The Knicks exceeded everyone’s expectations this season by winning 41 games and finishing fourth in the East.
No one should lose sight of that in the wake of the club’s shaky performance against the Hawks.
But it’s also worth examining some of the factors that led to such an ugly performance in the playoffs. The issues that arose against Atlanta could inform the Knicks on how to approach the upcoming offseason.
With that in mind, we spoke to a coach and a scout about what they saw during the course of the series.
The move to bench Elfrid Payton and start Derrick Rose at point guard didn’t produce the desired result. But one former assistant coach didn’t see many desirable options for Knicks head coach Tom Thibodeau.
“(Payton) wasn’t effective. So, you either turn to Rose or ask (Frank Ntilikina) to run the offense,” the coach said. “I don’t see an easy fix there. Though I would have liked to see (Ntilikina) on Trae Young.”
The Knicks lost all three games with Rose as the starter. The move seemed to negatively impact the bench. And it didn’t do much to spark Julius Randle. The starting lineup of Rose, RJ Barrett, Reggie Bullock, Randle and Taj Gibson was outscored by 36 points over 60 minutes in the final three games.
When asked about the lack of team success with Rose at point guard, Thibodeau said the following:
“It doesn’t fall on any one guy. It’s how it works in totality. I thought we played well in Game 1. We were flat in Game 2. The group that played well was that group in the second half. We looked at what may fit best. You learn from each game. We’ll look at the season, break it down in totality and we’ll formulate the plan going forward.”
It’s fair to assume that the Knicks will have strong interest in re-signing Rose. Finding another lead guard will be pivotal this offseason.
The Eastern Conference scout said that it was obvious the Knicks were facing a Hawks team that had greater depth and better overall talent. But the scout wondered if Thibodeau could have done more to help Randle.
“I thought a smaller lineup might have been worth (experimenting with),” the scout said. “I know that (Obi Toppin) is a rookie but I thought they could have at least tried it more often (in the playoffs).
“Also, maybe more of (Immanuel) Quickley with Randle could have helped open things up for him,” the scout said. “But they (the Hawks) just had the better roster. Better shooting.”
Randle and Quickley were on the floor for 26 minutes over the course of the series. Toppin and Randle played six minutes together during the series.
Thibodeau referenced the way the Hawks built their roster to complement Trae Young several times over the course of the series. It’s a stretch to say Thibodeau was subtly asking the Knicks to add shooting in the offseason. But it’s an obvious weakness for the club.
DID THIBODEAU GET OUT-COACHED?
“I hate doing that,” the scout said. “There’s too much that goes into (coaching in the playoffs) that we don’t know about to ever judge this (accurately). (Nate) McMillan coached a great series. But (Thibodeau) got these guys to this point.”
“Stop it,” the former coach said. “Maybe he could have tried a few more things, but that (Knicks) team just didn’t have the same depth. And (Randle) missed shots that he was making most of the year. That’s not on (Thibodeau).”