Knicks’ Obi Toppin puts growth on display in season opener over Boston

obi toppin, knicks

In dramatic fashion, the New York Knicks walked away with an awesome victory over the Boston Celtics to open the season. Led predominantly by Julius Randle and Evan Fournier, who combined for 67 points, four blocks, four steals, and 12 assists, one player who flew under the radar was second-year power forward Obi Toppin.

After struggling in his rookie season to find his path in the NBA, averaging just 4.1 points, 2.2 rebounds, and shooting 50% from the field, Toppin put forth a showing that displayed his growth this off-season. The Dayton product is known for his transition abilities and highflying athleticism, and he showcased some of that skill against Boston, dunking over a number of defenders and continuously shredding their interior defense.

“Man, hearing your name getting chanted in the Garden is amazing,” he said. “It’s an unbelievable experience that I can’t even explain. It’s just something you have to live through.”

With Obi’s name ringing throughout a packed Madison Square Garden, echoing down eighth avenue, following a corridor of buildings as far as the eye can see, the city felt vibrant with the coming of a new team…a new age.

“He’s confident,” Julius Randle said. “He’s just playing to his strengths. All of that is from repetition and work. I’ve seen him work every day, he works extremely hard. You continue Randall had nothing but great things to say about his young teammate, and fellow veteran Kemba walker also indicated that top and change the pace of the game and curated momentum shifting opportunities toto work in this league year after year, you’re going to get better.”

Randle had nothing but great things to say about his young teammate, and fellow veteran Kemba Walker also indicated that Toppin changed the pace of the game and curated momentum-shifting opportunities to demoralize Boston.

“Obi, I thought he changed the pace of the game,” new point guard Kemba Walker said. “He’s a very special talent. He can really run.”

Toppin finished the game with 14 points, one block, five rebounds, and shot 6-of-9 from the field over 28 minutes. While he missed all three of us three-point attempts, his big transition dunks provided a spark of motivation on offense.

If Obi continues to produce at this level and develop, the Knicks will see their 8th overall pick from 2020 reach his potential. Some were skeptical of his talents and how he’d make an impact, but with the right coaching and work ethic, anything is possible.

Broadway Thriller: Knicks survive Celtics in double OT season opener

evan fournier, knicks

When reporters asked Julius Randle what to expect in the New York Knicks season opener, there was something compellingly prescient about his answer.

“Chaos,” Randle said. “We’re expecting chaos.”

A chaotic final sequence in the regulation nearly cost them the game, but the Knicks regrouped and leaned on their preseason experience to pull off a 138-134 double-overtime win over old rival Boston Celtics on Wednesday night.

It was the first season opener with multiple overtimes since the Knicks’ 118-117 triple-overtime win over the Grizzlies on Nov. 1, 2006.

“Every time before we go out [of the locker room], coach [Tom Thibodeau] always puts on the board, ‘find a way to win.’ They talk about us taking preseason seriously, but this is why we take it seriously so we can win games like this,” Randle said.

Their undefeated run in the preseason kept them sharp and mentally ready for a brutal opening game that needed 58 minutes of basketball to decide the winner.

Randle started the season proving that his All-NBA season was not a fluke. In a battle of All-Star forwards, Randle answered Jaylen Brown’s 46-point performance with a near triple-double (35 points, eight rebounds, nine assists, three blocks in 46 minutes) and clutch free throws in the second overtime. Randle became the first player in Knicks’ history to log in at least 25 points, five rebounds, and five assists in multiple season openers, per ESPN Stats and Info.

Newcomer Evan Fournier validated the hefty contract he signed last summer. The Frenchman gunner scored a career-high 32 points, including the go-ahead three-pointer with 56 seconds remaining.

Derrick Rose showed that he can still close games more than a decade removed from his MVP season. He kept fighting through his shooting woes to hit the dagger — a floating banked shot off Dennis Schroder with 22.2 seconds left for the final tally. He wound up with nine points on 3-of-11 shooting and five assists.

It was a massive win against a conference rival that is projected to finish ahead of them in the standings.

But the Knicks had to earn it the hard way after blowing an 11-point lead late in the fourth quarter. They failed to protect a three-point cushion with 4.8 seconds left in the regulation when they seemingly forgot to foul.

“There was a slip but we did want to foul,” Thibodeau later said. “We got to work on it. We’ll learn from it.”

