New York Knicks: Calipari explains Payne’s impact on Randle’s All-Star rise

The New York Knicks‘ status as a real playoff contender will be legitimized by a Julius Randle selection in the NBA All-Star Game.

Randle is knocking on the All-Star Game door after an impressive start to the season. He’s dragging a young Knicks team to the playoffs conversations in a season many analysts thought would be a lottery year.

Randle is in the midst of a career year in the NBA — 23.2 points, 10.9 rebounds, 5.5 assists, and 40.7 percent from deep, all career-highs. And more importantly, as Tom Thibodeau pointed out, Randle has impacted winning in New York.

With Randle leading the way, the Knicks have won 14 of their first 30 games, good for the seventh spot in the East. Barring any second-half meltdown, the Knicks are on pace to outplay ESPN‘s projections (24.7 average wins and 2% playoff chances).

Randle’s Herculean effort hasn’t gone unnoticed as he finished seventh in the Eastern Conference frontcourt starters voting — seventh in fans votes, eighth in players votes, and fifth in media votes.

The coaches are set to pick the seven reserves, which will be announced on Tuesday.

Comfortable being uncomfortable

Randle revealed in the Old Man and the Three podcast yesterday that the Knicks executive vice president William Wesley called him in the offseason and asked him what he needs to go to the next level.

His response foreshadowed what is happening right now: “I need a coach who will push me and hold me accountable.”

Tom Thibodeau is what Randle has ordered. But he got more than what he bargained.

Kenny Payne, the man responsible for whipping Randle and a slew of Kentucky big men into becoming an NBA lottery pick, also came on board.

“One of the things that I told the Knicks when they were considering Kenny is that: ‘Understand now, if you want to see what Julius can be — he’s a good guy because they have a great relationship and Kenny will push him and make him uncomfortable until he’s comfortable being uncomfortable.’ You know how it’s done,” Kentucky coach John Calipari told Empire Sports Media via zoom call.

Unlocking Knox

Calipari also sold Payne to the Knicks as the key to unlocking their other underwhelming Kentucky product.

“And I also told them Kevin Knox, who was playing really good early, you’re gonna find out what he is,” Calipari said.

For the early part of the season, when injuries ravaged the Knicks, Knox had his moments. At one point, he was leading the league in corner three-pointers. However, it was short-lived as the team got healthy and Knox got buried under the Knicks’ new-found depth.

“They’re not playing [Kevin] as much because they’re trying over guys to play snippets and trying to figure out who’s who. But I think it’s been great,” Calipari said.

Big man’s whisperer

At Kentucky, Payne was the good cop to Calipari’s bad cop. In New York, Payne does the dirty work for Thibodeau.

Payne is always on the ears of the Knicks’ big men. Clips of him personally training the Knicks’ frontcourt — from Randle to Mitchell Robinson and Obi Toppin — went viral in the offseason. Oftentimes, on the MSG broadcast, you catch him in the pregame, stretching out Randle and assisting in his shootaround. During the games, you see him barking instructions or explaining the game situations to players from the sidelines.

Randle’s reunion with Payne made his transformation under the very detailed and hard Thibodeau coaching more effective.

“Julius is having an All-Star year. And the Knicks, if they stay in this playoff hunt, and they’re in there, there’s no reason — Julius in the biggest market had averaged in double-double just dragging the team and motivating his team and doing what he’s doing — for that not to happen for him personally,” Calipari said.

If it does happen, thanks in large part to Payne.

Follow this writer on Twitter: @alderalmo

Rumors: New York Knicks ‘saving’ Kevin Knox for a bigger deal as trade bait

New York Knicks, Kevin Knox

The New York Knicks have been active in the market, recently acquiring Derrick Rose in a trade with the Detroit Pistons and signing Taj Gibson, a veteran center that has familiarity with head coach Tom Thibodeau. Some would say that Thibodeau is putting the old band back together, but his plan is clearly working as the Knicks have won three straight games and recently tortured the Atlanta Hawks 123-112 in a win on Monday evening.

The injection of Rose and Gibson has helped the Knicks stabilize, as Julius Randle put together a 44 point performance in the victory, including nine rebounds. RJ Barrett also posted 21 points and Immanuel Quickley 16, showing that their youth is also getting involved.

Are the New York Knicks close to being a ‘quality’ team?

