New Knicks head coach Tom Thibodeau is portrayed by opposing coaches as a defensive chess master and sensational game planner. He has creative moves to stop your best player and best play. He demands his players talk it up on defense. And to boot, he’s always adding defensive wrinkles for the next meeting.
Thibodeau’s philosophy on guarding the NBA’s most popular play — the pick-and-roll — has many varieties, depending on the talents of the two offensive players involved.
His critics contend his philosophy of protecting the paint and penetration at all costs is outdated in the 3-ball NBA. But if Thibodeau’s Minnesota teams dipped statistically on defense, it wasn’t because his young Wolves weren’t prepared for every scenario.
“Before you get to Tom’s coverages and defending elite players, it always starts with how good are your basic principles,’’ Orlando coach Steve Clifford told The Post. “Individual defenses, help defense, pick-and-roll coverages, catch-and-shoot, transition defense and rebounding. That’s where his team has always been exceptional.’’
Thibodeau, who officially will be named Knicks head coach as soon as Thursday, should work quickly with his new players. The “Delete 8” clubs are expected to be granted minicamp/OTAs in mid-August. But the real defensive lessons come when training camp opens in November.
“It’s the communication and connectivity on the court by the players that Tom installs from the first day in training camp and that his teams practice every day,’’ one veteran NBA assistant coach told The Post. “They do certain drills almost every day to teach a system of communication and connectivity. Every scenario that could happen is taught in training camp. It’s been thought about all summer long, put on paper so there is no confusion. That’s the importance of Thibodeau’s staff watching a ton of film so the player understands what exactly is needed. That is as important in his player development program as anything.’’
Coaches say nobody does it better than Thibodeau in limiting the opposing team’s superstar.
“I think Tom’s genius defensively is he takes away teams’ strengths, he communicates to his team in a precise and concise manner, he demands effort, attention to detail, and early and loud defensive communication,’’ said Jeff Van Gundy, who hired Thibodeau as a Knicks assistant in 1996. “He knows the opponents personnel thoroughly, and he has the right amount of schemes when he needs to go to Plan B.”
“It’s the game planning,’’ added Clifford, an assistant with Thibodeau in New York and Houston. “When you play against his teams, they’re going to make it harder for your team to play to its strengths. They’re going to be locked into your key player and key play and make you get to the next option a lot more than other teams do.
“You’re not going to get easy baskets in transition. You’re not going to get those system…