A Jayson Tatum slip caused a chain of reactions, leading to a wide-open Marcus Smart three-pointer that beat the buzzer to force the first overtime. Fournier went to double team Tatum that left Schroder open for the pass. Schroder found Smart as Kemba Walker, who had two costly turnovers inside the final 30 seconds, scrambled for defense.

Fournier atoned for his blunder with four triples in the two extra periods. After an underwhelming preseason, Fournier found his rhythm in his official Knicks debut. He shot 13-of-25 overall and accounted for six of the team’s 17 three-pointers.

The Knicks attempted 45 three-pointers, 34 in the regulation.

“I’ve never worried about him making shots,” Thibodeau said referring to Fournier. “To me, he’s proven throughout his career that’s who he is. It’s nice to see him and Julius build some chemistry together.”

The same cannot be said of Walker, who has yet to make his signature Knicks moment through four games dating back to the preseason. In this game billed as his official homecoming debut, Walker hardly had an impact with 10 points on 3-of-8 shooting in 36 minutes. He had more turnovers (4) than assists (3) and watched on the bench in the second overtime.

“I think [with] Kemba, the more he plays with that group the more he gets into a rhythm,” Thibodeau said. “He’s got great instincts in the pick and roll. And I think we can take advantage of that even more than what we’re doing right now. So, we’ll continue to work on that.”

“Kemba and Evan are two terrific players. We’re excited about the possibilities.”

However, their performance in the first 28 minutes did not elicit excitement. The Knicks trailed by as many as 12 points. After a roaring 8-0 start buoyed by a couple of Randle’s three-pointers, New York fell into Boston’s trap.

They could not solve the Celtics’ switching defense that held them to only eight assists in the first half and forced them to rely on isolation plays. Jaylen Brown’s 25-point outburst in the first half, 20 in the opening quarter, compounded their problem.

Not until Thibodeau switched to his small-ball lineup again in the third quarter that they found an answer. Sans Nerlens Noel (sore left knee) and Taj Gibson, who just became a first-time father, Thibodeau leaned on the Toppin-Randle frontcourt to ignite their comeback.

After Toppin replaced Mitchell Robinson with 8:36 left in the third quarter, the Knicks outscored the Celtics, 28-15, to seize an 86-82 lead heading into the fourth quarter.

They pushed the pace, and the space they created gave Barrett enough room to operate. After a scoreless first half, Barrett uncorked 14 of his 19 points during that big run.

“It got us going. It got us into the open floor which was good. That group really played well together,” Thibodeau said.

Toppin then teamed up with Robinson at the start of the fourth quarter. Their back-to-back dunks opened up an eight-point lead for the Knicks, 90-82. Toppin and Robinson combined for 11 of the Knicks’ first 14 points in the fourth quarter.

A Schroder three-pointer cut Celtics’ deficit down to six. But Toppin’s alley-oop dunk over Payton Pritchard restored an eight-point Knicks’ lead, 100-92, with 8:58 left in the regulation.

The second-year pro looked every inch the lottery pick that he was hyped to be as he finally spread his wings. Toppin finished with a career-high 14 points in 28 minutes, the most he’s played since he entered the NBA. He added five rebounds and one block.

His breakthrough performance was a testament to Thibodeau’s player development acumen and his body of work with his trainer David Zenon in the summer.

Robinson delivered a monster double-double in just his second game back from a foot injury. The 23-year old center collected 11 points, 17 rebounds, three assists, and two blocks against only two fouls in 35 minutes.

“I think we’re seeing just the tip of the iceberg with Mitch. I think Mitch is gonna be really, really good for us,” Thibodeau said. “RJ, in the second half, he was a monster. The thing that I liked was he kept his composure. He wasn’t rattled and just kept playing. He kept working in the game and then the game got going his way. So, it was really good to see.”

More than his offensive contribution, Barrett held his end of the bargain on the defensive end. He played a major role in slowing down Tatum, who bled for 20 points on 7-of-30 shooting, including 2 for 15 from downtown.

After a chaotic first half, the Knicks’ offense flowed like the Hudson river in the last two quarters and two overtimes with 19 assists.

Amid the chaos that reigned in the Garden in their season opener, the Knicks found harmony in their continuity, stability, and flexibility.

It’s going to be a long season. But the Knicks are equipped to battle chaos.