You could make the argument that the Knicks are one star player away from being a quality team, which brings up the idea of striking another trade in the coming days. If they were able to acquire a star player, there’s a good chance the Knicks could make the post-season this year, which would be a minor miracle for most fans who’ve been waiting patiently for things to turn around.

There are a few assets the team can part ways with in a trade, and it starts with Kevin Knox, who is only 21 years old.

The Knicks haven’t parted ways with Knox just yet, as they are looking for the right deal to include him in. He’s only played in 22 games this year, averaging 16.9 minutes per, 5.6 points, and 2.2 total rebounds. His production doesn’t exactly scream efficiency, but considering his youth, there will be a team out there that believes they can develop him and make him an adequate player. The reality is, he doesn’t fit the Knicks’ system right now, as they are playing more small ball with Rose and Quickley in the backcourt.

Marc Berman of the NY Post stated:

The Pistons preferred Knox be included in the Rose trade, but the Knicks may be saving him for another deal.

Luckily, the Knicks do have plenty of cap space to utilize in the future and assets to part ways with in a potential deal for a star. I believe they’re scouring the market, as names like Bradley Beal and Zach LaVine have both bubbled to the surface in recent weeks. When something happens, it will likely happen out of nowhere, as the team continues to push forward and string together victories.

Kevin Knox plots plan to earn his way back into Knicks rotation

Kevin Knox is trying his best to stay positive after another fall from grace.

The third-year forward was a healthy scratch in the New York Knicks‘ last two games, preceded by two consecutive scoreless performances. He’s become the latest casualty of Tom Thibodeau’s win-now mentality.

Recurring nightmare

He had similar nightmares last year. And Knox is drawing strength from last season’s harrowing experience where his minutes were sporadic.

“Last year was a little low, but I really learned a lot from last year being ready at any given time. Just continue to work no matter how much playing time you get,” Knox told reporters via zoom call after Wednesday’s shootaround in Chicago.

With the Knicks’ veteran wings Reggie Bullock, Austin Rivers, and Alec Burks all healthy, Knox’s path to earning minutes is slim to none as Thibodeau prioritizes winning over his development.

“I know we have a lof great players, and our rotations can get tight. Coach makes a lot of decisions. He’s the head coach, so whatever decision he makes, I gotta respect it,” Knox said.

Best teammate

With Knox back in the doghouse, the former Kentucky Wildcat hopes to earn his way back into the rotation by buying into the team concept.

“I think that’s very important right now — just being the best teammate that I can be no matter how much playing time I get,” Knox said. 

“Just encouraging my guys, making sure I help some of the young guys — Obi (Toppin), Quick (Immanuel Quickley), and even some of the older guys if I see something from the sideline. But I’ll always stay ready, working hard in practice, going 100 percent because you’ll never know when my number will be called.”

Even if Thibodeau explained that Knox’s role with the team remains fluid and situational, unlike the case of Dennis Smith Jr., who requested to play in the G League, it’s obvious that the 2018 ninth overall pick’s stock has hit rock-bottom.

View from the bottom

There was a stretch in January when Knox led the league in corner 3, but he has since cooled off. He’s been struggling in the last seven games before his benching, shooting just 3-for-14 from deep.

Knox said he’d got a different view of the game from the bench, taking notes that he hopes to carry on the court when another chance — whenever that maybe — would come.

“You feel a lot of different things from the sideline, honestly. You see a lot of little things that you don’t really see on the court. I think a lot of people can say the same thing,” Knox said.

Vanishing chances

But four of the players who were picked after him in the 2018 NBA Draft can’t say the same thing.

Mikal Bridges has developed into Phoenix Suns’ swiss-knife army, often tasked to shadow the opposing team’s best player and still has the energy to hunt for his offense.

Knox’s Kentucky teammate Shai Gilgeous-Alexander has become the face of the Oklahoma City Thunder rebuild, while Miles Bridges has been playing a pivotal role in Charlotte Hornets.

Michael Porter Jr. is an emerging star in Denver.

While his Draft batchmates are flourishing, Knox’s chances are vanishing.

“I’m just going to continue to keep working defensively, keep moving without the basketball offensively. Just run around and be aggressive all the time. Like I said, being ready to go in there to play hard, get rebounds, get steals, just make hustle plays, make winning plays so I can get to see my minutes increased.”

“But like what I said, whether I play or not, I just have to be the best teammate that I can be and work hard in practice and workouts. And on off days, make sure I can get shots up and continue to get my reps up,” Knox said about his plans moving forward.

Will these things be enough to earn his way back?

