As the Knicks have ascended in the standings, there has been a clear contrast in styles on the sideline. Coach Tom Thibodeau maintains a combustible, sometimes frantic effort that exceeds even the passion he demands from his players. And just a few feet away, Theo Pinson leads a cheerleading bench squad through a series of celebrations.
Pinson said that although it may look different, they are on the same page.
"Multiple times this year he’s already emphasized how much he loved the togetherness of the bench," Pinson said. "He says it brings energy to the guys on the floor.
"It’s something that I guess everyone has embraced. It’s something that our teammates on the court feel. So if it’s something that I know that’s helping the team, I’m going to do it. And another thing is it’s not like an act, like I plan these things. This is just who I am."
Thibodeau also knows that Pinson, who spent two seasons with the Nets after going undrafted out of the University of North Carolina, provides more than just enthusiastic cheering.
Tutored by Jared Dudley in Brooklyn, Pinson studies game film even if his opportunities to get on the floor are rare. When the Knicks come to the bench for a timeout or a player comes out of the game, the 25-year-old wing will offer constructive criticism that he believes will help.
"Honestly, I just try to do whatever I can," Pinson said. "By playing the game and being involved with those situations last year and throughout my college career, just to have an extra voice out there to help you out because I know when you get tired, you start losing focus a little bit.
"You might forget a coverage, and when you got somebody as loud as I am, I can project myself and help them out a little bit, I think it goes a long way.
"Jared Dudley helped me out a lot my rookie year. Having a vet like that and being one of those vocal leaders for us when I was in Brooklyn my rookie year was very helpful for me. So I think I took a lot from him, and just understanding, again, watching the game.
"I think when my opportunity comes, I’ll be ready just because I’m not just sitting on the bench cheering. I’m actually giving constructive criticism and trying to help my teammates out."
His exuberance has become contagious, with the Knicks’ bench crew resembling a college or high school team by staging a series of celebrations for three-point field goals, dunks or defensive stops. They rush to help up a fallen teammate and celebrate a moment as enthusiastically as the fans.
"You love it," said Derrick Rose, who comes off the bench but spends much of the game on the floor. "They always hear certain things and I mean, it’s connecting. You need everyone from the starters all the way down to the last one. Having everybody on the same page. And I want to let them go.
"Everybody’s hungry. Everybody’s trying to get better. Everybody’s for the betterment of the team, and that’s what you see."
"It’s great. You can see so much energy," RJ Barrett said. "You can feel the love from the teammates, whether I’m on the bench or they’re cheering us on. It’s great all around, from top to bottom."