Knicks: Top 5 players most likely to thrive under Tom Thibodeau

Mitchell Robinson of the New York Knicks (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
Mitchell Robinson of the New York Knicks (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images) /
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Mar 10, 2020; Washington, District of Columbia, USA; New York Knicks guard Frank Ntilikina (11) shoots the ball over Washington Wizards guard Shabazz Napier (5) in the second quarter at Capital One Arena. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports /

Most likely to thrive under Thibodeau: Frank Ntilikina

If I spent a sentence talking about Kevin Knox’s wingspan, then I could spend a paragraph discussing Frankie Nicotine’s 7’1” wingspan. Luckily for you and Michael Rapaport, I won’t do that, but Frank’s defensive profile might be what Thibs feels is the ideal makeup for a shutdown guard.

Ntilikina doesn’t need a league-renowned defensive teacher to bring out the best of his on-ball ability, but having one readily available in practice to discuss technique, scheme and theory is like having your grandmother with already impressive culinary skills train with Emeril Lagasse—it can only make the final product better.

Frank’s length and ability to move his feet and harass guards coming up the floor is pretty well documented, but what may fly under the radar is his ability to block shots as a guard. His numbers will probably never reflect that of an elite shot blocker (and that’s ok, because he’s not expected to post center-like defensive stats), but he’s shown the presence of mind to block jump shooters taking a three, and bigger forwards in the paint.

At the 1:55 mark in the clip above, Frank rejects bonafide center Bismack Biyombo on a rebound put-back attempt, and in the subsequent sequence, moves his feet well enough to end up sending back the shot attempt of one of the league’s best scorers in CJ McCollum. It’s that type of variety that should allow Thibs to play the young French guard close to 30 minutes a game, because his ability to switch and contest players one through five in the lineup is a prized asset in today’s game.

It’ll be very interesting to see how Leon Rose utilizes Frank as a chess piece this offseason, knowing that he could be an important knight or bishop for his new coach. Trading a key defensive piece away could force the Knicks to play checkers instead, which may not sit well with Thibodeau.