Should the New York Knicks Fire Tom Thibodeau?
Last year the Knicks looked like a promising young team. Led by the newly hired Tom Thibodeau, the Knicks were thriving. Thibodeau originally got the job because Knicks GM Leon Rose said at the time, he was a proven winner and someone who would help instill a winning culture into the franchise, but it also is worth mentioning that prior to being the Knicks GM Rose was Thibodeau’s agent and they are friends.
Even with Thibodeau’s track record of success when coaching the Chicago Bulls and Minnesota Timberwolves, most people still believed it would take a few years to obtain that success in New York. Coach Thibodeau, however, led a team that had not had a winning record or made the playoffs in eight years to a 41 and 31 record which was good enough for the fourth seed in the Eastern Conference giving the impression that the Knicks had found their coach for years to come.
Much of this success can be attributed to Thibodeau being able to get the best out of players, particularly their star and leader last year Julius Randle. Before the 2020-21 season, Randle, although talented, was considered by many to be inconsistent, inefficient and questioned his ability to play a winning brand of basketball.
Last year, however, with the help of his new coach, in the final year of his contract, Randle had the best season of his career. Randle’s value over replacement player last year was more than double any season prior, and his win shares, which estimates the number of wins contributed by a given player, was better than players like Luka Doncic, Jayson Tatum, and Khris Middleton.
The Knicks also had R.J. Barrett, who last year, in only his second year in the league, improved in every single offensive statistic including improving his scoring by over three points per game, and Immanuel Quickley, who as a rookie averaged over 20 points per 36 minutes played.
Thibodeau was also able to get the best out of his team defensively. They were ranked third in Defensive Rating last, and held their opponents to the second lowest effective field goal percentage in the league.
This year, however, it seems that the promising young team everyone watched last season was a one hit wonder. The Knicks finished the year with a 37 and 45 record, finishing in eleventh place and six games out of making the play in tournament.
This year they have been scoring less per game and shooting lower percentages from the field and from three, while their opponents have scored more per game and have much higher shooting percentages this season compared to last.
Randle has also been unable to match his incredible play from last year, as seen by his win shares and value over replacement players being less than half they were last year.
Thibodeau’s Knicks were incapable of matching the 41 wins that they achieved in a ten game shortened season a year ago.
In order for the Knicks to thoroughly improve their team next year they need to make changes, and that all starts with ending Tom Thibodeau’s New York coaching career.
Thibs style of defensive, slow-paced games is not the way the NBA game is going. Pace is a statistic that estimates the number of possessions a team has in 48 minutes, or the length of a regulation game, and pace has generally been increasing in the NBA since the late 90s. Thibodeau’s coaching style however, has led his team to be 30th and then 27th in pace whereas of the past five NBA champions all of them were in the top half of the league in pace, and three of them were in the top 5.
Known as a defensive wizard, Thibodeau’s defense ranks outside the top 10 in the NBA this year in defensive rating which is not nearly high enough to overcome an offense that for the past two years has struggled immensely and has been ranked outside of the top 20 NBA teams in offensive rating.
Last year the Knicks were ranked third in defensive rating, and this year almost every player's defensive win shares has decreased, showing an overall regression in their play and leading them to be ranked nine spots lower.
The argument against firing coach Thibodeau is that he has a track record of success and this Knicks team have problems that need addressing that are far worse than him.
For example, since the start of the 2013-14 season, the last time the Knicks won a playoff series, the Knicks have had six different coaches none of which have lasted more than two years. In that time period the Knicks have also had five different lead executives. So it could be argued that stability at the head coaching position is needed, but why have stability when it only results in diminishing play.
It is also easy to say that this year for the Knicks injuries and players struggling is the cause of their disappointing season, but Thibodeau is tasked with adjusting to those struggles and injuries to keep his team afloat.
For example, Julius Randle’s downfall this year has played a role in the Knicks struggles, but it is still on Thibodeau that he could not adjust his offense to allow for young players like RJ Barrett and Immanuel Quickley, who have been performing very well, to be more involved. It also seems clear that Randle’s new contract may have overvalued him and the Knicks made a poor choice in paying him so much.
As for injuries, it is something that throughout his coaching career Thibodeau’s teams have struggled with. This year Derrick Rose and Nerlens Noel stand out as the two who have missed extreme portions of games this year due to injury. Thibodeau is known for playing the people that he likes a lot of minutes, and while there is no way to truly say Thibodeau is to blame for his players being injured, his track record shows a continued problem. Although Rose and Noel both have histories of missing games because of injuries, Thibodeau can be faulted for pushing those players to play for a lot of time and wearing their bodies down.