Follow this writer on Twitter: @alderalmo

Knicks lose Taj Gibson for opener, full steam ahead with Mitchell Robinson

new york knicks, rj barrett

With the New York Knicks preparing to take on the Boston Celtics in the home opener of the 2021–22 season, they will be without two veteran centers in Nerlens Noel and Taj Gibson. Noel has been battling a sore left knee for the past few weeks, and his absence was expected to provide Mitchell Robinson with an excellent opportunity to earn solid minutes as he rehabilitates from a fractured foot.

Gibson, on the other hand, was forced out of the contests due to personal reasons, meaning the Knicks will have to supplement his loss with a potential dual power forward combination including Julius Randle and Obi Toppin. Alternatively, they do have Jericho Sims on the active roster, so he could earn minutes in his rookie season after signing a two-way contract.

Gibson has been preparing for any situation he’s required to perform in, indicating that Tom Thibodeau has coached him to be versatile.

“The moment I came into the league, Thibs has always had me in different situation,” said Gibson, who is entering his 13th NBA season. “He’s always prepared me for starting, coming off the bench. He didn’t want me to just be a guy floating. He always told me to have my head on a swivel, always be ready, always be professional and work will handle the rest.

Gibson was solid during preseason play, posting 21 points against the Detroit Pistons, activating his shooting prowess, and showing off a new element to his game. The veteran continues to surprise, injecting energy and leadership on the court whatever he’s called upon.

However, the team will rely on Robinson against Boston after he played in 27 minutes in the preseason finale against the Washington Wizards. Robinson found himself gassed at some points due to a lack of stamina, but getting him involved early should help him return to his old ways in due time.

New-look Knicks offense will be tested against Celtics’ switching defense

All eyes will be on Kemba Walker on Wednesday night as he makes his official New York Knicks debut against his old team Boston Celtics at 7:30 pm.

An expected raucous, sold-out Madison Square Garden crowd will be on hand to witness the opening of one of the most anticipated seasons in Knicks history coming off a playoff run.

Walker has a chip on his shoulder after the Celtics dealt him to the Oklahoma City Thunder with a future pick in the offseason before finding his way to New York via a contract buyout.

“Does it matter [that I’ll be facing the Celtics in my Knicks debut]? Of course. It’s my old team,” Walker said after Tuesday’s practice. “But I don’t go into any game thinking I want to lose. So, I definitely want to win. Does it make it that much better than it’s my old team? Yeah, no question.”

Walker, alongside another former Celtic Evan Fournier, will add another layer to the Knicks offense, which heavily relied on Julius Randle’s shot creation and playmaking in the past.

While Walker (39.3 FG%, 29.4 3P%) and Fournier (38.5% FG, 30 3P%) groped for form as they tried to fit in, the Knicks’ new-look offense looked good in the preseason. In their undefeated preseason run heading into Wednesday’s home opener, the Knicks landed second in offensive rating (113.4) buoyed by their spiked three-point shot volume.

Derrick Rose harped that they are targeting to jump from 30 per game (27th in the league last season) to 37-40 attempts. They were above their target with 41 attempts, sixth in the league during the preseason, and hit 38.4 percent of them, which landed in the top three.

New Celtics coach Ime Udoka has taken notice of the Knicks’ new-look offense. Walker’s mastery of the pick and roll and Fournier’s off-the-bounce game have made the Knicks more unpredictable on offense despite the newcomers’ shooting struggles.

“We’re really recognizing that in the preseason, they’re playing with tremendous pace,” Udoka said after Monday’s practice. “I think that’s a league-wide thing but the Knicks are really good up and down pushing with their guards, hunting threes in transition, playing fast, and looking to shoot the three a lot.”

The Knicks, who played with the slowest pace (96.32) last season, played faster in the preseason (102.50).

Whereas the Knicks have been picking up their new-look offense a lot quicker based on their 4-0 preseason result, the Celtics are adjusting to Udoka’s coaching a little bit slower as they went 2-2 in the preseason, splitting their games against Orlando, picking up a close win against Toronto and losing in double-digits to Miami.

Udoka, who previously worked for the San Antonio Spurs, Philadelphia 76ers, and Brooklyn Nets as defensive coordinator, is switching up everything on defense. He wants the Celtics to prevent dribble penetration and minimize help defense by keeping the ball in front of the defense. It’s a significant change from Brad Steven’s drop coverage, where the defensive bigs were responsible for containing dribble penetration off screens while teammates recover their defensive position.

