts and shot 4-for-7 from the field. He also connected on two of three shots from downtown. His influence at point guard has been refreshing for a team that has lacked a true playmaker at the position for quite some time. Quickley finished with a +/- of +17 while starting point guard Elfrid Payton landed at -11.

Thibodeau responded to questions regarding his decision to start Immanuel in the fourth quarter over Payton, portraying a sense of confidence in the rookie guard.

“He can shoot. Just the way he approaches the game, attitude, approach. He has that one skill that opens everything up. Every day he’s getting better and better. When you’re as intelligent as him he picks up things quickly. We were searching and struggling and found a group and rode with it.’’

Rivers, on the other hand, played 33 minutes, the third-most on the team behind RJ Barrett and Julius Randle. While he only scored six points, his defense was fantastic and he connected on 50% of his shots.

Overall, Thibodeau was quickly learning that Immanuel and Austin are a fantastic duo off the bench. I wouldn’t be surprised to see the rookie starting at some point in the season, and Rivers is quickly gaining favor within the team. Rivers hasn’t had much time to learn the system, as Thibodeau has simply asked him to go out and play aggressive basketball with a focus on defense. It has worked so far, and as their chemistry grows, I imagine the quality of their performances will too.

Quivers Fever: Knicks stay hot on the road

New York Knicks, Austin Rivers

Rookie point guard Immanuel Quickley harped about the New York Knicks‘ chemistry after Monday’s shootaround. He’s sensing their team is capable of doing something special.

And they did later that night in the form of a riveting come-from-behind 113-108 victory against the Atlanta Hawks that reinforced his belief.

Quickley poured in 15 of his career-high 16 points in the second half while veteran guard Austin Rivers was clutch once again down the stretch. Their heroics preserved the monster performances of Julius Randle and RJ Barrett, who became the first Knicks duo in 43 years to post at least 25 points, 10 rebounds, and five assists in the same game.

Randle mocked the Hawks’ single coverage on him by dropping 28 points, 17 rebounds, and nine assists. Barrett, on the other hand, continued his strong play with 26 points, 11 boards, and five dimes.

The Hawks led by as many as 15, 82-67, midway in the third quarter until Quickley was inserted back into the game. The rookie quickly picked up the pace and hit five straight points while Kevin Knox knocked down two triples in a 17-6 run to close out the third quarter.

Quickley continued to play with a veteran poise adding 10 points in the pivotal moments of the game as the Knicks wrested the lead. An Austin Rivers’ three-pointer off a Quickley assist gave the Knicks a four-point cushion, 110-106, in the final 85 seconds.

Randle’s tip-in with 46.1 seconds left sealed their fourth win in their last five games.

The Knicks’ climbed to above .500 at 4-3, their best start since 2012-13, which also marked the last time they finished a season with a winning record. Mike Woodson, current Knicks assistant coach, guided that Carmelo Anthony-led Knicks team to the playoffs (54-28) after a 7-1 start.

Quickley hopes to do the same this season as he doubled down on his pregame remarks during his postgame chat with Mike Breen and Clyde Frazier.

“I got great teammates with me, and I think we have great chemistry. I think we can do something special. A lot of people should be looking out for the New York Knicks this year,” Quickley said.

The Knicks only hit 1-of-8 three-pointers in the first half but only trailed by four, 58-54, thanks to the trio of Randle, Barrett, and Elfrid Payton, who combined for 40 points in the first two quarters.

Randle was red-hot from the get-go scoring 12 points in the first quarter with the Knicks racing to a 24-14 lead. Then Trae Young, who tallied a game-high 31 points and 14 assists, hit his strides as the Hawks took control in the second quarter.

The Knicks’ defense wore the Hawks down as they held them to just 10 triples, only one in the final frame, on a 32.3 percent clip. It was a far cry from their average of 15.3 made threes on a 40 percent clip before this game.

“We didn’t play great, but we found a way to win,’’ Thibodeau said. “I love the fight in the team.”

Fight they did as they hustled to win the rebounding battle, 45-40, and produced more points inside the paint (54-50) despite the absence of their other center Nerlens Noel, who was a late scratch due to a sprained ankle.

Thibodeau stuck to an eight-man rotation and was forced to play Randle as a center when Mitchell Robinson took a breather. But it didn’t matter. The Knicks dug deep inside their hearts to pull out another character-building win.

The Knicks will play their next three games at home, starting against the Utah Jazz on Wednesday at The Garden.

Follow this writer on Twitter: @alderalmo

Knicks of Dreams: Inside the culture rebuild in New York

New York Knicks, Leon Rose

If you build, they will come.