Follow this writer on Twitter: @alderalmo

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

Knicks turn cold in Tampa as Raptors notch first win

New York Knicks, Julius Randle

There were no fireworks for the New York Knicks to usher in New Year. Only brick-fest.

The Knicks suddenly went cold in the warmer weather of Tampa, Fla., as the Toronto Raptors finally broke into the win column.

From Knicks to Bricks

The Knicks entered the contest as the best three-point shooting team. They came out with a record of futility in a 100-83 loss to the Raptors.

The Knicks’ starters bricked all their 23 three-point attempts becoming the first starting five with the most misses without a make all-time, per ESPN Stats & Info. The Knicks were 3-for-36 overall from deep and missed 20 three-pointers in a row at one ugly stretch.

Kevin Knox, a former high school star in Tampa, had his best scoring performance this season on his homecoming with 16 points. But it all went for naught.

No Siakam, no problem

The Raptors didn’t miss Pascal Siakam, who was reportedly suspended for disciplinary reasons, with Norman Powell stepping up in his absence. Powell scored seven straight points in the opening quarter and finished with 17 points. The backcourt tandem of Kyle Lowry and Fred Van Vleet combined for 45 points.

The Knicks led by six, 54-48, their biggest in the game, early in the third quarter. But the Raptors closed out with a 23-10 exchange and took a 71-64 lead heading into the final quarter.

Van Vleet, who spurned the Knicks in the free agency, poured in 10 of his 25 points in the final canto to lead the Raptors’ breakaway. The bulky guard also had five rebounds and seven assists.

Randle manhandled 

Julius Randle couldn’t duplicate his triple-double performance as the Raptors threw a constant double team on him. The Knicks’ starting power forward finished with 16 points, his lowest output in five games.

Randle was 0-for-4 from three and went out for good after suffering from cramps with 3:24 left.

Sophomore RJ Barrett’s shooting slump continued with 0-8 clunkfest from deep. The Canadian wingman has missed his last 21 three-point attempts since going 3-for-3 in the season opener.

The usually sharp Reggie Bullock was also a dismal 0-for-9 from the outside.

Rivers’ debut

Austin Rivers finally made his debut as a Knick, finishing with seven points and five assists as Elfrid Payton’s chief backup. Rivers skipped the preseason and missed the Knicks’ first four games due to a pulled groin.

The Knicks were missing guards Immanuel Quickley, Dennis Smith Jr., and Frank Ntilikina for various injuries forcing Thibodeau to play Rivers for an extended time despite only having one practice with the team.

The Raptors started hot, leading by as many as 11 with Powell on a tear. But Knox came off the bench and played aggressively in front of his family in his hometown as the Knicks tied the game at halftime, 42-all.

It went downhill from there.

What’s next?

The Knicks will continue their road trip in Indianapolis on Saturday with a rematch against the Indiana Pacers.

The Knicks hope to bounce back and avenge their 121-107 season-opening loss at the hands of the Pacers.

Follow this writer on Twitter: @alderalmo

Tom Thibodeau feels New York Knicks have quality depth

New York Knicks

Tom Thibodeau continues to keep his opening night starters and rotation close to his vest with two days to go before his confident, young New York Knicks face the Indiana Pacers to open the season on the road.

As it stands, the Knicks will have the first few weeks of the season as an extension of the training camp. Without the benefit of the Summer League and fall practices, Thibodeau and his coaching staff had to cram in the condensed training camp and four preseason games.

While there’s still no clarity, the little window gave away some clues.

“Every day after practice, we talk about the rotation. We have a pretty good idea but that doesn’t mean it’s set in stone. Obviously, over the course of the season, we need everyone. And particular this year, under the circumstances, quality depth is important and I feel we have that,” Thibodeau said on his zoom call with reporters after Monday’s practice.

Bereft of quality depth for the past seasons, the Knicks have shown in the preseason that Thibodeau can extend his rotation beyond the regular 8-9 man-deep on some nights.

While it was a small sample size and against lousy teams that were also experimenting, the Knicks played with a sense of purpose and direction for the first time in years.

Knicks’ best players

Based on their preseason games, RJ Barrett is firmly entrenched at his spot in the starting lineup. So is the much-maligned Julius Randle with lottery pick Obi Toppin not showing enough so far to supplant him.

Barrett has played the most minutes among the Knicks in four games with 30.5, which ranked third behind the Los Angeles Lakers’ youngsters — Kyle Kuzma (34.0) and preseason revelation Talen Horton-Tucker (31.8).

