What Tom Thibodeau's 10-man Knicks rotation could look like ahead of season opener

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Tom Thibodeau looks on during game in blue suit
Tom Thibodeau looks on during game in blue suit

Tom Thibodeau has a "pretty good idea" of which players will be in the Knicks’ 10-man rotation to start the season.

But at least one starting spot was still being debated by Thibodeau and his staff on Tuesday.

“We actually meet every day about rotation and it’s pretty tight,” Thibodeau said Tuesday. “It’ll sort itself out as we go along. But you have to base it on performance and merit, what guys have done (during training camp and preseason). We have a pretty good idea of who the 10 (players in the Knicks’ rotation) are, and then the question will become who do we start. There are a couple positions that are basically 50-50 type of positions. So we’re still evaluating that.”

Immanuel Quickley started the Knicks’ final two preseason games at point guard and played well. Eflrid Payton is the club’s incumbent starter. It will be interesting to see if Thibodeau and his staff go with Quickley, a rookie, to start at lead guard on Wednesday against Indiana.

The Knicks started Alec Burks and Reggie Bullock over the course of the preseason. Nerlens Noel and Mitchell Robinson both started at center as well.

Based on how the preseason went, it seems likely that Burks or Bullock will start alongside RJ Barrett and Julius Randle. If the coaching staff is still debating two starting spots, t’s fair to assume that there isn’t a consensus yet around starting Robinson or Noel at center and around the starting point guard spot.

As far as the 10-man rotation goes, Austin Rivers will almost certainly be part of it. Rivers will miss the season opener against Indiana. But once he’s healthy, you can pencil him into a rotation spot.

Barrett, Randle, Payton, Quickley, Robinson, Noel, Burks, Bullock, and Toppin also seem like strong bets for the regular rotation.

If the Knicks roster is fully healthy, it will be interesting to see if Kevin Knox, Dennis Smith Jr. and Frank Ntilikina earn a spot in the rotation.

Thibodeau said on Tuesday that the rotation isn’t "set in stone" and the coaching staff is still looking at different player combinations.

“We have an idea of what it might look like (Wednesday) night. But again, we’re still finding our way with that,” he said.

But, as Thibodeau has pointed out, players will likely be in and out of the lineup over the course of a 72-game season that’s being played amid a pandemic.

“That was one of the things we talked about in the opening meeting: everyone has to be ready because of all the circumstances we’re dealing with,” Thibodeau said Tuesday. “Whether it’s sickness, injury, foul trouble, you’re going to need your whole team throughout the course of the season and everyone has to be ready when their opportunity comes.”

THIBS LIKES QUICKLEY’S VERSATILITY

Thibodeau was asked Tuesday if he plans to play Ntilikina off the ball this season. During his answer, he referenced the versatility of Quickley, a rookie combo guard.

“The thing I like about (Ntilikina) is he can (play) both (point guard and shooting guard) – same thing with ‘Quick’,” Thibodeau said, referencing Quickley. “I think what we’ve seen a lot of now is you have a point guard, you have three wings and you have a big. So it’s not traditional like it has been in the past. “And I like the fact that we have point guards that can do that. Quickley did that in college. It’s similar to the way I used my guards in Chicago. I think it’s a great advantage to have because defensively point guards are used to guarding guys off the dribble and now you can put them in catch and shoot, getting around screens and that sort of thing.

“Sometimes you can gain an advantage that way. Of course the rim reads are all the same for every player. When you look at today’s NBA, oftentimes you see more than one point guard on the floor or you see two combo guards on the floor together. That’s what I do like about our roster.”

The idea of playing two combo guards together is worth noting as New York begins the regular season.