NEW YORK — The Knicks were a little delayed getting on the court for their first group workouts Wednesday afternoon. After six months off, what’s another few minutes anyway?
When they finally started practice, Tom Thibodeau began what he described as building a base of fundamentals.
“Offensively, we’ll build our system more towards what the strengths of our club is and then defensively of course there’s things you believe in that you know you have to establish in this league,” Thibodeau said in a video conference call Wednesday with reporters. “And that starts with fundamentals on both offense and defense. You have to build your base first. And that’s what you want to spend time on.”
The circumstances are a bit awkward and imperfect for the Knicks. Welcome to 2020. Like the other seven teams that weren’t invited to Orlando for the resumption of the season, they’re finally allowed to hold a mini training camp while trying to limit contact with the outside world. They’re staying at a Manhattan hotel because the accommodations fit the league and union COVID-related requirements, and they’re commuting to the Tarrytown practice facility. Hence the delay Wednesday.
It’s a voluntary camp and Thibodeau said “some” players weren’t comfortable with the contact portion of the minicamp, given the pandemic. Still, Thibodeau noted that attendance was “great,” and the only reported absence was Mitchell Robinson, according to SNY.
Beyond the inconveniences triggered by COVID-19, the minicamp is clouded with unknowns. There’s still no set date for the beginning of next season, only a statement from Adam Silver that it’s probably January at the earliest. Most of the Knicks can become free agents in the coming months, and most will probably play for another team next season.
Thibodeau, who signed his five-year deal in the summer, is playing his hand.
“I think that’s a big challenge in the NBA — how quickly can you adapt? Because things always change in the league, whether it’s trade, free agency, an injury. You have to adapt quickly,” Thibodeau said. “So for us the focus has to be on the guys who are here. And that’s what we’re doing. So everyday we’re thinking about how we can improve as a team and how we can improve individually. And we want that to be our focus. We want to stack days together. We know it starts with fundamentals. We have to build that base and then we’ll take it from there.”
So what can a coach reasonably accomplish under these conditions? Individual development. The systems will come later.
“Once you build your foundation, then you can determine whether you’re going to blitz a pick-and-roll, whether you’re going to ice a pick-and-roll, whether you’re going to switch a pick-and-roll, and you’re probably going to do a version of all three. And so we’ll take a look at it,” Thibodeau said. “We’ll figure out the things that we’re really good at. And we’ll build that way. But right now we’re still digging through. And as I mentioned, we still don’t know what the personnel of the club will be and technically this is still part of last year. The offseason really hasn’t come yet. We don’t know when the beginning of next season, when training camp will be and all that. So we can lock into the player development aspect of it, and that’s what we’re trying to do.
With Robinson reportedly absent for “personal reasons,” RJ Barrett carries the most potential in the minicamp. Thibodeau said his first impressions of the third overall pick “have been great.”
“Obviously, there’s a lot of work to be done. These are the initial steps,” the coach said. “The offseason is critical for any young player. So obviously you can get going on the development piece, which I think is critical. That holds true for all our players. But he’s been great, eager, he’s working hard. If he does that day after day he will improve quite a bit.”
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