While Tom Thibodeau seems like the frontrunner for the head coaching job, the New York Knicks should consider Dave Joerger instead.
Tom Thibodeau has been positioned as one of the favorites to land the New York Knicks head coaching job this offseason given his strong ties to the new president of basketball operations Leon Rose.
The relationship between Rose and Thibodeau originates from their connection to the Creative Artists Agency. Rose was the co-head of CAA’s basketball division before taking the Knick job this season. Rose has crossed paths with Thibodeau on multiple occasions as he has been a client of the basketball division for a long time.
But is Thibodeau the right head coach for New York? The short answer is no, as owner James Dolan hired Rose to improve the team’s chances of getting a premier player. Rose is the former agent of several premier players, including Chris Paul, Devin Booker, and Joel Embiid.
Unfortunately, the easiest way to acquire these players is to accentuate the strengths of the young core, including RJ Barrett and Mitchell Robinson. It will increase the likelihood that an impending free agent wants to play with him or boost their trade value.
Thibodeau won’t be able to accentuate the strength of New York’s young core as his teams have been a mainstay in the top 10 of post-up possessions since 2013. Thibodeau’s offense requires big men to spend a significant amount of time in the low post, forcing perimeter players to play the role of shooters.
The Minnesota Timberwolves were second in the league in post-up possessions in 2016-17 — Thib’s first at the helm –averaging 11.0 per game.
Unfortunately, the team only had two above-average shooters on the perimeter, Brandon Rush and Zach LaVine. Minnesota shied away from taking threes as they were last in makes and attempts.
The team’s inability to shoot played a vital role in Minnesota’s bad fourth-quarter offense that was 16th in offensive rating.
Minnesota’s fourth-quarter struggles are related to opponents clogging the paint against them. For example, midway through the fourth quarter of a road game against the Chicago Bulls, Karl-Anthony Towns received an inbound pass from LaVine as he established post position on the right low block. Upon getting the pass, LaVine’s defender, Aaron Brooks, chose to double team Towns.
LaVine chose to cut to the basket, trying to get an open shot. KAT saw LaVine cutting to the basket and passed the basketball to him. Unfortunately, LaVine was unsuccessful as Doug McDermott was standing in front of the basket.
The inability to shoot caused Minnesota to lead the league in heavily contested shots during fourth quarters at 4.4 per game.
It’s why Thibodeau would be the wrong head coach for the Knicks as the face of the franchise RJ Barrett is a perimeter player who struggles from behind the arc. Barrett shot 32.0 percent from the 3-point line in his first 56 NBA games. Thibodeau doesn’t have a history of adjusting his system to accentuate the strengths of his personnel.
Andrew Wiggins and Ricky Rubio had a track record of subpar shooting before Thibodeau arrived in Minnesota. Wiggins shot 30.4 percent from behind the arc on 1.9 attempts per game in his first two seasons.
Rubio had similar issues as he shot 33.5 percent from behind the arc on 2.8 attempts per game for six seasons in the Spanish professional league, Liga ACB. Rubio carried his shooting struggles into the NBA as he shot 31.8 percent from behind the arc on 2.0 attempts per game in his first five seasons.
Despite the well-documented history of subpar shooting, Wiggins and Rubio took 18.4 and 30.2 percent of their field goal attempts from behind the arc, respectively, in their first season under Thibodeau.
They would end up having mixed results in the role of shooters as Wiggins shot a career-high 35.6 percent from behind the arc on 3.5 attempts per game. On the other hand, Rubio shot 30.6 percent on 2.6 attempts per game.
Thibodeau would also put center Mitchell Robinson in an unusual position as he doesn’t have a significant amount of experience posting up averaging 0.3 per game over his short career. As a consequence, Thibodeau’s unwillingness to adapt would depress the value of players and, by extension, hurt the team’s chances to acquire a star.
The Knicks need to hire a head coach who is willing to adjust their offensive system based on the team’s personnel. Therefore, the team should hire Dave Joerger as their next head coach because he has a history of adjusting his system to accentuate the strengths of his best players.
Joerger replaced Lionel Hollins as Memphis Grizzlies head coach after the 2012-13 season. He was used to running an uptempo offense as he coached in several developmental leagues predicted on pace and space.
