The coach has been resolute in his perception concerning the participant. He has been defiant about it. Ever since Knicks followers have been allowed again into Madison Square Garden Feb. 23 for what has been a real doe-eyed love fest for 22 video games, there hardly has been a discouraging or disparaging phrase directed at any of the native heroes clad in dwelling white (or blue, or black).
With one obvious exception.
From the second they opened the Garden doorways, earlier than most of the trustworthy even took their seats, earlier than they purchased their first beer, they’ve booed Elfrid Payton. They have groaned at each missed shot and misstep. They have yearned for extra Derrick Rose, pleaded for extra Alec Burks, even turned erstwhile mascot Frank Ntilikina right into a folks hero.
The message: A.B.E.
Tom Thibodeau has ignored them. Payton is a made man within the Thibodeau basketball household. And made guys don’t simply get benched as a result of sad followers demand it.
“He allows us to do more switching than we normally would because of the size and toughness that he has,” Thibodeau mentioned on April 12. “He’s an important part of this team.”
He was that evening. Against the Lakers, who have been lacking LeBron James and Anthony Davis (however did have Dennis Schroeder, a possible offseason Knicks goal,) Payton was terrific: 20 factors on 9-for-12 taking pictures, a team-high plus-27 ranking.
The downside has been the 35 days since, 17 video games wherein Payton’s enjoying time has shrunk and his confidence has evaporated and he’s develop into a nightly legal responsibility. It isn’t solely the followers questioning when Thibodeau goes to succumb to the apparent anymore. Most individuals who watch the Knicks see one obvious gap. He wears No. 6.
The playoffs start this weekend on the Garden.
Glaring holes usually develop into gaping holes within the playoffs.
And for all the feel-good vibes the Knicks have generated in accumulating a 41-31 document and securing the No. 4 seed in the East, it’s important to keep in mind that this staff’s margin for error continues to be razor-thin. The Knicks can’t afford to let a struggling participant merely work it out anymore, or earlier than you already know it they’ll be part of him in basketball purgatory.
That is the difficulty Thibodeau should handle because the Knicks put together for Trae Young and the Atlanta Hawks. He has pushed each correct button from day one. He has preached each acceptable creed. He has reached this staff in a basic manner, they usually have responded, and a part of that mutual respect is how ardently he stands up for them.
But even Thibodeau has his limits. Kevin Knox, chances are you’ll bear in mind, began the season as a rotation man; he’s strictly an observer now. Austin Rivers was a giant a part of the Knicks’ early-season success; he’s in Denver now. Things change. Circumstances change.
There was truly an extended stretch this season the place Thibodeau’s perception in Payton paid dividends that felt much like the sturdy stands he’s taken on behalf of RJ Barrett and Obi Toppin. Payton was enjoying above each projection and pay grade, fueled by a principally unjustified self-confidence that however yielded outcomes.
Just not these days.
Including the Lakers recreation April 12, Payton averaged 26.1 minutes, 12.0 factors, had a 3.4/1.7 help/turnover ratio, shot .448/.286/.701 and had a plus-minus of -0.8. Nothing eye-popping, however playable. Since? It’s grisly: 16.7 minutes, 5.2 factors, 2.7/1.4, .360/.286/.500, minus 3.6. He is a special participant, and he nonetheless begins, and the Knicks merely can’t afford to play the gifted Hawks 4-on-5 for half the primary and third quarters.
Thibodeau has steadfastly averted criticizing Payton. The most up-to-date time he was requested immediately about him, Thibodeau pivoted like George Mikan: “We like our depth. We have versatility. Each game tells you something different. Whatever you need, you have the answer either starting or on the bench.”
Fair sufficient. That’s Thibodeau. He calls for lots out of his gamers and one of many perks is that they know they’ll by no means see him burying them within the newspaper. But burying them on the bench is one other matter.
Thibodeau already performs a tighter-than-normal rotation. Would it’s a horrible factor to insert Burks into the beginning 5, preserve Rose in his microwave-like position off the bench joined by Immanuel Quickley? Or using Ntilikina and his plus-defense skillset for extra than simply cameo appearances in an effort to maintain Young from killing them?
Bear Bryant preached that you simply dance with the one who brung ya. But the Bear by no means needed to watch Elfrid Payton implode on the worst potential time of a season. Tom Thibodeau has. Sometimes as a coach it’s a must to change the music. For Thibodeau, it’s time.