By now, Tom Thibodeau has poured over hours of film and held numerous staff meetings breaking down each player, analyzing every small nuance to their game. He is attempting to fit together a basketball puzzle that has pieces with bent edges and faded images. He hopes that he can mash down the bent edges, polish up the faded images, and keep the new pieces from obtaining the same damage.
The New York Knicks will hit the hardwood for the first time in nine months against another NBA team, the Detroit Pistons. This game will be Thibodeau's first attempt at pulling together puzzle pieces that have been scattered across his kitchen table since hired on July 30th, 2020.
Usually, the first attempt at anything looks confusing and sloppy. These are my expectations for tomorrow's preseason game. Austin Rivers, Nerlens Noel, Micheal Kidd-Gilchrist, and Alec Burks all played in the Bubble and the NBA Playoffs. The remaining players on the Knicks haven't played a professional basketball game since March. We should expect to see a fair amount of rust, winded players, and reactions to the unusual atmosphere as there will be no fans in the stands due to COVID-19 rules.
After looking at his table of scattered puzzle pieces for the last week, Thibodeau will finally grab a few pieces and try to link them together to begin forming at least a portion of the picture on the cover of the box. That picture is the vision of team President Leon Rose.
When putting together a puzzle, after surveying your scattered mess, you find that many pieces have the same shape and will fit together with pieces of a linking shape. You grab a few pieces that seem to link only to realize that some are different parts of the picture. You keep those that fit and are part of a portion of the picture. Then you survey the table of scattered pieces and find another piece, then another and another.
What I described is Thibodeau's process of trying to make this roster work. He will trot out a starting five on Friday, a second five, and possibly a third five. Rest assured, these lineups might change throughout the season. Just like putting together a puzzle, he'll move players (pieces) to where they fit the best to form the picture on the box.
Until Rose can replace the bent and faded pieces he has scattered across the table, Thibodeau will do his best to piece together what might be a shabby but doable (for now) version of Rose's vision.
Tomorrow, Thibodeau begins with the first corner of the puzzle.