Knicks’ Derrick Rose, Tom Thibodeau still evolving together

Tom Thibodeau cutting practice short? Derrick Rose emerging as a sage veteran leader?

Only a few years ago, those ideas would have sounded preposterous. Rose’s first tenure with the Knicks, in 2016-17, was an uneven season that included him going AWOL. Thibodeau flopped in two-plus seasons with the Timberwolves (2016-19) after mishandling a young roster, which included Rose for a total of 41 games.

But in their latest go-around together, the Knicks’ version of the odd couple — head coach and point guard — appear to have evolved.

“He throws me off sometimes, too,” Rose admitted on Friday. “You never know. If anything, guys are seeing a different side of him this year, seeing him actually crack jokes or open up. … Back in the day, he wasn’t doing that.”

Rose would obviously know. He has played for Thibodeau now with three different organizations: the Bulls, Timberwolves and Knicks. He came into the league a freak athlete who was faster than everyone, able to get into the lane at will. Several injuries and several years later, he isn’t the same player. But Rose can still be effective, a nod to the adjustments he has made in his game and his drastically improved jump shot. His acquisition last February was pivotal in the Knicks’ run to the postseason.

Tom Thibodeau and Derrick Rose make up the Knicks version of the odd couple.
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“I learned that probably in my ninth or 10th year of just playing with different speeds and understanding I don’t have to go 100 percent or 90 percent [every play],” Rose said. “Adjusting my speeds and understanding I can set up people in different ways. It’s just using my quickness every time.”

Thibodeau might be altering his pace, too, on occasion. On Friday, he ended practice early, sensing the players could use a light day less than two weeks before the start of the regular season. Known as a demanding disciplinarian, it was a sign that Thibodeau is adjusting, as Rose has done. The veteran point guard talked about how different and how much faster the game is now compared to when he entered the NBA 13 years ago. Clearly, less can be more.

“Guys need that recovery, and you need that energy to go out there and play the way the game is played now,” the 33-year-old Rose said. “Him being aware of it, that’s the biggest thing. Sometimes, you want something so bad you overlook the nuances of what got you there. For him to be aware of it, and 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 one 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 drills the Knicks run. Thibodeau stills keeps extremely long hours, and last year’s stars — Julius Randle and RJ Barrett — were among the league leaders in minutes played.

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

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

Still, both have changed somewhat. Rose is now the veteran rookies and young players look up to, a guard who has lost some of his elite athleticism and has learned to maximize his ability. Obi Toppin has repeatedly credited Rose with helping him develop confidence during his trying rookie season. Thibodeau is the coach who wants his team to take more 3-pointers, is showing players a lighter side and had the foresight to take his foot off the gas Friday.

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

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