The Celtics’ switching defense will be a good test to the Knicks’ new-look offense, which now enjoys multiple shot creators off the dribble with the addition of Walker and Fournier to ease the burden on Randle.

On defense, the Knicks will focus on slowing down the Celtics’ two rising stars Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown. Tatum is back at health after a bout with COVID-19 last season. Brown will be playing his first game back from health and safety protocols after experiencing mild COVID-19 symptoms.

RJ Barrett, who is embracing the role of the Knicks’ designated wing stopper, will have his hands full against Tatum. But Thibodeau, a defensive genius, will not put the defensive pressure squarely on Barrett’s broad shoulders. His defense relies on the Knicks playing like a string.

“Defensively, they are who they are and they’re gonna play extremely aggressive and hard and deny elbow catches and be physical,” Udoka said. “So, that doesn’t change regardless of who their roster is but offensively, I noticed some different things like they’re playing with a faster pace and shooting more threes. And so we prepare for that.”

With Al Horford still out due to COVID-19, Thibodeau might give his small-ball lineup another run in select minutes to give the returning Mitchell Robinson some breather. The Randle-Obi Toppin frontcourt was a plus-14 against the Wizards that sparked their comeback. But there’s still the ever-reliable Taj Gibson who will likely be matched up against former Knick Enes Kanter in the second unit.

The Knicks bench, led by Derrick Rose, will be Thibodeau’s trump card in this match.

But when push comes to shove, a Cardiac Kemba moment in the Garden could be in the offing.

Follow this writer on Twitter: @alderalmo

Knicks News: Mitchell Robinson could get start, 3 keys to victory

mitchell robinson, knicks

It is game day for the New York Knicks as they prepare to take on the Boston Celtics in the season opener at 7:30 PM. However, the team expects to be without center Nerlens Noel, who signed a three-year, $27 million deal this off-season to provide insurance for Mitchell Robinson, who is coming off a fractured foot from last year.

With Noel expected to miss the game, the expectation was that veteran Taj Gibson would start in his place, as Robinson only experienced one preseason game to get his feet underneath him. Nonetheless, head coach Tom Thibodeau presented the idea that Mitch could start ahead of Gibson after impressing in his first action.

“I’m not sure yet, I want to see where Mitch is and hopefully Mitch will be ready and Taj is always ready,’’ Thibodeau said. “Whatever we ask of him — to start or come off the bench or be situational. That’s the great value in Taj. Mitch is really coming on, so we’re very pleased with his progress.”

In Robinson’s first preseason outing, he played in 27 minutes, scoring six points and picking up nine rebounds. It will take him a bit of time to recover his stamina, but the old Mitch is undoubtedly there with added muscle mass, presenting a fantastic option in the lob game.

3 keys to victory for the Knicks

1.) Limit Jayson Tatum

First thing is first, stopping Jayson Tatum is essential for the Knicks if they want to extract a victory to open the year. Tatum has made two consecutive All-Star appearances, posting 26.4 points, 4.3 assists, 7.4 rebounds, and shooting nearly 39% from three-point range last season. He’s a bonafide superstar, and if the Knicks can throw him off his game early on, they can pull away with a nice cushion.

Featuring one of the league’s best defenses last year, if they can replicate that standard and efficiency, it will be difficult for teams to take down New York, given their offensive additions this off-season.

2.) Shoot over 39% from 3-PT range

When the Knicks are shooting well, they are a tough team to beat. The Knicks ranked third last season in three-point percentage at 39.2 but landed at 27th in attempts with 30 per game.

Thibodeau is keen on improving their attempts but not taking overzealous shots with low-efficiency rates. He wants to get good looks from specific spots on the court, specifically the corner for RJ Barrett, and allow Kemba and Fournier to create opportunities on their own.

If they can come out shooting well and connecting on the three-ball, the Knicks will have a massive advantage in earning their first victory of the season.

3.) Limit turnovers in critical moments

Basketball is a game of momentum, and key turnovers can be the difference between winning and losing games. For the Brooklyn Nets, that ended up being a significant factor in their defeat to the Milwaukee Bucks on Tuesday night. James Harden turned the ball over four times, including late in the game when they had an opportunity to make a come-back down 10 points with about eight minutes left.

Julius Randle has had issues in that category, turning the ball over 3.4 times last season. However, the first time All-Star worked diligently on his handling this off-season, hopefully allowing him to cut down on the turnovers and give his team more opportunities to score and maintain momentum.

