Tom Thibodeau could easily win NBA Coach of the Year this season and no one would bat an eye. He led the projected bottom third New York Knicks to the four seed where they host a playoff series after missing out for eight straight years. There is no doubt the Knicks are made of misfits, but they fit together well.
I say all of that to say, the Knicks are going to lose this first-round series to the Atlanta Hawks because of Thibodeau’s inability to adjust.
Tom Thibodeau Needs to Save the New York Knicks
Atlanta Hawks vs New York Knicks Series
After three games, the Atlanta Hawks took a 2-1 series lead. To be honest, it should be 3-0. The Hawks have gotten double-digit leads in every game and if it wasn’t for a nearly ten-minute stretch of ice-cold shooting in game two, things would be grimmer for the Knicks.
Sure, the final score never seems like the Hawks are that much better than the Knicks. However, the game would tell you otherwise. The Knicks are just scrappy and always make a game of it. When it really comes down to it, the Hawks are more talented and better constructed and it shows.
New York Knicks Changes
Thibodeau is in love with the two big lineup. He loves to pair Julius Randle up with a true center. This ideology is killing the Knicks in this series. Randle is shooting 24 percent from the field on nearly 60 shots. This is a drastic change from his season totals but you can credit the Hawks defense for that. Almost every Randle shot in this series is a deep, contested jumper not in rhythm. The Hawks have committed their center to leave their assignment and be in help side on Randle’s side of the floor. It is truly an impossible task for Randle.
Obviously, the Knicks are devoid of shooting. Randle and RJ Barrett were the best shooters on the team all year. Reggie Bullock has made jumpers in the postseason but he alone won’t space the court. Playing Nerlens Noel and Taj Gibson with Randle means the lane is clogged and tough two’s are the theme of the game.
Julius Randle is not a shooter. He also does not appear comfortable accepting the double team and making plays for others. Between the turnovers and missed jumpers, the game plan is not working. Thibodeau has to help his star.
Randle must play center. Yes, that takes a lot of rim protection off the court, however, it provides much more offense. In game 3, the Knicks’ best offense was letting Noel get fouled. That just can’t happen.
New Look Knicks
With Randle at the five, he can play a Nikola Jokic type role. Randle would draw the matchup of Clint Capela who he can beat off the dribble making Randle more comfortable on the perimeter. It also means the lane is wide open for Randle, Barrett, and Rose because Capela has to contend with Randle’s range.
One downside of this move would be the increased likelihood of more threes from Randle. He is already taking seven per game which is 1.5 more than he averaged in the regular season. Capela would give him some space to shoot, but Randle must turn that down more often than not. His willingness to take these tough jumpers instead of drawing doubles and making easy passes has hurt the Knicks so far.
Of course, there will still be plenty of minutes with Randle and another big on the court because the Knicks cannot go that small. In those situations, the Knicks have to surround him with shooters. That likely means a lot of Rose and Bullock with someone like Quickley.
For those that believe this move would hurt the Knicks defense too much, I disagree. The Knicks have very solid wing defenders and athletic guards. Capela isn’t moving from the lane other than for a pick-and-roll. Randle will be camped in the lane and the guards for the Knicks can do a good enough job to make things tough for the Hawks. When it comes down to it, you have to stop Trae Young and the Hawks ball screens. The Knicks have done a poor job of that so far but the Hawks have missed plenty of open jumpers. Why not switch it up?
By no means is this series over. Many people think it will go seven games. Ultimately, I think Atlanta is significantly better and has more weapons that have yet to play well. However, if the Knicks can change it up offensively they can make this very interesting. If they continue to play the way they are, we can break out that insanity quote by Albert Einstein. Your choice, Thibodeau.
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