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.

The New York Knicks have Doc Rivers to think for Austin Rivers’ services

New York Knicks, Austin Rivers

The New York Knicks didn’t have much appeal this past off-season, and with training camp underway, it seems like the current roster will likely be similar to their opening game unit.

One thing is for sure, the Knicks have bolstered their team with plenty of guards, despite not picking one with quality options on the board. Instead, they selected Obi Toppin with the eighth overall pick, passing on a bevy of likely upgrades at PG.

They settled for Immanuel Quickley with the 25th pick, and while some argue he can be a point guard in the NBA, he is more of a shooting guard who can spread the floor and move well in transition.

That leads us to Austin Rivers, who represents a solid shooting guard the Knicks tried to sign back in 2015. However, his father, Doc Rivers, finally convinced his son to join the ranks in New York under head coach Tom Thibodeau.

“He was high on Philly’s list before I took the job,’’ Doc Rivers said, per the New York Post. “It was one of the guards they wanted. When I took the job, I said, ‘You don’t want that. You got too many other things we have to deal with.’ For Austin it’s better. He’s his own player. Unfortunately for him, me being the dad, he’s just an easy guy to target. I have felt since the separation, it’s been really good for him.’’

Rivers will have a fantastic opportunity to compete for starting minutes with the Knicks, who don’t have a solidified roster at this point. Last season with the Houston Rockets, Rivers averaged 8.8 points, 1.7 assists, and 2.6 total rebounds on 23.4 minutes per game. He’s not much of an assist-man, which suggests he better fits a shooting guard mold than point guard. He did average .421 from the floor and .356 from three.

“I kept telling him, ‘New York is a great place,’’’ Doc Rivers said. “I had a great experience there. That’s what I shared with him. It’s a tough city — in a positive way. He said, ‘What do you mean by that?’ I said, ‘It’s similar to Boston and Philly. Their fans are real. They want you to play hard, give you everything you can and play like a team.’ I told him, ‘The Knicks fans are still Red Holzman’s Knicks fans. They remember how that basketball was played. They want team basketball, hard-nosed, tough basketball.’”

If there’s one thing Rivers got right, it is that the fans demand more from an organization that has been embarrassing the last decade or so.

Knicks fans are tired of waiting around for the team to turn a corner; while other New York sports are on the rise, the team seems to find ways to fall behind.

Securing Thibodeau as their next head coach is a big deal, and new president Leon Rose has focused on acquiring draft selections for the future. It finally seems as if the Knicks are headed in a direction that doesn’t include stumbling five steps backward. They are setting themselves up for the future and the acquisition of big-name talents.

As for Thibodeau, his primary goal is to field a team that is capable of winning games, regardless of young player development and progression. He is not here to play babysitter but help develop players while winning in the NBA.

“Tom just likes competitive players — always has,’’ Doc Rivers said. “We’re very similar — give us 12 competitors, we’ll figure it out. Whenever we talked about Austin — and we will a lot less now — Thibs loves competitors.’’

Make New York Knicks Great Again: Austin Rivers embraces the challenge

New York Knicks, Austin Rivers

The New York Knicks haven’t attracted a superstar since Amar’e Stoudemire signed a five-year, $100-million deal in the 2010 free agency.

The Knicks haven’t been to the playoffs since Carmelo Anthony led them to the second round in 2013.

If there’s such seventh heaven, the last seven years have been the opposite for the Knicks fan base. They have been through hell year after year. They’ve been praying for a superstar to come and save the city from going deeper into obscurity.

This offseason looked like another disaster.

Knicks’ new team president Leon Rose and his front office have struck out in their top free-agent targets. As a consolation, they’ve brought in veteran players who can shepherd their young core.

Rivers of hope

Austin Rivers, one of the Knicks’ free agency pickups, isn’t a superstar that brings salvation. But Rivers offer a sliver of hope in a stopgap year.

“We’re caught in an era where everyone likes riding a wave. People want to go to places that are already on the rise or go to franchises that are already doing really well. And people have lost interest in going somewhere and making something great again. I don’t understand someone not wanting to play for a city like New York. I just didn’t get that. I don’t understand that. For me, the opportunity was obvious. To play in a city that is regarded as the mecca of basketball, with the fans they have, why not try to be part of something special,” Rivers said in a virtual press conference Wednesday.

Listening to a free agent who genuinely and passionately wants to become a Knick has been refreshing.

Changing the perception

Rivers said he rejected at least three playoff teams to come to New York.

For so long, players around the league have spurned the Knicks. But Rivers embraces the challenge of changing that perception and building a culture that would make New York attractive.