Knicks V Celtics: How to watch season opener | Time, TV, Channel

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The New York Knicks are preparing to take on the Boston Celtics in the home opener of the 2021–22 season. The Knicks, coming off a season where they won 41 games, including 25 at home, will look to take a step forward after the additions of Evan Fournier and Kemba Walker.

Featuring one of the league’s most aggressive and productive defenses, an increase in offensive production could help them shoot up the division and make another postseason appearance.

Boston, on the other hand, partook in the play-in tournament during the 2020-21 campaign, winning 36 games, including 21 at home and 15 away. The Knicks hold a slight advantage in the power index, with a 55.1% chance of victory.

The spread consensus favors the Knicks at -2 with a money line of -139 and +110 for Boston.

How to watch Knicks V Celtics season opener:

  • NBA regular season game
  • Celtics @ Knicks
  • Tuesday, Oct. 19
  • Madison Square Garden
  • 7:30 p.m. ET
  • ESPN

The Knicks are coming off four consecutive preseason wins, with a buzzer-beater against the Washington Wizards, courtesy of Julius Randle. Boston, on the other hand, went 2-2 during preseason play, with a loss in the finale to the Miami Heat.

However, Boston has a talented team featuring Jayson Tatum, Dennis Schroder, Al Horford, Marcus Smart, and Jaylen Brown.

The starting five for New York will likely include Julius Randle, RJ Barrett, Mitchell Robinson, Evan Fournier, and Kemba Walker.

It will be interesting to see the transition of both Fournier and Walker, who played for Boston last season, make their debuts with the Knicks. Stopping Boston will start with limiting the impact of Brown and Tatum, who are both capable of dominating a game with elite scoring prowess.

The Knicks will look to use their suffocating defense to their advantage and put significant pressure on the Celtics’ playmakers.

Run it back with a twist in the East: Thibodeau likes Knicks depth, flexibility

The New York Knicks have improved. But so is the rest of the East.

Miami Heat picked up what they perceive as their missing link in Kyle Lowry, a championship-savvy point guard. Chicago Bulls have added more ammunition to the pair of Zach LaVine and Nikola Vucevic with DeMar DeRozan and Lonzo Ball. Boston Celtics have regrouped with a defensive-minded new coach in Ime Udoka and brought veteran Al Horford back. Championship-level coach Rick Carlisle rejoined the Indiana Pacers, and he is hoping to coach a healthy lineup to the postseason.

These are the reasons why the oddsmakers, general managers, and naysayers do not see the Knicks duplicating their fourth seed run in the East despite adding four-time All-Star point guard Kemba Walker and Evan Fournier.

But it is hard to bet against a Tom Thibodeau-coached team.

In his second year as the Knicks head coach, Thibodeau is ready to add more layers to their evolving identity that he hopes would be harder for the opponents to peel away.

“So much of what you do is based on the personnel that you have. So, I think it’s important to understand the value of shots. The important thing is to be efficient and what gives you the best chance to win,” Thibodeau said after Monday’s practice.

During their undefeated run in the preseason, Thibodeau rolled out a more dynamic offense that averaged 41 three-point attempts per game, sixth in the NBA, but still a dozen attempts behind league-leader Golden State. Nevertheless, it’s still quite a big jump from last season when the Knicks finished 27th in three-point attempts with 30 per game. Despite that uptick in three-point attempts, the Knicks remained their top-three accuracy (38.4 percent).

Walker and Fournier accounted for 10.7 attempts, while mainstays RJ Barrett (6.3) and Julius Randle (6.0) continue to lead the team.

In that small sample size in the preseason, the Knicks had a top-two offense (113.4 offensive rating) and a top-10 defense (101.5 defensive rating).

It’s the kind of game that Thibodeau wants the Knicks to achieve — strong on both ends of the ball.

“I’ve had teams that were in the top five in offense, and it was because they played to their strengths,” Thibodeau said.

“Derrick, for example, has always been a great downhill player. He’s always been in the paint and strong in the restricted area. He’s always shot well from the corners. Jimmy Butler was a guy who drew fouls and got to the line a lot, and there’s great value in free throws. There’s great value in layups.”

That is the reason why his Chicago and Minnesota teams were not too keen on attempting many three-pointers.