Barrett averaged a team-high 17.8 points on 51 percent field goal shooting. What’s more impressive is that he shot 86.7 percent from the line, a big jump from his 61-percent clip last season. He also had a +/- 14.3. Though the three-point shot remains his weakness, his overall improvement has been a welcome development for a Knicks team lacking a bona fide star and firepower.

Randle was also solid in the preseason games, coming in seventh in most minutes around the league with 28.5 per game. The six-year veteran turned in 14.5 points on 50-percent field goal shooting on top of 5.0 rebounds and an astounding 5.5 assists against 2.8 turnovers. For the first time since his rookie season with the Los Angeles Lakers, Randle had a positive point differential, a +/- 9.0 in his preseason outings, which hopefully will spill over into the regular season. 

Pleasant surprises

It wasn’t just a coincidence that Kevin Knox has started to find his groove at the same time Immanuel Quickley was quickly climbing up the Knicks’ point guard ranks.

Knox has knocked in nine of his last 10 three-pointers while Quickley has quarterbacked the team like it’s never done since they have Jeremy Lin, Raymond Felton, and an old but still reliable Jason Kidd late in his career.

That begs the question of whether he should start or play behind presumed starter Elfrid Payton, who missed the last preseason game.

“Everything is based on merit,” Thibodeau emphasized again.

“So if you evaluate practices — who’s practicing well, what groups are playing well then you take that further to the games. And take that information. If someone is practicing well, that is important to us. And then when you have the preseason games, if they play well, the team is functioning well when they’re on the floor, that’s important as well,” Thibodeau said. 

Note the buzz word “functioning well.” It was the same word he used to describe Quickley’s awe-inspiring run in the preseason.

Best chance to win

During his 18-month exile, Thibodeau said he’s learned a lot and reflected on how he can improve to become a better coach than his previous two stops in Chicago, Minnesota.

But while he is starting to embrace analytics and load management, some tenets will remain the same.

“I think you play the people that you feel can give you the best chance to win. But also you have the understanding that over the course of the season, everyone gets an opportunity,” Thibodeau added. 

For the small sample size that Quickley ran the point, the Knicks were a joy to watch. His energy was infectious. His high basketball IQ was very obvious.

Even Payton, who should be worried about his starting role, was left impressed with Quickley and gave credit to where credit’s due.

“He (Quickley) played well. Coach [Tom Thibodeau] has done a good job preparing us. He knocked down a lot of shots. The ball was popping. It was good. I think our defense led to our offense as well. He played good defense,” said Payton.

Whether Quickley will start or not, his overall skill set, which trumps all the point guards the Knicks have had, will shine no matter what. 

“I don’t think he surprised any of us. We know he’s talented. He put in a lot of work day in, day out. There’s no surprise,” Payton said.

How deep can Thibs go?

While Barrett and Randle are locked to start, Thibodeau will enjoy watching the rest of the team competing for their spots.

Knox and Toppin loom to be the de-facto backups of Barrett and Randle.

Thibodeau has the luxury of interchangeable rim protectors in Mitchell Robinson and Nerlens Noel. Robinson had picked up the slack when Noel sat out with an injury. The Knicks will have rim protection whoever between them is on the floor.

Payton may win the starting job at the point for now. But Quickley should give him a run for his money. 

Veteran Alec Burks was also solid in two games against Detroit before he skipped the last two preseason games to attend to his newborn baby as reported by Stefan Bondy of the Daily News. 

Reggie Bullock can be serviceable when his shots are falling.

There’s still the mystery of how Austin Rivers will fit into the scheme of things. But his veteran leadership, having played meaningful basketball with the Houston Rockets and Los Angeles Clippers, will be counted upon when the going gets tough.

Odd men out?

But with depth comes hard decisions.

Dennis Smith Jr. and Frank Ntilikina could be the guys who will hit the most with the influx of quality depth to this retooled Knicks.

Smith Jr. started the preseason as Paytons’ backup, but with the emergence of Quickley, it’s going to be tough for him to carve a significant role. His newfound defensive grit was admirable, but his inconsistent outside shooting and lack of playmaking couldn’t trump Quickley’s overall talent.

Ntilikina has played more off the ball in the preseason. But he hasn’t shown quite enough to keep Thibodeau from leashing him ahead of Burks and Bullock.

