Tom Thibodeau deserves Coach of the Year consideration for the way he has transformed the Knicks, writes Stefan Bondy of The New York Daily News. This afternoon’s win over Portland puts the team at 11-13, good for sixth place in the East a third of the way through the season. Bondy notes that every starter on this year’s team was also on last year’s squad, which began the season 4-18.
Thibodeau has instilled a defense-first mentality and has given more minutes to players who excel in that area. As a result, the Knicks are holding opponents to the lowest field-goal percentage in the league at 43.5%. They also allow the second-fewest points and have a defensive rating in the top seven.
“There’s not one particular thing when you look at the analytics — which everybody does — that there wasn’t one thing that really stood out other than the fact that teams do not shoot the ball well against them, which is ultimately the best metric to have,” said Trail Blazers coach Terry Stotts. “What I see is a team that plays hard, they play physical, they’re active, they’re aggressive. They go after loose balls. They’re a hard-nosed defensive team.”
- One of Thibodeau’s most controversial decisions has been to stick with Elfrid Payton as his starting point guard ahead of high-scoring rookie Immanuel Quickley, notes Marc Berman of The New York Post. Quickley scored 31 points against the Blazers last month, but he remained on the bench for the entire first quarter today as Thibodeau relied on Payton to match up with Damian Lillard. “The big thing is the defense,’’ Thibodeau said of Payton’s contributions. “That’s the biggest tone-setter for us. The defensive component. That’s his strength and helps his team when he starts on the ball. And to keep us organized offensively and be opportunities with scoring opportunities.”
- First-round pick Obi Toppin broke into a huge smile when asked about participating in a dunk contest if the league holds one along with its All-Star game, Berman adds in the same story. Toppin’s playing time has been limited in his first NBA season, but he was a prolific dunker in college. “The dunk contest, I guess we’ll just have to wait and see,’’ Toppin said. “I don’t want to just give you all answers, but hopefully I might be able to be there. Maybe not. So we’re just going to have to wait and see.’’
- While COVID-19 has caused havoc for many NBA teams, the Knicks haven’t had any players miss a game due to the virus, according to Steve Popper of Newsday.