Looking back on his time in Chicago and Minnesota, many questioned when D-Rose got hurt why he was playing so many minutes especially in games that were blowouts. Many people also believe that Thibodeau ran former player Luol Deng so far into the ground that he could barely play when he got traded. Another example was in Minnesota Zach Lavine was on pace to lead the NBA in minutes played by far before he tore his ACL and ended his season. Thibodeau has a history of pushing players to the extreme, sometimes even too far.
When we then look at the Knicks struggles in close games we see more problems. In clutch moments, which is defined as the last five minutes of an NBA game that is within five points, the Knicks have a net rating of almost negative 22 where many times the offense is often stagnant and results in a difficult shot like this.
To make matters worse, in clutch moments Thibodeau’s team has a defensive rating of 117.4 which is fourth worst in the NBA. That is unacceptable for a coach who hangs his hat on the defensive side of the court. Meanwhile, teams atop their conferences like the Suns, Grizzlies, Warriors, Bucks, Sixers, and Heat all rank inside the top ten in defensive rating in clutch time.
Lastly, there is a clear disconnect between the Knicks front office and their head coach. This is also something that Thibodeau has struggled with in his past coaching positions.
In Chicago, he was fired immediately after their 2015 playoff exit and it was cited that he did not welcome or value input from all parts of the organization.(Make sure to show clips of the disconnect)
In Minnesota, Thibodeau was fired mid-season in part because of his handling of Jimmy Butler’s problems with the organization and other players. The famed practice that Butler embarrassed franchise players in Karl Anthony-Towns and Andrew Wiggins happened under Thibodeau, and he reportedly did nothing to solve the problems.
Now in New York we see fractures in the relationship between Thibadeau and the organization.
Kemba Walker was signed in the off-season to a two year deal worth a little less than 18 million dollars to bolster the Knicks offense. Walker this year struggled with consistent playing time because he is not a fit for Thibodeau’s defensive scheme.
A former star player for the Charlotte Hornets, Walker struggled last year with the Celtics causing them to trade him, and has also struggled this year with the Knicks. Walker’s win shares the past two years have been the lowest since his rookie year. Even with his struggles though, Walker’s win shares per 48 minutes is higher than those of Julius Randle and RJ Barrett, meaning that the Knicks should have been able to find a role for him.
However, after an agreement made between Walker and the Knicks, he has not played in a game since February 14 in order to prepare for next season.
To make the disconnect more apparent, at the trade deadline the Knicks front office traded for Cam Reddish with the hopes that his talent would elevate the Knicks play. The Knicks trade for Reddish was for the possibility that the immense talent Reddish has will allow him to flourish in a bigger role and become a star. It also helped that Reddish had familiarity with Barrett when they played together at Duke.
However, quickly after the trade rumors then surfaced that Thibodeau was against the trade, and to prove those rumors true, he rarely played Reddish, who many argue deserved solid playing time on the Knicks.
Coach Tom Thibodeau is stuck in his ways and refuses to adapt to an ever-changing and more offensive NBA as his team continues to be ranked outside the top 20 NBA teams in offensive rating.
That is why going forward, coach Thibodeau SHOULD be fired. The Knicks need to adapt to the newer NBA and the best way for them to do that is to find a new coach.
But what do you think? Should Knicks head coach Tom Thibodeau be fired? Be sure to subscribe and let us know what you think in the comments.
RJ Barret Stats PPGAPGTOVFG%3P%2019-2014.32.62.240.2322020-2117.631.944.140.1
Knicks 2020-21 Defensive StatsDefensive Rank3OEFG%50.9
PACE: Pace Factor - the number of possessions a team uses per 48 minutes
NBA PACE Past 10 yearsYearAverage PACE2021-2298.22020-2199.22019-20100.32018-191002017-1897.32016-1796.42015-1695.82014-1593.92013-1493.92012-1392
Knicks Offensive Rankings2020-2123rd2021-2222nd
Knicks Defensive Win Shares Player DWS 2020-21DWS 2021-22RJ Barrett3.12.1Julius Randle4.33.3Immanuel Quickley1.41.6Mitchell Robinson1.73.1Taj Gibson1.71.1Nerlens Noel3.61