Unless he can hit the outside shot consistently, or injuries struck their veterans, his playing time will be a roller coaster.  

It was pretty clear from the preseason games that the Knicks enjoyed much success with their young guys — Quickley, Barrett, Knox, Toppin, Robinson. But as Thibodeau said, the regular-season game will be a lot different.

Acid test

On Wednesday night, the Pacers will provide their first acid test.

“I think they’re a very talented team [Indiana Pacers]. They’ve built a great foundation over the last few years. They’re playing a bit differently now offensively in terms of their pace and the type of shots they’re taking. But they have a number of people who can go off the dribble,” Thibodeau said.

“And I think of course, with Victor missing a good chunk of last year, they were still a very good team. They have great depth and versatility to their lineup and you have Victor back into the mix, they are one of the best teams in the East for sure,” he added.

Thibodeau’s young Knicks will face a team that they hope to become in a couple of years to attract stars to come. Under normal circumstances, the opening game should set the tone for the season. But for the Knicks, it will provide more clarity on whether Thibodeau’s beliefs are standing on solid ground or just a shallow depth.

Follow this writer on Twitter: @alderalmo

New York Knicks: One unexpected breakout player for the 2021 season

New York Knicks, Kevin Knox

While New York Knicks head coach Tom Thibodeau plans to start the best players on the roster rather than develop some of the youngsters, the preseason hasn’t made his job any easier.

After going 3-1 over four preseason games, the Knicks are preparing to start the regular season against the Indiana Pacers on Wednesday. The starting five has yet to be set, but both rookies, Obi Toppin and Immanuel Quickley have looked phenomenal so far.

Thibodeau plans to play aggressive basketball, focusing on defense and overwhelming opposing teams. The Knicks have done a good job of that, keeping the Cleveland Cavaliers to just 83 points in the final preseason contest. However, one player has quietly looked phenomenal during the small sample size of games.

Third-year player Kevin Knox could be preparing to hit his stride in the NBA. The 21-year-old forward averaged just 17.9 minutes per game last year, down from 28.8 in his rookie season in 2018.

When Knox is given clear driving lanes and good shooting opportunities, he has been successful in the past, but streakiness makes him a rotational player rather than a starter.

“Looking at his career, when he’s taken good shots, he’s always made them. Or at least had a good chance to make them,” Thibodeau said. “And when he’s eliminated the tough shots, it makes him a much better player.”

As stated before, Thibodeau plans to field an aggressively defensive team. Their goal is to shut down opponents and tire them out with relentless energy. That is a benefit of having younger players on the roster.

“He plays with a lot more energy defensively. But I want him to get himself going – with his defense first, running the floor, rebounding and then spacing the floor. And then I thought our guys did a great job of penetrating and finding him. I thought the rim reads were great. Kevin has worked extremely hard to get himself ready for the season.”

The New York Knicks have enjoyed Knox’s recent performances:

Knox only averaged 6.4 points last year, but in the final preseason game against Cleveland, he put up 20 points, hitting on 7-of-10 shots from the field. He also connected on 6-of-7 shots from three-point land, turning the ball over just once. Overall, he looked like a different player, flush with confidence and optimism of the year ahead.

“It’s always good to see the ball go through the net,” Knox said of his preseason effort. “But with preseason over now, starting Wednesday we get the real games going, so I want to continue to get the work in, watch a lot of films, get a lot of shots up. But it was great to see the ball go through the net these last two games, and hopefully I can continue with that confidence and play with it consistently like I’ve been playing.”

There’s no question that Knox has the mentality to be a great player, he just hasn’t been able to translate his desires onto the court. I believe coming off the bench to start the season will take some of the pressure away, giving him a bit more confidence to work with.

Knicks light up hope in Thibodeau’s Garden return

New York Knicks

Tom Thibodeau has seen it all — from winning a championship in Boston to coaching young teams to the playoffs in both of his previous head coaching stops in Chicago and Minnesota.

But for the Connecticut native who bleeds orange and blue, there’s nothing like coaching at the Mecca of basketball.

No better place

Thibodeau reflected on his return to the Madison Square Garden as the head coach of the New York Knicks, the franchise that cultivated his coaching mind as an assistant coach in the ’90s. 

“It’s unfortunate the fans can’t be here,’’ Thibodeau said before the Knicks went up against the Cleveland Cavaliers Wednesday night for their third and first home preseason game. “But there’s no better place for big games in this building and the knowledge of the fans if you make a good basketball play it’s recognized.’’ 

