Tom Thibodeau bares what Knicks are looking for in NBA Draft

New York Knicks, Tom Thibodeau

The New York Knicks have four picks (19th, 21st, 32nd, 58th) in the upcoming NBA Draft. But the consensus around the league is that they will not be adding four more rookies to a core that finished fourth in the Eastern Conference this season.

New York coach Tom Thibodeau confirmed that belief on Friday at the NBA Draft Combine in Chicago.

“For myself, I’m catching up. Our scouts have evaluated them. They put a lot of work into it. And then you have to be ready for all the possibilities — whether you move up, move back, or you trade out,” Thibodeau said.

The Knicks have met with some prospects who are mocked out of their range, such as projected lottery picks Scottie Barnes (FSU), Jalen Johnson (Duke), Jaden Springer (Tennessee), James Bouknight (UConn), and Corey Kispert (Gonzaga).

They have to package some of their picks or a combination with one of their players under contract to move up.

Teams who could be willing trade partners are the Golden State Warriors and the Oklahoma City Thunder. The Warriors have two lottery picks (7th and 14th), while the Thunder have three picks in the top 18. The Cleveland Cavaliers, who are picking at No.3, are also rumored to be moving on from Collin Sexton as they can land either Jalen Green or Jalen Suggs.

But the Knicks are also prepared to stick with their picks, looking for two particular skill sets in this Draft.

“I love coming here for the opportunity to sit down and interview with players. You get to know them a lot better. So you’re still gathering information. You see who might be a good fit for you. And again, I think we’re looking for wings and guys who can shoot. So there’s a number of guys that we think are gonna be good pros. So there’s a lot of value here,” said Thibodeau.

So far, the Knicks have zero in on guards and wings who can score in a myriad of ways.

Aside from the five projected lottery picks mentioned above, they have also either interviewed or conducted a workout with Jared Butler (Baylor), Nah’Shon Hyland (VCU), Ziaire Williams (Stanford), Miles McBride (West Virginia), Joshua Primo (Alabama), Aaron Wiggins (Maryland), Jose Alvarado (Georgia Tech), Mac McClung (Texas Tech), Alan Griffin (Syracuse), Marcus Zegarowski (Creighton), Geo Baker (Rutgers), Tyson Etienne (Wichita State) and big men Trey Murphy III (Virginia), Luka Garza (Iowa), Moses Wright (Georgia Tech) and Fardaws Aimaq (Utah Valley).

“These players are remarkable and how well they present themselves. I think they’ve gotten used to this environment. I think the agents are doing a good job in preparing them. You’re also doing a lot more research. You’re talking to a lot of people around them. And then you’re seeing and evaluating whether all the intel matches up to what the players are saying,” Thibodeau said of the Draft process.

“A lot of times, you find a lot of interesting things. I think that’s an important piece of this. It’s not the end-all, be-all, but it’s a big part of determining who would fit into your group,” he added.

Last year, the Knicks successfully picked two rookies — Obi Toppin and Immanuel Quickley — who were gym rats that seamlessly fit into Thibodeau’s culture. The past regimes have more misses than hits in the NBA Draft. But after team president Leon Rose beefed up the Knicks scouting department led by scouting guru Walt Perrin, there’s hope that the Knicks have a much better grasp of the process this time around.

On top of the specific skill sets they are looking for, the Knicks also value their background. They have cast a wide net, including unranked prospects, to have more intel which becomes useful down the road.

It’s a Perrin signature that his former team, Utah Jazz, did in trading for the likes of Jordan Clarkson.

“There’s a great value in [character]. You try to measure their drive and intelligence and how players have improved over a period of time. And also if they have gotten through some adversity. You’d like to see that quality as well. There are a number of things you’re looking for,” Thibodeau said.

Follow this writer on Twitter: @alderalmo

Knickerbocker swagger: Rivers delivers in another Knicks comeback

New York Knicks, Austin Rivers

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