But towards the end of his tenure in Minnesota, Thibodeau showed glimpses of his evolving offense. In his first season with the Timberwolves, they ranked last in the league in three-point attempts with only 21 per game. By the time he was fired in January 2019, the Timberwolves had jumped to 23rd with 28.5 three-point shots per game.

Thibodeau has always admired the Golden State Warriors championship teams who revolutionized the game with the power of the outside shot. And on the other end, their stout defense was anchored by small-ball center Draymond Green and ran to perfection by Steve Kerr’s lead assistant Ron Adams, who was part of Thibodeau’s coaching staff in Chicago.

“When they made the commitment to defense, they went to an entirely different level,” Thibodeau said in a 2017 preseason game in China against the Warriors. “Not only were they great on offense, they were also great on defense. That’s what makes them so special. With all the success they’ve had, they’ve remained very hungry.”

Four years later, after an unsuccessful run to emulate that with the Timberwolves, he’s starting to replicate the Warriors’ bold strategy — perhaps not in style but substance — with a young Knicks team he inherited last season.

Thibodeau stumbled on an untapped strength in their preseason finale against the Washington Wizards, resembling the small-ball Warriors, who pushed the pace and played with space and a scrambling defense.

A six-minute stretch of small ball lineup featuring a Randle-Obi Toppin frontcourt fueled the Knicks’ comeback win against the Wizards, producing 29 points on the back of 5 for 8 shooting from deep and a spirited defense that only allowed 14 points.

Toppin’s growth will only make Thibodeau bolder in deploying that lineup in stretches against teams with slower pivot men.

Thibodeau added veterans like how the Warriors surrounded their then young core of Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, and Green with Andre Igoudala, Shaun Livingston, and David West.

“That’s what makes [Warriors] who they are; [they’re] all unselfish,” Thibodeau said. “They’re all hard playing. They’re all high character. The new guys come in and become part of the culture,” Thibodeau said in 2017.

In New York, he did the reverse. The Knicks’ young core became part of Thibodeau’s culture, learning the ropes from his most trusted veterans Rose and Taj Gibson.

That was further solidified during Thibodeau’s visit to the Warriors’ practices when he was exiled from coaching. He saw how Kerr married old-school tenacity with outright fun, the new age of coaching that connects well to the younger generation of players.

“Every year, you want to learn and grow. Every time I step away from the game, I try to visit different teams,” Thibodeau told Stephen A. Smith last May. “It can be in any industry. It’s about leadership. Players are getting younger. I’m getting older. So I looked for ways that I can continue relating to players.”

Throughout the training camp, Fournier, Rose, and other players testified how Thibodeau has changed from a creature of habit to loosening up a bit at practice.

That was not the only thing he learned during his coaching sabbatical.

Learning new load management methods from Doc Rivers during his visit to Los Angeles when the latter was still the Clippers’ coach, Thibodeau has managed his top players’ health well. Randle and Barrett, who led the league in minutes last season, withstood the rigors of a cramped 72-game schedule without breaking down. Barrett played all 72 games. Randle only missed one game.

“There’s a lot that goes into it (load management). You know, it’s easy to pick up a box score and say this guy played 38 minutes. And oftentimes, that guy played 38 minutes because the other wing played 38 minutes. You’re matching guys up. And then no one sees what you’re doing in practice. Do you have contact or what are you doing in practice,” Thibodeau explained.

Thibodeau, a master in game planning and meticulous in details, said on Monday that he maps the season once the schedule comes out, identifying when the team takes a day or days off during the course of a long season. The hard practices have become short, and walkthroughs have become common, especially when the team is on the road.

Taking a page out of Warriors’ template, Thibodeau pushed for more shooting. Walker and Fournier bring that to the team on top of their playmaking abilities. Rookies Quentin Grimes and Miles McBride also have that in their arsenal aside from their reputation as stout defenders in college.

The Knicks have employed the famed 100 shooting drill in finding players who can shoot and are mentally tough. Pete Mickael, a former Knicks reserve back in the 2000s who worked under Thibodeau in Minnesota as a scout, saw that drill for the first time in a Timberwolves practice in 2017.

“It’s kind of a workout after practice where guys shoot 100 three-pointers from different areas on the court while they are always moving. I’ve seen it where it [was done] full court, as a group of guys at the same time, and also seen it where guys taking turns to take the 100 shots. So there are different versions of it,” Mickeal told Empire Sports Media.

