Knicks Notes: Tom Thibodeau breaks down starting lineup in season opener vs. Pacers and more

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Ian Begley
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Tom Thibodeau treated art looks very serious
Tom Thibodeau treated art looks very serious

A few Knicks notes ahead of Wednesday’s season-opener against Indiana:

Tom Thibodeau and the Knicks coaching staff will start Elfrid Payton, RJ Barrett, Reggie Bullock, Julius Randle and Mitchell Robinson on opening night.

Here’s what Thibodeau said when asked about starting Payton, a veteran, over other options at point guard, including rookie Immanuel Quickley:

“I think it’s a compilation of things. It’s how things have gone in practice, the games, the way the groups play with each other. And starting has never been as important as finishing for me. But I think we’ll be looking at the different combinations. The guys that are performing well, playing well, will be the guys who are out there.”

Quickley started at point guard in the Knicks’ final preseason game. Payton didn’t play in that game due to injury. Quickley played well in a lead-guard role in each of the Knicks’ final two preseason games.

He will almost certainly be a part of Thibodeau’s 10-player rotation against Indiana.

Here’s what Thibodeau said when asked about Robinson is starting at center ahead of Nerlens Noel:

“We feel very strongly about that (center) position. Actually, both guys had very good camps. Nerlens got nicked up a little bit so he sat out the last two. But we had very strong play from both guys. Mitch is really working hard in practice and growing. That’s a positive sign and he has to keep going. We have 10 guys. We understand how important the depth is and over the course of the season we’ll need all 17 guys, our 15 roster guys and the two two-ways. So everyone has to stay ready.”

Noel didn’t play in the Knicks’ final two preseason games due to a knee ailment. He presumably missed practices during that time, too. That ailment may have factored in to the Knicks’ decision to start Robinson.

Here’s what Thibodeau said when asked about starting Bullock ahead of Alec Burks:

“I like both guys and they both have strengths that complement each group. And I’m not sure yet if we’ll flip it again. But both guys are very effective with the starters and both guys are very effective with the bench. Both have a strong defensive presence. I think Alec is very good off the dribble and has playmaking capabilities. So I think that’s a good complement for that group. But we’re still sorting through that. Of course Reggie gives us the adding shooting that we need to open up the floor and terrific defense.”

Thibodeau affirmed that Quickley will be part of his 10-man rotation to start the season. It will be interesting to see how many minutes reserves like Kevin Knox, Frank Ntilikina and Dennis Smith Jr. get against Indiana.

Thibodeau has stressed that no lineups/rotations are set in stone at this point.

“We’ll continue to evaluate. It will be based on merit. And we’re always going to put the guys that give us the best chance to win out there,” he said. “But we also know it’s a team sport. Everyone’s important and we need our whole team and as I said, we have young guys that will continue to improve. We have the right veterans around them that can help teach the young guys the tricks of the trade. So we’re counting on everyone.”

Thibodeau, an assistant with the Knicks under Jeff Van Gundy, on how he’s feeling ahead of his debut as Knicks head coach: 

“Every year the start of the season you look forward to. Every year is different – new and different challenges. I’m excited about this group. I think they’ve worked really hard –a good group to be around. I have the opportunity to do it with two of my closest friends and guys I respect in (Knicks team president) Leon (Rose) and (Knicks executive vice president William) Wes (Wesley). Everyday has been great.”

Concerned about COVID: The NBA on Wednesday announced that the Rockets-Thunder game in Houston was postponed in accordance with the league’s health and safety protocols.

Three Rockets players tested either negative or inconclusively for coronarvirus and four other players are quarantined, per the league. Additionally, James Harden is unavailable due to a violation of the Health and Safety Protocols, the NBA said. As a result, Houston didn’t have enough players to play the game.

Thibodeau was asked about his level of concern for his club and the league as the season starts amid a pandemic.

“I’m very concerned. Obviously, it’s serious and we know that. I think we’re fortunate with the Knicks with (Chief Medical Officer) Dr. (Lisa) Callahan and (head athletic trainer) Roger (Hinds) in taking every precaution and making sure everyone is following all the protocols,” he said. “But I am very concerned. I look at the numbers everyday and I think we’re all concerned about that and do what we can to make sure we keep it as safe as we possibly can. Safety has to come first.”