That is essentially Leon Rose’s vision for his “Knicks of Dreams,” channeling his inner Ray Kinsella.

The New York Knicks team president has stuck to his summer proclamation that they’re building the right way.

Though it’s a small sample size, the early results have been encouraging.

Basically using the same core as last year in the starting unit, and despite the rash of injuries, Knicks’ new coach Tom Thibodeau was able to make do with what he has on their way to beating a pair of playoff-quality opponents.

The Knicks have a chance to get above .500 for the first time in a long while when they take on the Atlanta Hawks, owner of the league’s second-best offense, Monday night.

Trust Thibs’ process

They were fun to watch when they routed the Milwaukee Bucks at home and pulled out a gut-wrenching win on the road against the Indiana Pacers.

But there were also “growing pains” moments, just like when their starters shot their way to the wrong end of the history with a 0-for-23 three-point mark in a 17-point loss to the Toronto Raptors.

That prompted free-agent acquisition Austin Rivers to plead for patience from the anxious Knicks fans on their team’s page on Instagram.

The next day, he walked the talk and contributed 15 points, including the game-sealing layup, off the bench in a character-building win in Indianapolis. Rivers then took us inside the culture that Thibodeau has been building.

“I’ve never done that. I’ve never commented on a team page. But I just want to let it known that Knicks have great fans. I know they have been waiting a long time to see progress. We’re on the right direction,” Rivers said afterward.

Rivers has nixed offers from several playoff teams, including a reunion with his father Doc Rivers in Philadelphia because he was sold to Rose’s “Knicks of Dreams.”

‘We’re gonna get there’

The younger Rivers said he had not been here long enough to know everything about the Knicks. But there’s one thing he’s really certain about. The Knicks are about to turn the corner.

“I don’t meant to come off as someone who knows everything. But they’ve brought in all these new people from top to bottom, from Leon to Thibs, to players to trainers, I mean everything… the whole nine yards. I just want to let people know that be patient. We’re working so hard. Tonight’s a big win, but we know we still have a lot of work to do.” Rivers said after picking up their third win.

“Every time I get to the locker room, I keep on telling guys we have to keep building, we have to keep building. So we are heading in the right direction. I know we have great fans. We’re doing everything we can, We’re building, and we’re gonna get there,” he continued. “Right now, we just have a whole team that is buying it. It’s the beginning, so, like I said, we have a lot more work to do, but it’s just nice to have good guys, and everybody is buying it.

Building the culture

A couple of months before Thibodeau was hired, he guested on The Platform podcast and had a revealing interview.

“How you build a culture is you have to sell your vision to your best players and your best players have to sell it to the rest of the team,” Thibodeau said in May. “Your first meeting is the most important meeting of the year. You have to begin with the end in mind. What wins in the playoffs, these are the things that you have to do, building habits.”

Thibodeau has relied on his veterans to right the ship. He’s always mentioned Julius Randle’s leadership dating back to as far as before their OTA.

The Knicks’ quiet but underrated offseason has yielded high-character and productive veterans on cheap deals. Rivers, Alec Burks, and Nerlens Noel are proving to be smart acquisitions by this new savvy front office.

The veterans have bought in to Thibodeau’s vision, and they’re selling it to the younger core of the team. 

“We’re coming together great. It helps when you have great guys. It makes my job, Julius’ job, all the vets who are going to lead this team. It makes our job easier,” Rivers said.

“All the young guys that we have are great. Guys who are not playing are real supportive. Everybody is cheering each other on. That’s what we’ve been trying to instill in the locker room. If you’re not playing, be happy for someone else’s success. You got to act the right way. You have to be professional because you never know who’s watching you, you never know when your opportunity is coming. So right now, we just have a whole team buying in. It’s the beginning,” he added.

Tight-knit group

Theo Pinson, another Knicks’ offseason acquisition, is one of those guys who’s been riding the bench that has been providing a jolt of energy. He’d seen this play out before across the borough when he was the Brooklyn Nets’ no. 1 cheerleader on the bench.

“I think team camaraderie is the biggest thing. The more you like each other off the court, it helps the court, especially with a young team. You go out there and start playing selflessly. You just want to play for each other. You want to see the other person succeed. That’s when everybody eats. As you could see, it help the guys in Brooklyn,” Pinson reflecting on his experience with the Nets.

“That’s also gonna help here. The guys in the locker room, we get along really well. We are already a tight-knit group. Even after the loss to Indiana [in the season opener], we already started talking to each other about what we saw on the court, what we can do better, how we can get each other better shots on the court, how we can finish games. So for us to react to a loss like that early is big time, in my opinion,” Pinson continued.

