Unlocking the potential of the Knicks’ last three lottery picks – Knox, RJ Barrett and Frank Ntilikina – are the primary goals of the 2021 season, every time it begins.
The start of it all are the organized team activities for the eight franchises that weren’t part of the Orlando bubble reboot.
After a week of “individual” training, the Knicks entered a bubble, locked in a hotel in Manhattan. Wednesday marked the first of at least a week of group practice at their Tarrytown campus.
“Kevin came in and did a lot of work,” Thibodeau said on a 16-minute Zoom call. “I’m getting to know him and he’s getting to know me and that will take time. But I like what he has done so far. ”
Bringing in Payne to reverse Knox’s career was a no-brainer, Thibodeau said. Knox’s second season was a mess, relegated to modest minutes, almost entirely off the bench.
According to sources, new Knicks vice-president William Wesley, who was intimately involved with John Calipari’s Kentucky program behind the scenes as a consultant, pushed very hard for Payne.
“Yeah, and not just with Kevin, but with all the players,” Thibodeau said of Payne’s influence on Knox. “Kenny is someone – I’ve known John Calipari for a long time and every year I get Kenny’s advice on all the draft candidates. I always thought he was very perceptive and he knew the players extremely well. So I thought when we got the chance to find it, it made a lot of sense on so many levels.
“Kenny is someone I’ve always talked to over the years of the upcoming draft, but I’ve never really seen him teach on the floor, but I’ve heard great things about him. ”
These OTAs are Thibodeau’s first chance to work with three new assistants he had never had on staff before.
Former jazz assistant Johnnie Bryant, known for his work with Utah star Donovan Mitchell, is a key cog in the Knicks’ new theme of emphasizing player development with fieldwork .
As reported by The Post, Bryant worked almost exclusively with Barrett, the No.3 pick in the 2019 draft who was snubbed from both league rookie teams.
While Knox could still be traded in a package for a superstar, Barrett is a staple piece.
“It was awesome,” Thibodeau said of his first impressions of the ex-Duke star. “Obviously there is a lot of work to be done. These are the first steps. The offseason is critical for any young player. So you can get started in development, which is essential. He was great, impatient. He works hard. If he does it day by day, he will improve a little.
Barrett’s shot percentages and advanced scan rate are poor. The 6-foot-7 guard shot just 61 percent from the free throw line and 40 percent from the field. When asked what he was working on with Barrett on, Thibodeau turned away.
“I think for all players the offseason is usually a time when you can add to your game,” said Thibodeau. “Whether you are a freshman, sophomore or 10 year old. You’re always trying to add and learn, that’s how you get better. ”
Bryant will be responsible for Barrett’s continuing education. Thibodeau first met Bryant when he visited Jazz during his hiatus after being laid off in Minnesota in January 2019.
“Johnnie is someone I got to know a little bit when I was traveling,” Thibodeau said. “I have great respect for the people of Utah. I worked with [GM] Dennis Lindsey in Houston, I got to know [Utah coach] Quin Snyder over the years and I have a lot of respect for what they have done. What stood out when I went to Utah and spent time with them was Johnnie’s ability to teach. So when I heard that we would have the opportunity to hire him, I left very impressed with him.
Thibodeau hosted a two-hour practice on Wednesday and is reviewing these voluntary OTAs as an extension of a shortened 2019-20 season. The Knicks last played on March 11.
The catch is that some veterans will be free agents and won’t be here next season. As such, some did not stick around after the “individual” training week, although free agents Bobby Portis and Taj Gibson did, according to a source. However, young center Mitchell Robinson left town for personal reasons.
Meanwhile, the start date for next season is announced – with dates ranging from January to March 1.
“We’ll find the things we’re really good at and build that way,” Thibodeau said. “But for now, we are still digging. We still don’t know what the staff will be and technically it’s still part of last year. We don’t know when training camp will take place. We therefore lock in the development aspect of the player. It’s a big challenge in the NBA – how fast can you adapt? “