For the first three quarters, Thibodeau must have felt he dodged a bullet.

For sure, he didn’t want the fans to see how the Knicks were getting kicked in the butt by a Cavaliers team that was without their key players Kevin Love, Collin Sexton, Cedi Osman, Kevin Porter, Jr., and Larry Nance.

The Knicks were painful to watch in the first 36 minutes as they continued to shoot bricks. They looked like a puzzled kid who couldn’t solve the Rubik’s cube with the way they struggled against the zone. They were a dreadful 4-for-26 from the three-point region.

Keep the faith

The Knicks fell to as many as 18, 78-60, and some of the Knicks fans on the Twitter timeline have started to check out.

But Thibodeau kept his faith in his young team.

“Really, we just played hard. That was the message, the assistant coaches, coach Thibs. They just stressed to us to keep fighting, keep the faith. And if we keep playing hard, we can come up with a win,” rookie Immanuel Quickley said when Rebecca Haarlow asked him what the coaching staff’s message heading into the fourth quarter was.

And fight they did.

Dennis Smith Jr. played with heart. Quickley pushed the pace. Kevin Knox fought with moxie. Obi Toppin was slammin’ and poppin’ while RJ Barrett continued to barrel his way. Mitchell Robinson played disciplined basketball.

It all begins with defense

If the first three quarters were painful to watch, the fourth quarter was so fun to watch.

And it started with Smith Jr. getting stops. He had a block and three steals in a row — the last two ended up with Quickley assisting Knox for a smooth jumper and an alley-oop dunk that got them within 10.

The much-maligned Smith Jr. then hit a three-pointer that trimmed the deficit to seven, 86-79, before sitting out for good and handing out the backcourt reins to Quickley in the final seven minutes.

Smith Jr., who was never known for his defense, finished the game with five steals, two blocks on top of eight points, and four assists in just under 16 minutes of play.

It didn’t matter that it came at the expense of the Cavaliers’ third-string guards. What mattered to Thibodeau was the effort.

“I think the big thing was our defensive intensity picked up. We got energy from that. We got some stops. We got on the open floor. I thought Dennis got us going with some good pressure. And then Quick came in, and that change it some more. So that’s how we have to play,” Thibodeau said afterward.

Good sign

That magical 34-13 run in the fourth quarter saw the Knicks shot 4-of-8 from beyond the arc, with Knox knocking in a perfect 3-for-3. Quickley issued six of his game-high seven assists. Robinson had two blocks while Barrett fed Toppin for the exclamation dunk in the Knicks’ 100-93 win, their second in three preseason games.

“Sometimes when you get going with your defense, it’s funny the energy that it brings to your offense, and then all of a sudden a couple of shots go down. And things are good for you offensively. Obviously, you want to play your best in the fourth quarter. And so that was a good sign,” Thibodeau said.

There were plenty of heroes for the Knicks. And that’s how Thibodeau likes it.

“I don’t think we can pick and choose who’s gonna lead us. I think you want a team of leaders — the work part, the intensity part, the togetherness part. That’s everyone’s responsibility. And everyone’s responsible for bringing what they have every day. So we want to build that habit,” Thibodeau said.

Caution thrown

But while it felt good to win his first game back in The Garden, Thibodeau was quick to throw caution and pumped the breaks cognisant of the fact that it’s just a preseason game, still a part of their training camp. He underscored the importance of how they will respond after this win.

“So they’re young guys, I think they’re learning. If you win, you have the tendency to feel good. You can’t do that. You can’t let your guard down. If you lose, you have to view it as an opportunity to learn. That’s the way we’re training them to approach it,” Thibodeau quickly added. 

The 62-year old mentor said at the start of the training camp that the first order of business is to whip this young Knicks team into a good practice team with emphasis on defense.

And if the first three preseason games are any indication, although, against some of the weaker teams in the East, some progress is being made. They have managed to keep opponents from reaching the century mark.

While their shooting is still wanting, they have shown flashes of brilliance despite not getting down to the nitty-gritty of their offense yet.

“I think the guys have been terrific in practice. Defensively, they’re giving everything that they have. Offensively, when we get that part down, I think we’ll put ourselves in a position to win. I know that if we can defend and rebound and keep our turnovers down, you’ll gonna be in a position to win, and that’s what we’re striving for,” Thibodeau said.

Back to the future

For what’s it worth, this game showed a lot of promise, especially the young unit that finished strong with the Knicks’ lottery pick Toppin, the oldest at 22.

