Knicks Tom Thibodeau Shows Willingness To Adjust Lineups

Tom Thibodeau, Knicks, NBA
Feb 22, 2024; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA; New York Knicks head coach Tom Thibodeau during the second quarter against the Philadelphia 76ers at Wells Fargo Center. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

The last few weeks heading into the 2024 NBA All-Star Break were a frustrating time for the New York Knicks. They were rolling in 2024, looking like legitimate contenders until the injury bug hit their roster hard.

Their starting forward tandem of OG Anunoby and Julius Randle both last played on January 27th in a victory over the Miami Heat. Starting center Mitchell Robinson has been sidelined since early December after undergoing ankle surgery and his replacement, Isaiah Hartenstein, has been hampered by Achilles soreness.

Throw in some aches and pains leading to Jalen Brunson, Donte DiVincenzo, Jericho Sims and Bojan Bogdanovic missing games here and there and Tom Thibodeau wasn’t left with much to work with. On more than one occasion he was left with eight healthy players, a majority of whom were on 10-day contracts or two-play players from the G League.

It led to Thibodeau leaning on his regulars who were healthy for some major minutes. Rigidity in his rotations is one thing people have been critical of Thibodeau throughout his coaching career. He normally sticks to a very tight rotation and deviates from it very rarely.

NBA NEWS & RUMORS: Tom Thibodeau, Miles McBride, Alec Burks, Bojan Bogdanovic, New York Knicks Updates

Despite being outmatched and short-handed, he was still reluctant to use players such as Jacob Toppin and Charlie Brown Jr. despite them being the only healthy players on the bench. If Thibodeau isn’t comfortable in using them or confident they can get the job done, something needs to be done with the roster at the end of the bench.

Getting healthier is as big of a reason as any that the Knicks needed the NBA All-Star Break. Three of their players who were banged up, DiVincenzo, Hartenstein and Bogdanovic, were back in the lineup against the Philadelphia 76ers.

There is still some concern about Hartenstein, who played only the first five minutes of the first half and six minutes of the second half. DiVincenzo and Bogdanovic were both excellent, doing what they do best and knocking down 3-pointers.

The most important thing to come out of the victory over the 76ers was Thibodeau experimenting with lineups. For as long as he has been the Knicks’ head coach, fans have been clamoring for him to mix and match different combinations, especially when the team is short-handed, to give opponents a different look.

NBA NEWS & RUMORS: Tom Thibodeau, Miles McBride, Alec Burks, Bojan Bogdanovic, New York Knicks Updates

On Thursday, their dreams came true. Thibodeau, normally reluctant to play smaller lineups with only one big man, found a ton of success tinkering with his rotations and going small. In the first half, it resulted in an offensive explosion from Bogdanovic, who knocked down all five of his 3-point attempts.

In the second half, Thibodeau went to the well again, but it went dry. Instead of forcing things and hoping they turned around, he went with another adjustment. Instead of riding Bogdanovic, he went even smaller, inserting Miles McBride into the lineup to slow down Tyrese Maxey.

It was a move that worked incredibly well. McBride shut Maxey down, shutting him out in the fourth quarter and enabling the Knicks to take control of the game back. It was a sign of real growth and adaptability, something he hasn’t been known for, as McBride played the entire fourth quarter and even benched one of his favorites, Alec Burks, to make it happen.

NBA NEWS & RUMORS: Tom Thibodeau, Miles McBride, Alec Burks, Bojan Bogdanovic, New York Knicks Updates

That kind of adjustment is something that will instill confidence in the fan base, and fear around the NBA, that the Knicks are for real. Even without several key players being in the lineup, New York went into Philadelphia for the second time this season and won convincingly.

Don’t be surprised if this kind of lineup is something Thibodeau looks to work into the mix more often. He loves his defense and watching the group of McBride, Brunson, DiVincenzo, Hart and Precious Achiuwa play it like they did will bring a smile to even his face.

Despite veteran point guard Kyle Lowry committing every offensive violation in the book to try and throw the Knicks out of rhythm defensively, New York still came out with a forced turnover. An effort like that is what will help them win games until they get all of their rotation players back in the mix, hopefully in the coming weeks.

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