Utah Jazz, where current Knicks assistant general manager Walt Perrin came from, have been using that 100 shooting drill to evaluate prospects. Perrin said it was a drill that former Jazz general manager Dennis Lindsey brought with him from San Antonio.

Vrenz Bleijenbergh, who is now playing in Spain after going undrafted last June, told Empire Sports Media that he did the drill after his Knicks workout. But he’d also seen different versions of the drill with all the teams he visited during his pre-draft workouts.

“I think the Knicks [100 drill] was my worse shooting [display], and it was like around 60. Mostly, I was around 70,” Bleijenbergh said.

The 100 shooting drill plus the addition of a four-point line in the Knicks’ practice facility and the Noah Basketball shot tracking system have boosted the Knicks’ three-point shooting stock.

“So, whatever the strengths of your teams are, you want to try to take advantage of that. The game has changed, so there’s been a lot more of a premium put on shooting, but I think the biggest thing is just understanding the value of shots, and we’re trying to get there,” Thibodeau said. “So, I think the more shooting we add, the better it is for us.”

As the real games begin Wednesday night against Boston Celtics, Thibodeau already has a baseline to his rejigged lineup’s limitless potential.

The Knicks have the continuity, flexibility, and synergy to thrive in the regular season. The playoffs will be another story.

But unlike last year, when their offense got stalled in long stretches and relied heavily on the predictable Randle isolation plays, they now have multiple players who can shoot and make plays. They have assembled a deep lineup that can withstand any potential injury hit. Thibodeau can dig deep up to his 12th, 13th man in the roster in case of emergency.

“His first year was establishing the culture. But once he gets the players that he needs, the Knicks will be a lot better. Look for him to stamp his signature on the team and find ways to win,” Mickeal said. “That’s the greatness of Tom Thibodeau. He’s a winner and has dedicated himself to studying the game.”

The most valuable NBA franchise (according to Forbes) will enter the new season as one of the most stable organizations in the league, something that has been unheard of in New York for the longest while.

They have all the ingredients for sustainable success — a winning coach and a combination of a talented young core, tradeable team-friendly contracts, and a deep war chest of assets. They have six first-rounders and nine second-round picks across the subsequent four drafts that they could dangle in a big swing for a superstar in a mid-season trade.

So, even if the rest of the East has gotten better, the Knicks are poised for another playoff run and have set themselves up for a bright future.

Follow this writer on Twitter: @alderalmo

Knicks’ RJ Barrett explains why he could be in for a big Year 3

new york knicks, rj barrett

The New York Knicks might be staring their next star player right in the face with RJ Barrett. Barrett is entering his third season in the NBA with two years left on his contract after the upcoming season. The Knicks have a team option for the 2022–23 campaign and a qualifying offer at $14.3 million for the season after. Luckily, the team has Barrett locked up for the long term, and they also have the financial flexibility to extend him if he reaches his potential.

Barrett has taken a tremendous step forward on both sides of the ball, averaging 17.6 points, 3.0 assists, 5.8 rebounds, and shooting 44% from the field this past season at 20-years-old. He also connected on 40% of his three-point attempts, marking an 8% uptick in efficiency.

The young Canadian-born player believes this new season will present him an opportunity to take another behemoth step forward, and it starts with comfort in Tom Thibodeau’s system.

“I feel like I have just a little bit more experience, I would say, just a little more comfortable being out there on the floor,” Barrett said about how his game has changed since this time last year. “More comfortable knowing also playing for Thibs where my shots are going to come from, who I’m going to guard, what I’m going to do. Just because my first couple years, I was under a couple different coaches.”

During preseason play, RJ enjoyed 31.2 minutes of action over four games. He logged a 43% field goal hit rate and shot 48% from three-point range, attempting 6.25 per game, which would mark a career-high. He also contributed 4.25 rebounds and 0.75 blocks per game.

If RJ can continue building upon his three-point efficiency, he will find himself even closer to his first All-Star appearance, but he needs to create more opportunities on his own instead of being a spot-up shooter. Using his athleticism and strength driving to the basket is one way for him to maximize his skill set, aside from playing aggressive and tantalizing defense.

Ultimately, Barrett has the potential to be a premium-level player, which is why many floated the idea of trading him in a blockbuster deal for Damian Lillard this past off-season. However, the Knicks have big plans for their young guard, and it starts with helping take the organization to the next level after establishing a benchmark of success during the 2020–21 season.

Barrett’s teammate Derrick Rose has wise words for the young guard, stating:

 “He could be as great as he wants to be.”