It showed in their rematch. The Pacers couldn’t bully the Knicks the way they did in the season opener. The Knicks flaunted their newfound chemistry and defensive tenacity.

Playing for each other

Rookie point guard Immanuel Quickley represents the Knicks’ future. The dynamic guard out of Kentucky has successfully returned from a hip pointer that caused him to miss four games.

His playmaking and shotmaking has injected a new dimension to the Knicks’ offense and has stabilized their second unit. 

Viewed by fans as a threat to Payton’s starting job, the veteran guard has taken it in stride and is, in fact, mentoring the Knicks’ point guard of the future.

“I say Elfrid is definitely a big one, just showing me little things that would help me on and off the floor. I have really gotten close with pretty much all the guys. I feel like this team is really tight-knit. We love being around each other. I feel like this group can do something special just because of the type of chemistry that we have,” Quickley said after the Knicks’ Monday shootaround in Atlanta.

Payton has rebounded well from his scoreless performance in their earlier home loss to the Philadelphia 76ers. He’s since averaged 18.5 points on 61 percent field goal shooting and 5.8 assists to solidify his stranglehold of the starting job.

It’s just one of those many proofs of the Thibodeau effect in New York.

New image

The Knicks have long been the league’s laughingstock, but Thibodeau’s serious approach to the game has started to change the team’s dynamics and culture.

Their early success has put the league on notice.

Knicks’ biggest acquisition

Thibodeau’s gift of maximizing value out of his players is seen as a curse by his critics.

But for a team lacking in bona fide superstars, Thibodeau is proving to be the team’s biggest acquisition, essentially the team’s superstar.

Rose’s unpopular decision of opting for a coaching retread is paying dividends for this young Knicks team.

“We want to find the right leader that can develop our young players as well as hold everyone accountable,” Rose said in his first public appearance in June. “And take us from development to becoming a perennial winner. We also want someone that we think will be collaborative with the front office and someone that when you’re in that huddle and when you’re looking at that coach’s eyes, every player who’s looking at him knows that person is driving the ship and going to get the job done.”

So far, Thibodeau is getting the job done.

Rose’s vision of bringing back the Knicks’ old glory is starting to come to life. Just like how Kinsella’s “Field of Dreams” has brought back to life Shoeless Jackson and his baseball team.

Rivers can see it. Pinson has seen this play out before. Quickley is feeling it. The national media has taken notice.

If you build the culture, the wins and stars will come to Leon Rose’s “Knicks of Dreams.”

Follow this writer on Twitter: @alderalmo

Knicks’ HC Tom Thibodeau did something very interesting with Austin Rivers

New York Knicks, Austin Rivers

The New York Knicks have had a very interesting start to the 2021 season, winning 50% of their games. After losing their first two, the Knicks have battled back, winning three of their last four. Their most recent victory came against the Indiana Pacers, who they barely edged out thanks to a 25 point performance from RJ Barrett.

The youngsters on the team have proved to be productive but inconsistent. The one constant factor has been power forward Julius Randle, who posted 12 points and 11 rebounds in the win. Don’t forget about his eight assists, taking on a passing role to open up shots for his teammates.

However, one new addition has made an early impact for the Knicks, and his name is Austin Rivers. Despite missing a majority of training camp, Rivers logged 17 minutes against the Pacers this past week, totaling 15 points and shooting 50% from being on the arc, connecting on three.

Interestingly, Rivers has simply just played basketball, despite not knowing the majority of the scheme that Thibodeau is trying to implement.

“[Thibodeau] just tells me to go play, because he knows I don’t have any familiarity with anything yet in terms of the team and the sets,” Rivers said. “He did a great job of walking me through it, being patient with me. I’m still learning. It sucks I didn’t get any practices either. I haven’t practiced with the team yet at all. So I really kind of just came into this. But the easiest thing to do sometimes is just play. You don’t have to worry about the plays, this or that, just go play.”

The New York Knicks trust Rivers to go out and play ball:

Rivers has the basketball IQ to make an impact without fully knowing the process. He’s mostly been coming off the bench, but he’s putting together some solid performances and point production to start the year in New York.

“Each game, I’m getting more and more familiar with everything,” Rivers said. “In terms of basketball-wise, I’m fine. I’ll go out there and do what I do and be aggressive and try to help the team in any area I can and just build. We’re just building, man, so this is just the start. We [have] got a lot of work to do.”

Ultimately, the Knicks are on a grueling road trip, playing four games in seven days and traveling in-between. They will wrap up the journey against the Atlanta Hawks before heading back to New York on Tuesday, which will finally offer Rivers a chance to catch up with his team and begin to cement a role.