It’s 20 minutes after the The New York Knicks completed a must-win 112-103 victory in Game 5 against the Miami Heat to extend their Eastern Conference semifinal series, and coach Tom Thibodeau, clad in a black sweater, sits behind a small table inside the Madison Square Garden press room with a smile on his face. His team not only found a way to get the win he was meant to have, but did it in a way that brought Thibodeau back to his roots as a shooting guard. jalen brunson and Quentin Grimes he played every second of the 48-minute match.

The veteran trainer has long been the face of the old-school mentality. His philosophy, based on more than three decades in the league, has been for players to train for the heavy workload. So, the Game 5 victory not only gave his team some more oxygen in their season, but it allowed the 65-year-old coach, who signed a five-year contract with the Knicks before the 2020-21 season, the platform to defend his favorite coaching position, one that most other teams (and players and coaching staff) have criticized of late.

“The thing about our team is we have a lot of gym rats,” Thibodeau said, responding to a question about Brunson and Grimes. “So I know, you give them a bad day, they’re there all day. They’re going to lift, shoot, watch movies, so I know they are who they are. And when you have guys like that, you know they’re ready…these are athletes world-class. So if you condition yourself to handle that kind of workload, you’ll be fine. But if you don’t condition yourself that way, you can lose fitness and you can get injured.”

This is Thibodeau distilled in its purest form. Even after a season-ending 96-92 Game 6 loss to the Heat on Friday, the Knicks extended their campaign to the second round for the first time in 10 years. But in doing so, Thibodeau, as he has done so many times throughout his career, shortened his playoff rotations, revealing the players he trusted the most and, in turn, exposing the ones who struggled to live up to it. of the moment in the process.

In the midst of this latest postseason run, there was a not-so-subtle changing of the guard regarding the team’s face as Brunson, thanks to his torrid offensive numbers this postseason, became the heartbeat of a Los Angeles team. Knicks on the rise. How far they will be able to climb now focuses on the development of several key young players behind Brunson and Julius Randle.

As the Knicks navigate an offseason that starts later than expected, they begin with three pivotal questions that will determine their future position in the Eastern Conference.

Have the Knicks reached the Thibs ceiling?

New York is at a familiar turning point in the Thiobdeauean training cycle. After three seasons, Thibodeau orchestrated the team’s best result in years, but in doing so also raised the same question that has popped up at his last two stops. Is this the highest this group can climb? After leading the Bulls to the Eastern Conference finals in 2011, Derrick RoseThe knee injuries of 2012 and 2013 changed the course of those Chicago Bulls teams for years. Despite injury setbacks to several players, Thibodeau led the Bulls to the postseason in each of his five seasons in charge, but was fired in 2015.

History repeated itself during Thibodeau’s two and a half years at the helm of the minnesota timber wolves. After a difficult first season, Thibodeau, with the help of newly acquired All-Star forward jimmy butlerhe led the team to the postseason for the first time in 14 years in 2018, but Butler asked for a trade after the season and Thibodeau was fired a few months later.

Now the Knicks, like the Bulls before them, have a roster full of players who are as wired as their coach, willing to do anything to find ways to win. But will they be able to overcome the obstacles that have stunted Thibs teams in the past? A quick look at the numbers indicates that Thibodeau’s best teams have similar qualities.

Thibodeau’s top six teams, spanning Chicago, Minnesota and New York, including this season’s Knicks group, were all in the top 11 in net ratings during the regular season, according to ESPN Stats & Information. The six ranked in the bottom half of the league on pace. None of the six ranked in the top 10 in effective field goal percentage. Five of the six ranked in the top five in offensive rebounding percentage.

They also share perhaps the most important similarity: they never made it to the finals.

Thibodeau’s teams will outperform teams on a regular basis, but there always seems to be a lifespan to his teams, without top-tier, healthy stars.

2. Do the Knicks have players and assets to attract a disgruntled star?

Yes, with caveats. Recruiting a star to New York City hasn’t exactly been easy (or fruitful) over the past decade. But the assets and the players are there. What remains to be seen is twofold: What stars might be available this year, and how much would Knicks president Leon Rose be willing to part with when it happens?

As ESPN’s Bobby Marks Noteswhile the Knicks don’t have their own pick in the 2023 draft, they will get the dallas mavericks‘ if he falls outside the top 10. The Knicks also have their own first-round pick in the next six drafts, plus four additional first-round picks from previous trades. Hardcore youth like rj barrett, Emmanuel Quickley, Quentin Grimes and mitchell robinson it could also be a tempting trade option for teams. Josh Hart fit nicely into Thibodeau’s rotation after a February deal brought him to the Knicks. Now the organization must decide how much it’s worth to bring him back for the future, after he decides what he’ll do with his player option. The Knicks have the picks and the players, and Thibodeau has, at least temporarily, bolstered the team’s reputation.

3. If Brunson is their best player, how far can this team realistically go?

Thibodeau and Brunson have quickly found a basketball kinship that appeared written in the stars. For his part, Thibodeau is convinced that the 26-year-old point guard has the ability to continually improve because of what he calls “winning characteristics.”

“When you look at the guys that get better year after year, they have a great dedication to their craft,” Thibodeau told ESPN earlier this year. “The work ethic is there, the toughness is there, the competitiveness is there, the ability to think on your feet is there. And those have always been his strengths. He’s not going to surprise you with his athleticism, although he’s a better athlete than he’s been given credit for, I always say he doesn’t necessarily look like the part, but he is the part.”

Brunson racked up career-highs in points (24.0) and assists (6.2) this season, shooting nearly 42% from 3. And, in over 40 minutes per game this postseason, the former second-round pick averaged 27.8 points, 4.9 rebounds and 5.6 assists.

“It’s been incredible,” Brunson told ESPN. “This team welcomed me with open arms. The coaches, the players, the coaching staff, all of that. It’s been great and I think the best thing is that we’re always working and working and working and we want to keep that mentality. Everyone wants to win here, so we all have that in common.”

Both Thibodeau and Brunson believe better days are ahead, and their growth on the court is a big key in calculating trying to figure out how much better this team can be.

“I just think he’s the right kind of guy,” Thibodeau said of Brunson. “When you look at what he stands for, that’s what we want our team to stand for. You want the right guys in the organization, you want the right players, what do they stand for? We want a whole team full of guys like that. And I think that’s important I always felt we needed more than anything our first year was a great year we came up short then last year our point guards got injured… the number one job of a point guard is to control and manage the game and he has brought it to us.”


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