They played with a lot of passion.

They played tough defense.

They played for each other.

They were having fun.

It was a throwback to the team of the ’90s that Thibodeau helped built under Jeff Van Gundy but, at the same time, opened a window to the future of how the Knicks will look like with him at the helm.

“You learn from each game. You’d rather win than lose. You take it for what it is. I think you learn from each game,” Thibodeau said, trying to put this win in its proper perspective.

“Obviously, you’d rather win instead of losing, and you take it for what it is, which is a preseason game. It’s an opportunity to evaluate where the team is with the season right around the corner. We really can’t waste one second every day about getting better and getting ready,” he added.

“It’ll be a different level when we get to the regular season, and we know that.”

Maybe it’s crazy to look into these meaningless games, but these matter to what this new regime has been building.

For the franchise that has long been wallowing in the darkness, Thibodeau has come back to the Garden and lit up the fire that may finally guide these young Knicks out of the tunnel. 

The Knicks fans, although they weren’t there to rock the Garden, are, for sure, starting to recognize it.

Follow this writer on Twitter: @alderalmo

Fantastic Four: Tom Thibodeau lists most conditioned Knicks

Run, Knicks, run!

That’s how Tom Thibodeau plans to roll out his young and athletic New York Knicks beginning in the preseason.

The Knicks will face the Detroit Pistons on the road Friday at 7 p.m. E.T.

“I would assume that’s the plan. Every day we do a lot of transition drills, guys getting up and down. Everybody work super hard to get into shape to play that way. That’s the plan, so let’s see if we can execute tomorrow,” Dennis Smith Jr. said on zoom call Thursday after the Knicks wrapped up their short training camp.

The Knicks were tied with the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Orlando Magic for 23rd place in pace at 100.9 last season. The Milwaukee Bucks led the league at 107.2.

Thibodeau never cracked the top-15 during his two seasons with a young Minnesota team. But to his defense, he surrounded Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins with veterans and played to their strengths, especially when Jimmy Butler came aboard.

This Knicks team is far different than what he had in Minnesota. So he’s playing the hand that has been dealt to him.

Tough cookies, fit rookies

To be able to sustain an up-tempo game, they need to be in their best shape. Thibodeau was pleased, especially with four players who showed up for the training camp fit and ready to go.

“Our two young guys, obviously they have a lot to learn, but in terms of commitment and conditioning, they’re really, really impressive,” said Thibodeau referring to his rookies Obi Toppin and Immanuel Quickley.

Both rookies benefited from the extended period of preparation for the Draft and the short turnaround time.

Toppin and Quickley will have their first taste of NBA action Friday night as they will mix it up against fellow rookies Killian Hayes, Saddiq Bey, and Isaiah Stewart of Detroit.

For them, this amounts to their summer league.

“I didn’t think the speed of the game would be too much faster, but it’s actually been a lot faster,” Quickley said. “I feel like Kentucky, they do a great job of preparing, but until you get out there and experience a full practice and going up and down really fast, there’s really nothing like it. I think the speed of the game has been the biggest jump, and I feel like I’m making a great jump. Every single day I feel like I’m getting better.”

Quickley could be in for a rude awakening on Friday when he and Toppin will experience the intensity, albeit watered down, of a real NBA game.

It will be a good gauge for both Thibodeau and Pistons coach Dwayne Casey on how their rookies and newcomers will fit into what they’re trying to do.

“The college game is very different from the NBA game. So there’s an adjustment period that you go through,” Thibodeau said.

There will be rookie jitters for sure. But Toppin and Quickley have sounded confident throughout the camp. The Knicks fans are anxious to watch them walk the talk.

Big bets on vets

It will be exactly nine months since the Knicks last played an NBA game. Among the holdovers and veterans, two Knicks have impressed Thibodeau with their conditioning.

“I would say the vets who stood out the most were actually two – I would say, Julius, who’s in great shape, and Kevin Knox is in really good shape as well,” Thibodeau said.

Both forwards have chips on their shoulders. Randle will be in his second season with the team, hoping to become a better leader. Knox, meanwhile, is aching to bounce back after a lackluster sophomore season.

Despite being the most conditioned Knicks, they will not necessarily garner the most minutes. Thibodeau will use the preseason games to experiment on different combinations for his regular-season rotations.

“We’ve been mixing and matching, and we’re still evaluating. I’m gonna meet with the coaches,” Thibodeau said.

