Tom Thibodeau makes adjustments to jump-start Knicks starters

Backup point guard Derrick Rose saw something from the first unit in Sunday’s practice that looked different. And better. 

The Knick’ starting five is under the gun — holding the worst plus-minus in the league as a quintet. The minus-76 would rank as worst in NBA history if the season ended after 13 games. 

“We had a great practice today, a great practice,” Rose said. 

In an attempt to juice the quintet of Kemba Walker, Evan Fournier, RJ Barrett, Julius Randle and Mitchell Robinson, Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau installed a little more play structure and less freelancing on Sunday. That freelancing mode may have resulted in an offense Fournier referred to as “stagnant.”

“The first group, they were doing a lot of play sets, moving the ball from one side to another, finding each other, talking,” Rose said. “That’s what we need. Especially on the road in the hostile environment where it’s hard. You got to be able to communicate and talk and be on the same page. That’s what we need.”

Thibodeau sounded like he is close, but not quite ready, to making a move if things don’t improve with the starting five as the Knicks (7-6) open a three-game homestand Monday versus Indiana. After rough losses to the Bucks and Charlotte, the Knicks are 2-5 following a 5-1 start. 

Knicks head coach Tom Thibodeau

“You want to make sure there’s a large enough sample size to tell you something,” Thibodeau said. “The first thing you ask [is] are we playing hard enough and executing properly? If what we’re doing is not good enough, that’s when you change.”

When asked directly by The Post if he’s mulling a lineup change for Monday’s game, Thibodeau said “no” but then added he had “a right to change my mind” in the near future. 

The bench brigade — led by the backcourt of Rose and Immanuel Quickley — has carried the Knicks in recent weeks. The lack of chemistry between Walker and Randle, who both need the ball, is becoming evident. 

“It’s easy to nitpick,” Thibodeau said. “In all fairness to Julius and Kemba, because of who they are, they probably get the brunt of what’s going on. The reality is we have to play well together as a group. It’s not one, two guys. We can say new guys, old guys. We can say first unit, second unit. We can say Kemba. The whole thing is we need our team as everyone together. That’s where the focus has to lie.” 

Thibodeau flashed his anger after the home loss to the Bucks on Wednesday in his “bunch of bulls—” rant about the premise the starting five needs more time to jell because of its newness. 

Rose thinks there is merit to that theory, noting Robinson should be considered a new starter along with Walker and Fournier because he missed the second half of last season. 

Knicks guard Derrick Rose looks dejected after a loss to the Milwaukee Bucks on Nov. 10, 2021 at Madison Square Garden.
Derrick Rose
Getty Images

“It’s three new pieces trying to feel each other out and not step on toes,” Rose said. “It’s early in the year. They should be able to figure things out. Overthinking, you make everything different. You could be a writer and get writer’s block, thinking too much. Just like in the game, it’s how you should react.”

If the starters get on a roll, then Sunday’s Tarrytown practice will go down as a turning point. 

The Knicks coach seems aware the club is at a crossroads after 13 games. 

“There’s going to be stretches when you’re playing well,” Thibodeau said. “Stretches when you’re not. That’s part of navigating a season to be mentally tough when you face adversity and how we get through things.”

The Knicks are also finding their identity. The second unit plays with more speed with Rose pushing the ball more than Walker and Obi Toppin is a racehorse off the bench. In preseason, Thibodeau talked about picking up the pace for 48 minutes. 

“We have to figure things out how we’re going to play,” Rose said unsolicited. “Are we going to run and be a fast-paced team or going to be a half-court team. It’s still early in the year to figure it out.”


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