That appeal, coupled with his faith in coach Tom Thibodeau and Rose’s front office, has intrigued Rivers.

“Everything right now is headed in the right direction from the hiring of the coach, from the hiring of the management, and assistant coaches, and the picks that they have drafted, and the players we’ve established this year, we’re building. So to be part of something special. It’s easy to go somewhere where everything is already set up, and they’ve been to the playoffs for five years in a row. I’ve been on those teams. And those are great experiences. But I want to take those experiences and those lessons and help this team, and this organization in as many ways as possible,” Rivers said.

“I think that the era of people not wanting to come here, our job is to change that. We got to make it attractive. We will,” he vowed.

Leadership role

Rivers, 28, will be bringing in a combined five years of playoff experience with the Houston Rockets and the Los Angeles Clippers.

The team isn’t stacked with All-Stars compared to Rivers’ past teams, but he believes that if they buy into Thibodeau’s philosophy, good things will come.

“We don’t have superstars on this team but we have talented young players and you never know what can become on this team,” Rivers said.

Rivers, the third-oldest on the roster, is expected to compete for a starting spot at the backcourt. But he said he’s also willing to accept a role off the bench.

“My role is going to be to help the team win. If they start me, great. If they don’t, I’m still going to be in there competing every night. Regardless, for me, it’s never been about starting the game. It’s been about finishing the game,” Rivers said.

Blueprint for success

Rivers pointed to the Clippers’ resurgence under his father, Doc, where they traded away their superstars Chris Paul and Blake Griffin and rebuilt from the ground up. He said the blueprint is to have a solid group of role players that will attract superstars.

That blue-collar Clippers team went to the playoffs and stretched the Golden State Warriors that became their golden ticket to the Kahwi Leonard sweepstakes.

Thibodeau, who worked under Doc Rivers in Boston during their 2008 championship run, knows what it takes to build a team like that. While the odds are stacked against them this coming season, having a passionate player and a culture-builder like Austin Rivers should be a good start.

“This would be a place where people want to play. If you’re a real hooper, if you really like playing on the biggest stage, this is it,” Rivers said.

Follow this writer on Twitter: @alderalmo

Preseason games expected to provide clues to Knicks backcourt riddle

New York Knicks, Austin Rivers

Exactly nine months since they played their last game, the New York Knicks will finally be back on the court on Dec. 11.

The Knicks, who last saw action last March 11 — an overtime win against the Atlanta Hawks — will have four preseason games before the new season tips off on Dec. 22.

The four-game schedule includes back-to-back road games against the Detroit Pistons (Dec. 11 and Dec. 13) and a pair of home games against the Cleveland Cavaliers at the Madison Square Garden Dec. 16 and Dec. 18. Fans will not be permitted to watch the games at the venue.

New head coach Tom Thibodeau will finally have the chance to size up his young Knicks roster.

All eyes will be on the Knicks’ slam-dunking lottery pick Obi Toppin, who will have the early opportunity to show up the Pistons and the Cavaliers, two teams who passed up on him in the draft.

Battle of the Point Guards

But on top of that, fans will be anxious to see how Thibodeau will try to answer the Knicks’ backcourt riddle with at least five point guards competing for the starter job.

 

Expected to top that list is veteran guard Austin Rivers.

The Knicks officially announced Friday that Rivers, 28, was acquired in a sign-and-trade with the Houston Rockets that also netted the Knicks the draft rights to former Euroleague MVP Sergio Gull, former Adriatic League MVP Tadija Dragicevic, and Belgian player Axel Hervelle in exchange for the draft rights to Issuf Sanon.

Rivers will come to New York 29 years since his father, Doc, became a fan favorite at The Garden during a span of two-plus seasons from 1992-94.

Thibodeau would later work under Doc Rivers in Boston, winning a championship in 2008. The two coaches have remained friends. Thibodeau is said to be a fan of Austin’s basketball IQ even when he was still playing for Duke.

Rivers, a former lottery pick in 2012 who turned into a journeyman, will have a chance to star in a young Knicks team looking for stability and leadership at the backcourt.

Rivers agreed to a three-year, $10 million deal with the last two years non-guaranteed. He averaged 8.8 points on a 42.1 percent shooting clip and 35.6 percent beyond the arc, 2.6 rebounds, and 1.7 assists in 23.4 minutes as a backup guard in Houston last season.

Expected to crowd him are holdovers Dennis Smith, Jr., who worked on his jump shot during the long lull with former NBA gunner Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf, Frank Ntilikina, last year’s starter Elfrid Payton, and rookie Immanuel Quickley.

Follow this writer on Twitter: @alderalmo