Knicks’ Derrick Rose, Tom Thibodeau Still Evolving Together

Tom Thibodeau cutting exercise too short? Derrick Rose emerging as a wise veteran leader?

Just a few years ago, those ideas would have sounded ridiculous. Rose’s first tenure with the Knicks, in 2016/17, was an uneven season in which he lost AWOL. Thibodeau flopped in more than two seasons with the Timberwolves (2016-19) after assaulting a young roster including Rose for a total of 41 games.

But in their latest breakout together, the Knicks version of the odd couple — head coach and point guard — seems to have evolved.

“He throws me out sometimes too,” Rose admitted on Friday. “You never know. If anything, guys are seeing a different side of him this year, seeing him actually joke or open up. … He didn’t before.”

Of course Rose would know. He now played for Thibodeau with three different organizations: the Bulls, Timberwolves and Knicks. He entered the competition as a freak athlete who was faster than everyone else, able to get on the track at will. Several injuries and several years later he is not the same player. But Rose can still be effective, a nod to the tweaks he’s made to his game and his dramatically improved jump shot. His signing last February was pivotal in the build-up to the Knicks postseason.

New York Knicks Head Coach Tom Thibodeau and New York Knicks Derrick Rose #4
Tom Thibodeau and Derrick Rose make up the Knicks version of the odd couple.
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“I’ve learned that probably in my ninth or tenth year, just by playing with different speeds and understanding, I don’t have to go 100 percent or 90 percent. [every play]’ said Rose. “By adjusting my speeds and understanding, I can set people up in different ways. It just uses my speed every time.”

Thibodeau could also adjust his pace from time to time. On Friday, he ended training early because he felt the players could use a light day less than two weeks before the start of the regular season. Known as a demanding discipline, it was a sign that Thibodeau is adapting, as Rose has done. The veteran point guard shared how different and how much faster the game is now compared to when he entered the NBA 13 years ago. Obviously, less can be more.

“Guys need that recovery, and you need that energy to get out there and play the way the game is played now,” said 33-year-old Rose. “That he’s aware of it, that’s the most important thing. Sometimes you want something so badly that you overlook the nuances of what got you there. That he’s aware of it and being able to catch it, I think it’s huge for the team.”

That’s not to say Thibodeau has gone soft. Knicks newcomer Evan Fournier previously said this training camp reminds him of his first nine years ago, when George Karl was his coach with the Nuggets. It has an “old school” feel to it, in terms of the attention to detail, intensity and exercises that the Knicks perform. Thibodeau still puts in extremely long hours, and last year’s stars – Julius Randle and RJ Barrett – were among the leaders in minutes played.

In the opening preseason game, his starters recorded big minutes for an exhibition game, with the first five all playing at least 21 minutes. And Rose was quick to point out that Thibodeau is just as fixated on the final result as he was with the Bulls in their first attempt together, from 2010-15.

“Sometimes Thibs will make you feel like he wants to win more than you do,” Rose said.

Yet both have changed somewhat. Rose is now the veteran rookies and young players that young players look up to, a guard who has lost some of his elite athleticism and learned to maximize his skills. Obi Toppin has repeatedly credited Rose for helping to develop confidence during his difficult rookie season. Thibodeau is the coach who wants his team to take more three-pointers, show the players a lighter side and had the foresight to take his foot off the gas on Friday.

Together, they helped the Knicks overcome an eight-year playoff drought. Now this strange couple is hoping for even more success.

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