Knicks’ rookie Lithuanian guard is dominating overseas, here’s a look

Rokas Jokubaitis, knicks

The New York Knicks were unable to get a strong look at rookie draft selection Rokas Jokubaitis this summer, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t getting in some great work this season in the Euro League.

Jokubaitis is currently playing for FC Barcelona in the Spanish Liga, and as a savvy guard looking to build upon his offensive skill set, he could have a purpose as a two-way player for the Knicks in the future. Essentially, he is a stash guard who will develop playing against quality European players as he climbs the ranks. However, he has been phenomenal as of late for Barcelona, which should excite Knicks fans who are already above and beyond over a team that is capable of winning now.

According to John Hollinger of The Athletic, Knicks’ 34th overall pick, Rokas Jokubaitis has been dominating to start the Euro League this season.

At this point, European teams have already played several games, so we’re already getting an impression of who is off to a great start and who isn’t. The most notable outlier from the previous year’s performance might be Jokubaitis, who has exploded in the early going in his first season in Spain. Most notably, he’s been able to convert both frequently and efficiently inside the arc despite moving up to a more difficult league, hitting 20 of his 31 2-point attempts while drawing fouls at roughly double the rate of a year ago.

Of course, names like Quentin Grimes and Miles McBride will likely litter the headlines this upcoming season, but don’t forget about Jokubaitis; he’s making a name for himself quietly and building upon his skill set. While he does have athletic limitations and doesn’t offer much on defense, he is a strong scoring guard who has a versatile array of moves he can utilize at the NBA level.

So far, it seems as if the Knicks’ front office has knocked this past draft class out of the park. Grimes has already shown stellar defense and quality shooting but simply needs more playing time.

McBride is a young point guard with plenty to learn, but stashing him behind Kemba Walker and Derrick Rose should benefit him tremendously. In addition, the next retained center, Jericho Sims on the roster via a two-way contract.

Sims impressed with his aggressiveness in the paint and superior athleticism this off-season. With the right coaching and development, Sims could end up being a quality starter down the line.

Wayne Selden completes Knicks opening night roster

wayne selden, knicks

NBA veteran Wayne Selden Jr. made the final cut for the New York Knicks‘ opening night roster.

Selden, a 6-foot-5 wing out of Kansas Jayhawks, will be playing for his fourth NBA team after going undrafted in 2016. He holds career averages of 7.3 points on a 42/34/72 shooting split, 2.0 rebounds, and 1.5 assists over 19.1 minutes in 124 career games, including 27 starts, with New Orleans, Memphis, and Chicago. His best year in the league came in the 2017-18 season when he put up 9.3 points and 1.9 assists (both career-highs) in 35 games, with the Grizzlies highlighted by a career-high 31 points in a 111-104 loss to his former team New Orleans Pelicans.

For the final roster spot, Selden beat Dwayne Bacon, Brandon Knight, Brandon Goodwin, Aamir Simms, M.J. Walker, and Myles Powell. All waived players will likely see action for the Westchester Knicks, New York’s G League affiliate team.

Knicks Tom Thibodeau had been hinting at Selden making the final cut throughout the training camp. Thibodeau raved about him even when reporters were asking about other players.

Signed to a training camp deal in August after playing for the Knicks Summer League team, Selden caught Thibodeau’s eye for his professional approach even when his spot and minutes are not guaranteed.

“Well, he’d been here all summer and been here in the fall and then training camp and just [brings] a lot of the intangibles,” Thibodeau said after Sunday’s practice.

“[Wayne] got experience. He’s played in the league and he’s a great practice player. That’s what we’re looking for — someone who could move the group forward. He’s been terrific in practice and we felt like it’s another wing and it’s a wing-driven league.”

Selden averaged 6.7 points, 1.7 rebounds, and 1.7 assists over 16.4 minutes in the NBA Summer League but never saw action during the Knicks’ undefeated run in the preseason. And that will likely continue unless the Knicks’ wings get hit by an injury bug.

While Selden figures to be an end-of-the-bench player for the Knicks, Thibodeau raved about his professional approach to work. He was impressed most with Selden’s work capacity, concentration, and ability to fill in when necessary.

“He will do anything that you ask him to do. Basically, his practices are his games,” Thibodeau said, “and so when you have guys like that, it helps everyone move forward and brings the best out of his teammates. So that’s important to us.”

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