Tom Thibodeau’s reputation with young players might not be as bad as you think.
One of the sharpest criticisms of recently-hired New York Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau is that the game has somewhat passed him by. Younger players no longer relate to the old-school mentality of grinding games out while the coach is screaming from the sidelines, so the argument goes against the former Bulls and Timberwolves coach.
Golden State Warriors forward Andrew Wiggins, who played under Thibodeau in Minnesota, said as much after Thibs was fired.
"“I feel like I was on the rise my first three years and then some changes were made,” Wiggins said in 2019, clearly alluding to Thibodeau."
Wiggins added in the same interview that “yelling and screaming isn’t necessarily coaching.” Ouch!
Thibodeau’s inability to connect with his young players in Minnesota is what led to his premature demise. However, time has a way of healing wounds, or at least allowing dirty water to flow downstream.
Andrew Wiggins told Steve Kerr he enjoyed playing for Thibodeau
Warriors coach Steve Kerr told the New York Post in a recent interview that Wiggins had a “great” relationship with the new Knicks coach.
"“What is apparent is he and Andrew had a great relationship and Andrew said that as well,” Kerr said. “I know Andrew told me he really enjoyed playing for him and appreciated his commitment.”"
Thibodeau took over as head coach and president of basketball operations in Minnesota in 2016-17, Wiggins’ third year in the league. After averaging 20.7 points in his sophomore season, the young forward saw his point total increase to 23.6 per game under Thibodeau’s tutelage.
However, things quickly turned sour, and by the time Thibodeau was forced out of Minnesota, Wiggins was shooting a career-worst 41.2% from the field.
The Knicks are hoping that some of the stories coming out of Minnesota prove to be the exception to what has otherwise been an impressive resume of star players reaching their peak under Thibodeau.
See Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah (the player he was before Phil Jackson threw all of that money at him).
Even Jimmy Butler had kind words to offer about his former coach upon hearing he was back in the league with the Knicks.
"“He’s going to do great. He’s going to turn those young guys into some real players; some superstars, some All-Stars,” Butler said of Thibodeau according to Nick Friedell. “I know he’s been itching for this. I know he’s been preparing for it. When you talk about Thibs and the big stage I think they go hand in hand.”"
While things clearly didn’t work out between Thibodeau and Butler in Minnesota, the five-time All Star has said he wouldn’t be the player he is today without the help of his former coach.
The Knicks have a young core of players in RJ Barrett, Mitchell Robinson, Kevin Knox, Dennis Smith Jr., Frank Ntilikina, and Damyean Dotson, who won’t all remain with the organization, but several will need to blossom into productive starters in order to catapult the team back into contention.
It will be Thibodeau’s job to find the “Jimmy Butler” in one of these young players, and hopefully, the ending to the story will be better than it was between Thibs and Butler.