Austin Rivers on Tom Thibodeau's standards for Knicks: 'If you don’t play hard, you not going to play'

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Ian Begley
·7 min read
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Austin Rivers in shootaround with Rockets
Austin Rivers in shootaround with Rockets

Austin Rivers plans to make his Knicks debut on Thursday after missing training camp/preseason with a groin injury.

Rivers hasn’t played 5-on-5 against a full group of teammates yet. “To this day, I have not practiced yet,” he said on Thursday morning.

Here, Rivers provides some detail on his groin injury:

“It happened like a week and a half before I signed with the Knicks, but I didn’t know it was that serious. I just thought I might have pulled something lightly, nothing serious. It’s still nothing serious. But it turned out to be a good pull and I just couldn’t explode off my groin. We’ve kind of escalated, tried to go about it as careful as possible. It’s just been lingering around to be honest with you. But they’ve done a great job here, the staff here, the trainers here have done a great job getting me back. (Thursday), this will be the first time I’ve gone and payed with my teammates at all, whether it’s practice, anything. So I’ve not done anything. So I’ve just been doing conditioning on the side. I’m going into this cold in terms of reps but I’ll be fine.”

It's unclear if Immanuel Quickley (hip) or Alec Burks (ankle) will play against Toronto. Frank Ntilikina (knee) and Dennis Smith Jr. (quad) won’t play. So it seems like there will be a clear rotation spot for Rivers on Thursday.

But it will be interesting to see how Rivers impacts the rotation if/when all of the guards are healthy. Quickley was the first lead guard off the bench on opening night. Burks has been used as a lead guard as well. Ntilikina and Smith Jr. have also gotten minutes at lead guard in the first four games of the year.

Ntilikina has been used on and off the ball.

Rivers on Thibs’ standards: Rivers said he may be out of rhythm on Thursday because he hasn’t played legitimate 5-on-5 in weeks. So he may miss shots. But he knows that he has to meet a standard established by the team early in the season: “We play hard. So I’ll be honest…the one thing I know I have to do tonight - I might make everything, I might miss everything. I’m going to get that feel and rhythm back as I play these games - but the one thing that has to be consistent is when I’m out there: I’ve got to play hard because that’s what our team is symbolized as right now. We’re one of these teams, there’s not an off night when you play the Knicks. That’s the mindset we’re trying to establish here. I know makes and misses can waver but your effort can’t. That’s kind of what Thibs has instilled on this team. I’m just going to come in and play hard.”

Several Knicks players have mentioned that Thibodeau and the staff have emphasized the need to play hard on both sides of the ball, and move the ball on offense. I’m pretty sure that most NBA coaches have the same message. But, based on what the Knicks have showed over the first four games of the season, the players have received Thibodeau’s message.

Why is that?

“I think it’s the whole ambiance of everything Thibs has come with,” Rivers said. “I think it’s having Thibs here, having (team president) Leon (Rose) here, having (NYK exec VP William Wesley) here. The changes made. Bringing new vets in. I think there’s been a new life and a new energy here with the team.

“And it’s really early like you said, so we’ve got a lot of work to do. But like I said, wins losses, makes, misses, that’s part of the game. But our effort, and the way we play and approach the game and not making it easy on our opponents is something we try to instill here and Thibs obviously being the head of that, has done that.

“I think it’s been a difference because that’s what he demands. There’s no other option. You don’t play hard, you don’t play. That’s just what it is with him. I think everybody gets that picture on our team. And I think everybody knows – if you don’t play hard, you not going to play. It’s the same stuff that (you see in Miami). You go play for the Miami Heat – if you don’t play hard, you’re not getting in the game. There’s just some teams that have that identity and that’s what we’re trying to build here. Thibs is doing a great job and we’re just following that. Everybody’s moving the ball and playing hard and that’s what it’s going to be.”

As Rivers notes, it’s very early in the season so it’s too soon to make any proclamations about what this Knicks team is – and what it isn’t. But the idea that the players seem to be buying in to Thibodeau’s message is a good thing – particularly for an organization that’s struggled for most of the last 20 years.

Rivers on COVID protocols: Rivers was asked about the COVID protocols for New York, which is on its first road trip of the regular season. The veteran guard offered praise for New York’s supporting staff. “It’s way harder on the trainers. They are the ones who have to adjust on the fly. Our security has to get us through different entrances and walk in; I mean, it’s a constant circus for them. So I just try to keep in [mind] how we have all these people around here making our job and our life easy. So it’s hard to complain about it.”

Book about life as an NYK fan: Fred Cantor wrote a memoir capturing six decades worth of what it means to be a Knicks fan—and to stick with the team through thick and thin—from the perspective of your everyday fan.

All of his author’s royalties will go to the John Starks Foundation. You can find more info on the book here.

We asked Cantor a few questions about the book:

SNY: What do you hope readers get from the book?

CANTOR: I hope readers will get at least a couple of things from the book.

First, I hope I have illustrated that you can be a completely sane and responsible person in other aspects of your life and still be passionate about the Knicks in a way that doesn’t always make sense to a lot of people; but there’s nothing wrong with that.

Second, having grown up during the 1960s when there was a string of losing seasons—with the Knicks not having a winning record ‘til I was in 9th grade—I fully understand the frustration felt by a number of fans in recent years. But, just as a young nucleus ultimately led to the mountaintop during that era decades ago, I feel the foundation is being put in place right now for a significant turnaround.

SNY: What is your favorite moment as a Knick fan?

CANTOR: “There have been so many favorite moments as a Knicks fan over the years, it is extremely difficult to pick out just one. But the most amazing and improbable moment I witnessed in person at the Garden has to be David Lee’s tip-in of Jamal Crawford’s in-bounds pass with a tenth of a second left at the end of the second overtime during Christmas week in 2006. The fact that it happened against Charlotte, with Michael Jordan in the house after having recently become a part owner of the team, made it even sweeter.”

SNY: Do you think Leon Rose & Co. can turn things around?

CANTOR: I have complete confidence in Leon Rose and his administration. For starters, the hiring of Thibs was absolutely sound in my opinion. And, equally important, there seems to be, at least at the outset, a commitment to developing young players. Last, but not least, I was very pleased by their selections of Obi Toppin and Immanuel Quickley—and I see tremendous upside in both players.