“Obviously, there will be a larger rotation in this first game. But we’ll use it for preseason games and probably some games into the regular season as well before we settle in for our final rotation.”

While the Knicks rotation will be unpredictable, one thing is sure.

Run, Knicks, run!

Follow this writer on Twitter: @alderalmo

Knicks keep their faith in Knox: ‘I want to prove a lot of people wrong’

New York Knicks, Kevin Knox

Despite an underwhelming sophomore season for Kevin Knox, the New York Knicks have remained committed to the former lottery pick.

Knox, who shot a dreadful 36 percent overall last season, has been criticized for his low motor. The former Kentucky star is eager to turn the corner and finally break out in the NBA.

He’s brimming with confidence, which emanates from the full backing he’s been getting from the Knicks.

“The whole coaching staff, the whole organization really has a lot of faith in me. They’ve really been pushing me all summer. Coach has really been reaching out,” Knox said on his zoom call Tuesday.

This echoed former Knick Steve Novak’s sentiment earlier in the day on MSG A.M.

“I think the guy with the Knicks that you really need to watch this year, going into his third year, is Kevin Knox,” Novak said. “I know there are a lot of new names, a lot of new faces, and a lot of potentials, with a lot of the roster – Obi Toppin being picked, great selection. But to me, Kevin Knox is in his third year. Coach Thibs has been in Kevin Knox’s ear all summer long since he signed with the New York Knicks.

“And it sounds like they’ve made him a priority. So he is a guy who has the potential to make that leap and improve and help this New York Knicks team. I think if he can have a solid year, he can really help the Knicks.”

Training camp star

Thibodeau has been effusive in his praise for the third-year forward when he mentioned that Knox had been impressive in the first two days of the training camp.

“I hope he can sustain that over a long period of time. Looking at the shots that he had taken last year, the ones that he took which I would quantify as good shots, he made those,” Thibodeau said.

“When Kevin Knox takes good shots, he’s going to make them. He’s put a lot of time into his shooting. I think he’s gotten stronger. But he’s got to continue to work. And if he does that, Kevin Knox will be fine.”

Aside from focusing on his conditioning, Knox has trained with sought-after shooting coach Chris Matthews. Known as Lethal Shooter on social media, Matthews has helped improve the shooting mechanics of the likes of NBA big men Dwight Howard, Anthony Davis, and WNBA stars Candace Parker and Skylar-Diggins Smith, among others.

Shot of confidence

Knox got a shot of confidence when the Knicks brought in Kenny Payne as an assistant coach. Payne has always been in his corner since his one-and-done season with the Wildcats.

Aside from Payne, the Knicks have added a slew of coaches who have a strong background in player development.

“As much as possible, I’m really getting a lot of work with different coaches that we have on our staff,” Knox said.

“It definitely feels great to have the organization behind my back. I just really want to go out there this year and prove a lot of people wrong. Just go out there and play hard and just really win games.”

The Knicks’ reluctance to include Knox in a package that would’ve gotten them All-Star point guard Chris Paul was the first sign that they are fully invested in the 2018 ninth overall pick.

Knox likes the makeup of this Knicks team better than last year, when Steve Mills signed a glut of veteran forwards that buried Knox on the bench.

“Last year, we brought in a lot of new guys. So it was kind of stuff adjusting to the new players. But I think this year, we really did a good job of bringing some veteran guys who will really help the young guys,” Knox said.

Run and gun Knicks

Knox already saw a glimpse of what the future holds for him and the Knicks at practice, with Thibodeau imploring them to run and take advantage of their athleticism.

“I think the way that coach really wants us to play this year is really fast. We’re so young, and we got a lot of athleticism, so he really wants us to fly up and down the court, which is really different than last year,” Knox said.

Thibodeau has yet to settle with his rotation opting to dedicate the first part of the training camp to fundamentals before moving to team schemes. But Knox said they already have a sense of how Thibodeau will roll them out this season.

“Everyone on the team knows their role. We had a couple of days of good practice. Just the flow of practice, everyone really knows how they gonna play this year,” he said.

Knox said Thibodeau has already told him what he needs to do to make great strides this season.

“He just really wants me to be aggressive, rebound the ball defensively, push the ball on the break, make plays knock the open shots, be aggressive, and get to the basket,” Knox said. 

Thibodeau’s message to him was obvious.

Play with a high motor.

Follow this writer on Twitter: @alderalmo