Tom Thibodeau: ‘I don’t go by’ new-age defensive analytics
To the naked eye, the Knicks had a down season defensively. Tom Thibodeau’s eye, of course, says otherwise.
The Knicks ranked 19th in all of basketball in defensive rating — averaging 114 points allowed per 100 possessions — during the regular season. The rank marked the worst defensive rating the team has put forth in any of the three seasons Thibodeau has coached in New York. For reference, his Knicks finished 11th in defensive rating in each of his first two seasons as coach.
Yet Thibodeau’s Knicks also secured the best first-round defense in the playoffs, holding the Cavaliers to just 101 points per 100 possessions in each of their first quarterfinal games.
Entering his second-round playoff series against the Miami Heat, Thibodeau shrugged off new-age analytics as a reliable barometer for his team’s defensive success.
“The ratings systems that some people use, I don’t go by,” he said. “My markers are: defensive field goal percentage, three-point field goal percentage, rebound margin, points in the paint, fastbreak points allowed — and when you look at those markers, they’re pretty strong.”
Using Thibodeau’s metrics, the Knicks were a top-five defense in all of basketball. They ranked third in rebounding, third in rebounding percentage and first in opponent points in the paint. The Knicks were also a top-five team defending in transition and were an average team defending the three-point line.
When you add it all up, they were a strong defense — by Thibodeau’s markers.
The Knicks coach said he doesn’t think his team flipped a switch in its impressive first-round playoff series against Donovan Mitchell and the Cleveland Cavaliers.
In that series, the Knicks’ only loss came in the lone game they allowed Cleveland to score more than 100 points. In the other four games, all wins, they held the Cavs to 97 points or fewer, including a Game 3 defensive clinic that held the Cavaliers to only 79 points.
Thibodeau said his team’s defensive success in the first round was the culmination of all the markers his team hit in the regular season.
“I think there was a continual improvement throughout the season, but when you rebound the ball the way we do, and you challenge shots, to me the ability to challenge shots is huge,” he said. “And so there’s some teams — like I haven’t seen a defensive ratings system yet that is accurate, so, I go by my own markers.”
The Knicks, of course, were unable to get stops down the stretch in Game 1, and lost to the Heat despite star forward Jimmy Butler playing on one ankle for the final five minutes of the fourth quarter. Butler missed Game 2 with a sprained ankle and will have three days to recover before the two teams suit up for Game 3 in Miami.
Thibodeau’s defense will be put to the test when Butler returns — no matter what his markers said about the regular season.