The Kentucky product came to the Knicks this season to provide solid rim-protecting prowess and scoring ability in the paint, and he’s delivered on both.
But he knows he can’t take all the credit, as the Knicks’ coaching staff — led by head coach Tom Thibodeau — has helped create the right culture to thrive in.
“Everybody has each other’s back,” Noel said on the latest episode of The Putback with Ian Begley, presented by 888Sport. “The resilience factor is major in this locker room. Obviously, it’s instilled at a great force through Coach Thibs. He’s an East Coast dude, and he knows what New York’s about. He definitely puts 110 percent into us, making sure we’re keeping things tight, keeping things proper, making the right plays, making the right reads, playing the right way. Period.
“If you give in to this game and respect it, you’ll get everything back. Coach Thibs is a big believer in that and so am I.”
A familiar face in former Kentucky assistant Kenny Payne was also another big name to join Thibs’ staff, and he was someone Noel, Kevin Knox and others worked with in the past. Noel told SNY he’s happy to still have that connection in the NBA with a coach whom he deeply admires.
“When I first got to Kentucky, he was a little – it was always a great relationship – but he definitely pushed me to new barriers and boundaries that I needed to get to at 18, 19 years old,” Noel explained. “A relationship of just like a father and son. He’s always had my back, giving me that good advice that I needed whether – probably can’t repeat it on here – but he definitely always gave me that extra little nudge I need to take care of my business the right way.
“Kenny Payne definitely brings that extra mentality and edge to really make a player what he wants to be.”
Since taking over as the team’s starter back in February, Noel leads the Knicks with 68 blocks and 87 offensive rebounds entering Wednesday night’s game against the Hawks.
“Just definitely think I’ve been a little more aggressive playing more at the rim, but I’ve done it really all my career,” he said. “This team is shaped to have an aggressive defensive approach and guys playing, communicating, running around, switching. So definitely just how the team is set up helps me out.”
Noel is the only player in the NBA to average two blocks and one steal per game, is second in defensive box plus/minus, third in best team defensive rating when starting, and fourth in blocks per game.
Noel touches on some of his best blocks of the season, what the return of fans in the stands has been like, the team’s defense, and more throughout the full episode of The Putback, which you can watch above.