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 8, 2020; New York, New York, USA; New York Knicks guard Elfrid Payton (6) dribbles the ball against the Detroit Pistons during the second half at Madison Square Garden. Mandatory Credit: Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports /

Most likely to thrive under Thibodeau: Elfrid Payton

He’s another prime candidate to have his defensive potential unlocked as a post-hype sleeper lottery pick.

Coming out of the University of Louisiana Lafayette in 2014, Elfrid Payton was cut in the same small school, big-hearted cloth as Damian Lilliard. No one will mistake Payton’s level of talent for the perennial All-Star’s, but the Trail Blazers’ superstar noticed his game right away.

"“When I sat back and watched him play, I just said to myself, ‘Wow, that’s a NBA player.’ A lot of times you can’t see that in college players,” Lillard said (via Bleacher Report). “Some of them have all of the hype, but you just can’t see pro potential in them. But with Elfrid, I knew he would be good at the NBA level.”"

Payton has always been adept at creating turnovers, and averaged 1.6 steals per game last season. In his heart of hearts, Thibodeau may want to deploy Payton and Ntilikina together as a shutdown tandem of sorts, but staggering their minutes to get some shooting on the floor will also be important.

The rotation issue may be made easier by Payton’s ability to fill up the box score in the assist and rebounding category. Want to venture a guess as to how many career triple doubles he has?

We could be here all night, so I’ll just tell you: 17. That’s only 14 less than John Havlicek had for his entire career!

Payton has bounced around the NBA, playing for four teams in six seasons, and he probably realizes that if he doesn’t start to show his defensive chops soon, there may not be much time left for him in the Association. But he has the pedigree to channel that defensive cache that vaulted him towards the top of many draft boards in 2014, and he’s got the perfect mentor to bring out the best in him.

For $8 million, it might be worth it for the Knicks to bring Payton back under Thibodeau.