Tom Thibodeau’s strategy to drive Knicks with analytics


During his unemployment after his Minnesota stint, Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau visited MIT’s famous Sloan Analytics Conference, led by former Rockets/current Sixers GM Daryl Morey.

Thibodeau, who worked under Morey in Houston, has embraced the world of analytics despite his old-school reputation. A fastidious preparer, the 62-year-old coach regards the analytic of net efficiency as his most important barometer — combining the critical offensive stat with the critical defensive stat into one number.

The theorem combines a team’s points per 100 possessions, minus the opponent’s points per possession. In their 3-1 preseason, the Knicks finished fifth in net efficiency.

“Analytics has given us a lot of information,’’ Thibodeau said. “We’re always looking at the numbers and refer to our eyes, observation and what the coaches are talking about and the numbers will either confirm those things that you’re thinking or give you pause to rethink things.

“When you think about it, the net efficiency is probably the biggest thing because you want to be strong on both sides of the ball,’’ Thibodeau added. “So you’re striving to be a top-10 team in points per possession offensively and points per possession defensively.’’

Tom Thibodeau
Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau
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Knicks president Leon Rose bolstered the analytics department with hires of Sean MacLean, a Wharton product who was a treasury analyst for Capital One Bank, and Kelsey Roberts, who worked with the Pacers.

Other analytic formulas Thibodeau is attuned to is rebounding percentages, turnover efficiency and sabermetrics on the type of shots at which the team excels.

Analyzing preseason numbers — four games against two bottom-dwelling teams — is not always the best indicator. The Pistons and Cavaliers are expected to be watching the lottery pingpong balls bounce this spring. The Cavaliers didn’t play their top players, including Kevin Love.

“That’s exactly what it is — preseason,’’ Thibodeau said. “Teams are experimenting with a lot of different things and not playing their whole roster like a regular-season game. So it’s a whole different level you have to go to in the regular season. We have to understand that. What we’re locked into is our daily improvement and be ready for Indiana when it opens up.

“You’re 0-0 now,’’ Thibodeau added.

The first group practice wasn’t until Dec. 6.

“It’s been basically two weeks,’’ Thibodeau said. “It comes up fast. It’s how quickly can we all adapt. Defensively we made some good strides, but we’ll be tested in a lot of different ways as you move forward. Indiana is a very tough team, particularly at home. We’ll have to be ready to play for 48 minutes.’’

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