In a recent poll of NBA players conducted by The Athletic, the New York Knicks’ head coach Tom Thibodeau was the leading vote-getter for ”Which current coach, aside from your own, would you least want to play for?” He received over 43% of the 55 votes.
While it’s a tough thing to have to hear about your team’s current head coach, it also doesn’t necessarily come as a surprise as Thibodeau, over his long career, has built a far-from-perfect reputation among some players. Thibs, as he’s often referred to, has been criticized for being incredibly demanding of his players, often over-working and overplaying them, he’s been labeled as an old-school coach and has also been accused of playing favorites.
One player said of Thibs, “He plays his guys 44 minutes (a game) all year,” and then continued to say, “I’ve heard from guys like if he likes you, if you’re his guy, he’ll treat you great. He’ll play you a lot, talk to you, so you’ll f*** with him in that sense. But if you’re on the outside, it’s like you’re not getting back in.”
And to be fair, we’ve seen these transgressions up close and often. There have been numerous times (too many to count) where fans have complained about Thibodeau’s minutes distribution and reluctance to use his bench. Players like Julius Randle and RJ Barrett have at times been left on the court for way longer than they should have been, leaving fans to wonder why the head coach is so hesitant about sitting his starters and utilizing the bench more. And we’ve also seen him be incredibly biased in how he treats certain players. Guys like Cam Reddish and Obi Toppin to name a couple, have suffered the unfortunate fate of being on Thibodeau’s “naughty list”.
That being said, the man gets results. It may not always be pretty (it often isn’t), or fair to some of the younger players, but he often puts his team in positions to win games. And at the end of the day, that should be the most important thing. Thibodeau has come to New York, created what many would call a winning and hard-working culture, and has led the Knicks to two playoff appearances in the last three seasons, something that many of the younger fans hadn’t seen during their lifetime. Not to mention, he’s shown some tremendous growth this season.
Thibs has gone from being one of the worst offensive minds in the league to deploying what was a pretty good offense for much of the season. And the veteran coach also became a bit better at experimenting and being open to changes, evidenced by his willingness to bench veterans Derrick Rose and Evan Fournier in favor of a nine-player rotation.
Furthermore, despite certain circles of NBA players having negative notions of Thibodeau and his coaching style, there are also a lot of players that have spoken incredibly highly of him as a person and a coach. He may not be the best or the most likable coach for players and fans alike, but the stubborn, old-schooled, grumpy coach has been pretty darn solid in his three years here. And now, he sits just one win away from leading the Knicks into the second round of the playoffs for the first time in a decade.