Tom Thibodeau Sounds Off on Knicks Wing Following Home Opener

Tom Thibodeau, New York Knicks

Getty Head coach Tom Thibodeau of the New York Knicks reacts during the first half against the Detroit Pistons.

After a hard-fought game one in Memphis that wound up ending in defeat, the New York Knicks bounced back in a major way during their home opener at the Garden, as they thrashed the visiting Pistons by a final score of 130-106.

It was an overall team effort that led to the club’s first win of the new season, though throughout their 48-minute bout there certainly proved to be a few specific individuals who helped pave the way for their teammates to follow suit.

And while there were several impressive individual performances put forth on the night, there was one key player who could be argued as being the driving force in the Knicks’ drubbing of Detroit.

After a lackluster opening night against the Grizzlies that was unanimously panned by the fanbase, RJ Barrett snapped back into his $120 million self right from the jump at the Garden on Friday night, as he was directly responsible for nine of the team’s first 11 points scored and, ultimately, helped lead the charge to a lead by the end of the first that was never relinquished.

During the night’s post-game media session, head coach Tom Thibodeau made a point to put the spotlight on Barrett’s productivity early on in the contest, stating that he believes the wing’s play right from the start set in motion the incredibly efficient night for the Knicks.

“I thought the way we started the game, I thought RJ’s playmaking was huge for us. I thought that set the tone,” Thibodeau said during the October 21 post-game media session.

Barrett finished the game with the second-most points scored for New York, dropping 18 points to go along with 4 assists, 3 rebounds, and a block on 53.3% shooting from the field.

Knicks’ Playmaking Came Early and Often

As noted, Thibodeau made an effort to highlight Barrett’s early-game playmaking as being the driving force for the tone of the game, and this certainly proved to be the case come the sound of the final buzzer.

Of the nine points the 22-year-old was responsible for, through the first four minutes of regulation, seven of them came off of well-executed assists, two of which came off of flashy passes to Mitchell Robinson and Julius Randle, respectively.

As a collective unit, the Knicks seemed to follow Barrett’s lead in the distribution game, as they ended up dishing out 29 assists on the night to only 12 turnovers.

All preseason long, media pundits were focusing in on the improved playmaking this squad was showcasing with Jalen Brunson now serving as their lead point guard. Through two games played, New York finds itself tied for third in the association in assists per game with an average of 28.5.

To put this into perspective, by the end of last season the Knicks placed dead last in this particular category, dishing out just 21.9 per game.

Teams ‘Keeping an Eye’ on 2 Knicks Players

During an October 19 episode of The Putback podcast, SNY’s Ian Begley touched on the difficulties that will come with trying to keep the Knicks’ young nucleus intact past the expiration of their rookie-scale contracts, and mentioned two individuals, in particular, as being players other teams will be “keeping an eye” on throughout the upcoming campaign.

“It’s going to be hard for the Knicks to pay both of those guys because they’ve already committed money to Mitchell Robinson, Derrick Rose is on a long-term deal, RJ Barrett, Julius Randle, Jalen Brunson,” Begley said.

“So you do the math and it seems like you can pay Toppin or Quickley but it would be tough to pay both. I think other teams recognize that and they’re keeping an eye on that scenario too.”

While both of these youngsters have proven themselves to be highly productive players for New York when given the opportunity, of the two it is Quickley who has become more of a staple within Tom Thibodeau’s rotation, as he’s seen career averages of 21.5 minutes a night in comparison to Toppin’s 14.3, thus arguably making it less of a risk that he’ll be dealt.