Tom Thibodeau sees potential in Knicks guards Frank Ntilikina, Dennis Smith Jr.

Ian Begley
·3 min read
Frank Ntilikina pushes ball up floor against Pacers
Frank Ntilikina pushes ball up floor against Pacers

If you want to know how Tom Thibodeau will evaluate the Knicks' current players, he may have offered a window into his thinking on Friday.

The first-year Knicks coach was asked about the challenge of developing young, unproven players.

"Obviously, player development is critical," Thibodeau said. "But also, you can't lose sight of the team development. So it's not only the challenge of the player bringing the best out of himself but also how does he bring the best out of the team? And the team has to be very high. It's got to be at the top of the checklist. Winning is the most important thing. That's why you're here. And so how does everyone fit together and how do you bring the best out of each other? 

"So that's an important thing that we're studying: How hard to do people work? Do they play for each other? Those are big factors in winning. Do they know what to shoot? Do they know when to pass? And we see that. We see what wins in the playoffs. When you begin, you have to think about the end and what’s going to be necessary if ultimately you do become a playoff team. And so it starts with your fundamentals and that's where we are."

The Knicks have had three team practices in their bubble. They also had individual workouts earlier this month. Thibodeau hasn't had much time to work with his players.

Here's what he said on Friday when asked about Dennis Smith Jr. and Frank Ntilikina:

"I'm getting to know both guys. I like what they've done so far. They got to continue to work," Thibodeau said. "There's oftentimes ups and downs for young players there's, you know -- there's a learning curve they have to go through. 

"Some experiences will be better than others. They both have had some good moments in the league. You want to build a consistency. And how do you get there? You have to do it through your work, you have to learn from the experiences and you have to be disciplined. And so, hopefully we can get there this is a very important offseason for both players."

Ntilikina and Smith Jr. are entering the fourth and final years of their rookie contracts. Assuming neither player is traded in the offseason, the Knicks will have the full 2020-21 season to evaluate the guards and decide on their future with the club. Both players will be restricted free agents in the 2021 offseason.

Thibodeau 'consumed’ with the job

Thibodeau is known for his work ethic.

He indirectly referenced that approach when he was asked about his time with the Minnesota Timberwolves on Friday.

"Minnesota was Minnesota, and now there's a new chapter -- it's New York," Thibodeau said. "And that's really what I think about, you know, all the time. It's all consuming. How can we get better? How can we improve? How do we bring the best out of the group? So that's exciting. It's challenging. I'm with a great group of people that that I work with, so I'm looking forward to this challenge."

Thibodeau said on ESPN's The Woj Pod over the summer that he had no interest in being a team president again, a role that he had in Minnesota. You can expect that Thibodeau will still have a role in personnel decisions in New York. He is close with team president Leon Rose and Rose's top advisor, William 'World Wide Wes' Wesley.

"I think the important thing for me is to just be able to have a voice," Thibodeau said when asked about having input on roster decisions. "I've known Leon and Wes for a long time, so they've asked my opinion on a number of things. Doesn't mean that they're always going to do what I ask them to do, but I think there's a trust factor there so I do think that's important."