He wanted Memphis to increase their pace from the 89.6 they averaged during the 2012-13 season. Consequently, Memphis had a pace of 93.4 during the first six games of his tenure. Unfortunately, the increased backfired as they shot 33.7 percent from behind the arc on 15.3 attempts per game
Their 3-point percentage contributed to them shooting 47.4 percent from the field on 80.2 attempts. Memphis’ field goal percentage helped them generate 98.4 points per game, which ultimately led to the team to a .500 record.
Joerger eventually proceeded to slow down the pace by adjusting his offensive system to accentuate further the strengths of his best players, Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph.
Memphis averaged 26.0 post-up possessions during the first six games of the 2013-14 season. 85.4 percent of those possessions belonged Gasol and Randolph. Joerger decided to increase the post up possessions by 9.1 percent after as they averaged 28.6 per game.
Ninety-four percent of those possessions belonged Gasol and Randolph as they averaged 26.9 per game. The adjustment had mixed results as the Grizzlies shot 35.6 percent from behind the arc on 13.8 attempts.
Their 3-point percentage contributed to them shooting 46.3 percent from the field on 82.1 attempts. Memphis’ field goal percentage helped them generate 95.8 points per game, which ultimately led to the team winning 45 games with a point differential of 1.7.
After three seasons with Memphis, the Grizzlies decided to fire Joerger because he wanted permission to interview with the Sacramento Kings about their head coaching vacancy. Memphis’ decision opened the door for Joerger to interview and ultimately accept the Kings’ job.
Sacramento allowed Joerger to go back to his roots. Point guard De’Aaron Fox had a track record of thriving in an uptempo offense. 31.0 percent of Fox’s possessions in college were in transition. It allowed him to lead the SEC in transition points averaging 5.9 per game.
Fox averaged 5.2 possessions while shooting 53 percent from the field on 3.7 shot attempts per game during the 2018-19 season. Fox’s field goal percentage helped him amass 5.5 points per game, 31.8 percent of his total scoring output.
Fox’s production rubbed off the team as the Kings were 13th in transition field goal percentage shooting 53.4 percent on 19.4 attempts per game. Sacramento’s field goal percentage allowed them to be second in the league in transition points averaging 27.4 per game in 24.4 possessions.
Joerger’s decision to adjust his system led Sacramento to its best season in the last 14 years as they shot 38.7 percent from behind the arc on 29.9 attempts. Their 3-point percentage contributed to them shooting 46.4 percent from the field on 93.1 attempts.
Sacramento’s field goal percentage helped them generate 114.2 points per game, which ultimately led to the team to win 39 games, their most since 2005-06.
Joerger will make an effort to accentuate the strengths of Barrett and Robinson. Barrett liked to have the basketball in his hands as he came up through the amateur ranks. Barrett had the 16th highest usage rate in college as he used 33.1 percent of Duke’s possessions last season.
Barrett’s ball dominate style has played a vital role in his success as a professional. One of his best statistical game came when Barrett touched the basketball 62 times on March 2nd against the Houston Rockets.
The 62 touches helped Barrett attack the basket 12 times that game, where he created 12 points. The drives accounted for 20.0 percent of his assists and 44.4 percent of the scoring output as he scored 27 points with five assists.
Robinson has thrived as a roll man throughout his pro career. Robinson has rolled to the basket 1.7 times per game in nearly two seasons. Robinson is shooting 80.0 percent from the field when rolling to the basket on 1.5 attempts per game, allowing him to score 2.7 points a game.
Joerger would have to stager these two players as pick and roll is not Barrett’s strong suit. Barrett struggled as a pick and roll ball handler in college, averaging .67
points per possessions in the pick and roll, placing him in the bottom 23rd percentile.
Barrett has struggled as a pick and roll ball handler this season, averaging 4.8 possessions while shooting 35.3 percent from the field on 3.4 shot attempts per game. Barrett’s field goal percentage helped him amass 3.3 points per game, 23.1 percent of his total scoring output. His production puts him in 23.6 percentile.
Joerger can pair Robinson up with Elfrid Payton, who performs better in the role of pick and roll ball handler. Payton is averaging 6.2 possessions while shooting 41.7 percent from the field on 4.6 shot attempts per game. Payton’s field goal percentage helped him amass 4.5 points per game, 45 percent of his total scoring output.
In conclusion, accentuating Barrett and Robinson’s strength will give New York a better chance to acquire a star via free agency or trade. However, if the front office is unable to acquire a premier player, Joerger’s track record says he’ll put a system in place to get the most out of his personnel.