The steps Tom Thibodeau has taken in recent months to shore up the Knicks’ rotation has turned their season, and his future in New York, around.

With the way the New York Knicks have been playing to kick off the new year, it’s extremely hard to hate on the philosophies of Tom Thibodeau. His squad is now 6-1 in 2023 and has the tenth-best record overall in the entire NBA. The Knicks now sit at 25-19, good for the. 6th seed in the Eastern Conference, led by Julius Randle and Jalen Brunson under Thibodeau’s helm. It’s amazing to see how much progress the Knicks have made in the last 6-7 weeks, considering how bleak things looked when they fell to the Dallas Mavericks by 21 at home, putting them at 10-13 in early December.

After the embarrassing loss, fans were calling for Thibodeau to be fired, and rightfully so. He was reluctant to make any major changes to the lineup, not to mention the minute’s distribution featured 11-12 players in the rotation at times. The cohesion of the squad was nonexistent and it showed in the first month of the season. The Knicks’ defense was atrocious and left many scratching their heads, considering Thibodeau’s defensive-minded reputation.

Despite his early season stubbornness, Thibodeau finally came to his senses and set things straight to get the team back on track. Although it was surprising, he opted to bench Cam Reddish, Derrick Rose, and Evan Fournier. They may all be solid rotational players, but given that they don’t fit into the Knicks system, their demotion was inevitable, especially if Thibodeau wanted to keep his job.

That choice allowed players who had minimal opportunities, if any, to crack the rotation. Thibodeau began starting Quentin Grimes,m while shifting Miles McBride and Jericho Sims into the rotation. It may have come as a surprise to some given that the trio of youngsters are in their second year in the league but regardless of their age, they have the drive and athleticism to help the Knicks on the defensive end. Thibodeau came to the realization that their defense was not going to get them anywhere with their current rotation, which led to the significant change. It may have been risky for Thibodeau off of first glance, but he really had nothing to lose.

The change to the rotation, which has favored the youngsters, has given not only the organization hope, but the fans as well now that the average age of the Knicks rotation is 23.8 years old. The Knicks have yet to hit their peak, and it goes without saying that the best is yet to come for this team. Thibodeau has done an amazing job with the team’s development in the last few weeks, getting this team to heights that fans once believed were possible but improbable. With a nine-man rotation, Thibodeau has found consistency from his guys game in and game out.

While the rotation change has worked wonders in recent weeks, it has taken a toll on those who are in the rotation, with some players finding themselves playing extremely heavy minutes in consecutive games. As of recent, we’ve witnessed several late game collapses, and a large part of the reason why they’ve seen substantial second half leads dwindle in the final quarter of play is because of their short rotations. Even with a nine-player rotation, he relies heavily on the performance of his starting lineup to carry the majority of the workload, which finds four or five players exceeding 30-plus minutes, and in some cases playing 40 or more minutes.

It’s no secret that Thibodeau has relied on his starters heavily, no matter what the score may be. But with all the successes of this type of strategy comes the hardships. This isn’t the first time we’ve seen a Tom Thibodeau-led team rely heavily on the top six or seven players in the rotation. Back in his days in Chicago, he played a similar short rotation. Despite all the success those teams had in the early 2010’s, injuries eventually caught up to them, most notably current Knick Derrick Rose sustaining an injury that instantaneously changed his career path. If Thibodeau isn’t careful, history could repeat itself again if the starters are continuing to be utilized heavily. Not to mention that even in convincing victories that see the Knicks lead by a large margin late into the game, Thibodeau still chooses to keep his best players out there, instead of opting to empty the bench and give them much-needed rest.

Is Thibodeau the long-term coach for the New York Knicks?

It’s really tough to say. He commitment to this rotation has done wonders for the team, but eventually there may be a sort of breaking point. While there are various things that Thibodeau does to the dismay of the fans, he has already led us to the playoffs for the first time since 2013, and has put together an impressive start to the season that has us primed for a playoff spot as it stands right now. Given that he still has two years remaining on his deal following this season, I think it would be unfair to the team and to him if he were let go anytime soon. Plus, this squad is very frivolous and young, and a couple years of discipline, development, and hard work could see the Knicks reach heights that they haven’t reached in decades, and Tom Thibodeau hasn’t reached since his days coaching the Chicago Bulls. In the last week, Thibodeau reached the 100-win milestone, and the most wins by a Knicks head coach since Mike Woodson.

It is understandable why some fans don’t like him, and in some ways it’s justified, but at this point Thibs has earned himself a longish leash. His rotations may be minuscule, but they have been effective. The Knicks current starting lineup of Brunson, Grimes, Barrett, Randle, and Robinson is one of the best five-man lineups in the entire league with a minimum of 600 possessions played together. Their +11 point differential per 100 possessions on offense and defense shows how much they’ve accomplished in very little time, and it foreshadows what could follow if the Knicks continue to grow under Thibodeau.

As far as this season goes, it’s occasionally frustrating to see the Knicks core continuously get burned out from playing a tremendous amount of minutes, which could make them more susceptible to injury, especially in a game that’s been already decided. What the Knicks lack most is a solid backup center with a defensive presence to backup Mitchell Robinson and a microwave scorer that can compliment Immanuel Quickley off the bench. If the Knicks front office were to make a deal to bolster the bench to Thibodeau’s liking, then he’d be forced to play the new acquisitions, especially if they fit what he is looking for. Any pressure that can be relieved from the starting lineup, whether thats working a player back into the rotation or making a deal that fits the ideals of the Knicks system allows both units to thrive.

No head coach is perfect, or universally beloved by their fanbase. Recently, Thibodeau has changed his approach, which has helped transform the Knicks into a team that nobody saw coming, especially after 20 games. Who knows what the future holds for Thibodeau and the New York Knicks in a couple of years time, but with the way things are looking (considering the coaching market is relatively weak), there is no doubt that Thibodeau should remain head coach as his defensive intensity and youth development will take this organization a long way in a short-term project. If things should go downhill and take a turn from the recent success the Knicks been having with Thibodeau being the lone cause, then maybe it’ll be time to look in a different direction for a new head coach once his contract is up. But until that day comes (if it does at all), Tom Thibodeau is here to stay.

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