The last time Tom Thibodeau was coaching in New York before taking the head coaching job was in 2003 when he was an assistant on a team that averaged 95.9 points per game, good enough to rank 11th in the NBA.
Times have changed and so has the defensive-minded Thibodeau. But the Knicks (5-6) have become alarmingly reminiscent of a throwback to the old times when points came sparingly, scoring 89, 89 and 88 points during a three-game losing streak. And awaiting them Wednesday are the Brooklyn Nets, averaging about 30 points more than that a game.
While this game, which will be televised nationally, could have been a showcase for the Nets' star power or a hint of a budding rivalry, the Nets enter it mired in their own on-court struggles and dysfunction off it with Kyrie Irving still missing, and the Knicks on a three-game losing streak and having an inability to score.
The assignment of blame for this is not on Thibodeau or his plans. His teams in Chicago often ranked near the bottom in offensive numbers and among the best defensive teams. But in his last full season as a head coach in Minnesota the Timberwolves averaged 109.5 points per game.
The trouble for the Knicks has been wildly inconsistent offensive performances from every player but Julius Randle. Those are magnified as teams have begun to clamp down on Randle with double- and triple-teaming schemes and a zone defense that dares the Knicks to shoot from outside.
"We’ve got to do a better job in the half-court with the zone," Austin Rivers said. "That’s not on the coaches — at all — by the way. It’s not on them at all. They put the game plan out there. We’ve got to do a better job. We’re young. We’re young. There’s a lot I could say. We’re young and we’re getting better. We’ll figure it out. Just got to keep going. Just everybody stay with us and stay patient."
"Julius is getting double-teamed and triple-teamed right now," Thibodeau said. "We’re seeing a lot of zone, lot of double-team with his post-up, trying to get the ball out of his hands. We can operate off of that. We have to have good spacing, trust the pass and make shots. Right now we’re hesitating a little bit. I don’t want them to do that."
Thibodeau has stressed since training camp a need to let the game dictate the play and Randle has done that. When the Knicks lost to Utah Friday he was scoreless in the first half and Monday against Charlotte he took just nine shots.
He was 2-for-9 on Monday with four turnovers while RJ Barrett took a team-high 18 shots, making five. Elfrid Payton took 14 shots and padded his numbers with a few late buckets after the game was out of reach. Kevin Knox took 17 shots off the bench and after his hot first half kept the Knicks in the game he cooled off with just two points in the second half. Rookie Immanuel Quickley was 1-for-10 and is 2-for-24 in the last four games.
Barrett is the most troubling problem for the Knicks’ offense. He has taken more field-goal attempts than any player on the team, including Randle, and has put up the most three-point attempts. But he is just 9-for-50 (18%) from beyond the arc.
"I think we’re getting good shots," Barrett said. "We’re getting really good shots, just got to knock them down. We’re not going to have our best shooting night, every single night. But just keep shooting."