Home Sports Tom Thibodeau hints at shift in Knicks’ G-League stance

Tom Thibodeau hints at shift in Knicks’ G-League stance

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Judging by Tom Thibodeau’s remarks Thursday, the Knicks’ policy on using their G-League Westchester Knicks could shift.

During his Zoom introductory call, Thibodeau said if a young prospect isn’t getting sufficient playing time, there may be reason to explore sending him to the G-League.

“I think game-time is important,’’ Thibodeau said. “So if a young player is not getting the appropriate amount of time to develop, we’ll utilize the G-League. That’s become an important part of our league. We’ll certainly take advantage of that.’’

There was an irony to Thibodeau’s statement. The idea of using the G-League Knicks to give massive minutes to lottery picks such as Dennis Smith Jr., Kevin Knox, Frank Ntilikina became the root of a debate between Craig Robinson, the team’s former vice president of player development/G-League operations, and Knicks GM Scott Perry, The Post has learned.

Robinson, brother of former First Lady Michelle Obama, left the Knicks in mid-July to become the head of the National Association of Basketball Coaches. Robinson’s contract was to expire in August and he was not expected to return under the new regime. Robinson and ousted president Steve Mills were former Princeton teammates and close friends.

Tom Thibodeau
Tom ThibodeauAP

According to an NBA source familiar with the situation, Robinson lobbied to have the Knicks’ top prospects who weren’t getting enough NBA time to spend a few games — or weeks — in the G-League to gain rhythm and grow confidence.

Perry rejected the notion, feeling it would be perceived as too big a demotion and felt practice time as well as being around NBA coaches was more vital, according to a source. Robinson’s counter was that during the NBA season, practice time and scrimmages are limited.

There were plenty of opportunities for Smith, Ntilikina and Knox to play for Westchester. Robinson felt that would be a healthy aspect of their development, according to the source.

In 2019-20, Smith saw two big layoffs. In October, he left the club for three weeks after his stepmother passed away. That was followed by sitting out more than a month with an oblique injury. Smith was also in and out of the rotation upon his return and his season turned into a mess.

Ntilikina, too, has not always been a key fixture in the rotation in his first three seasons. In addition, Knox, faced with limited playing time in his second season, struggled massively with a demotion to the bench.

Those three combined to play zero games in the G-League — which may or may not have stunted their growth.

Robinson had pushed for Courtney Lee and Joakim Noah to make rehab appearances in Westchester. That was approved by Perry. In addition, second-round picks, Damyean Dotson and Ignas Brazdeikis, saw their share of G-League action. Brazdeikis played 24 games for Westchester as a rookie.

This apparent change in philosophy — if adopted — could have a large impact in 2020-21. The Knicks have three picks in the top 37, their own lottery pick, the Clippers’ first-rounder and Charlotte’s second-round pick.

Thibodeau has a track record of not overplaying his rookies. So theoretically, Westchester could be an occasional landing spot to try to speed up their player development.

It is unclear if Robinson’s position will be filled by team president Leon Rose. According a league source, the franchise might want more of an on-court player development coach than Robinson was.

Robinson had more of an executive role as Mills designed it three years ago and the former Oregon State coach didn’t do on-court work with the players.

However, Robinson was known to take out a lot of the players to dinner on the road to instill trust, goodwill and get to know them better. Perhaps that was what he was referring to when he talked about the “special sauce’’ the franchise was using in its player development.

The Post has reported assistant to the GM Allan Houston would take on more of an on-court player-developmental role and that Rod Strickland has been considered for a G-League/player development role.

Thibodeau made reference to the situation when asked his view of player development. Houston played for the Knicks when Thibodeau was the top assistant. Thibodeau was not asked specifically about Robinson’s departure.

“In some cases the player development guys are the guys you get out on the floor,’’ Thibodeau said. “If you have some older players on your roster, you tend to go with more player development guys so the younger guys can get the work they need [if they’re not playing]. But I think we’ll look at our roster. We have a very young team. We have to prioritize that.”

Perry, who was on the Zoom call, stressed player development as a part of Thibodeau’s new staff.

“Based on the conversations that we’ve had, this staff will be diverse and very strong in all areas, especially in player development,’’ Perry said.

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