In his return to Chicago, where he began his NBA head coaching career, Tom Thibodeau was reminded of the restaurants that he missed — and that missed his business. But he was also reminded of the players who helped make his five seasons with the Bulls a successful run.
It was Derrick Rose who was his most notable player and a reminder of the Knicks desperate efforts to fill the point guard vacancy that has plagued the franchise. But Thibodeau spoke Wednesday about the player who Knicks’ fans are familiar with, one who was under MVP consideration when he took over as Rose struggled with injuries — Joakim Noah.
He is a long way from the playmaker that Noah was, but Thibodeau sounded optimistic that like Noah, who progressed from a defense-first talent, Mitchell Robinson can become a more well-rounded force in the middle.
"Every player is different," Thibodeau said. "Mitch has different strengths. The growth part of Joakim’s game was great. He started off as a defensive player, an energy guy, a guy who ran the floor well. And actually, when Derrick got hurt we ran the offense through him. He was an excellent passer, decision maker, very good with dribble handoffs and I think that’s a part of Mitch’s game that can grow.
"And so we’ll challenge him in that way. But I like the way Mitch has been approaching things. He’s worked very hard in practice. And the fact that he’s showing he’s willing to work I think he’s going to get better and better."
He is a long way off from that, with just 10 assists in 635 minutes entering Wednesday’s game. Noah never averaged less than one assist per game (other than a seven-game stretch with the Knicks in 2017-18) and topped out at 5.4 assists per game in 2013-14.