Tom Thibodeau returned to Chicago for two games with the Knicks, generating plenty of reminders of the five seasons he spent there coaching the Bulls from 2010-2015.
With that in mind, Thibodeau offered an interesting answer when asked Wednesday if he believed the Knicks’ Mitchell Robinson can develop into a well-rounded center the way Joakim Noah morphed from a defense-minded player to an MVP candidate for the Bulls under his tutelage.
“Every player is different. Mitch has different strengths,” Thibodeau said before Robinson contributed eight points and 11 rebounds to the Knicks’ 107-103 victory Wednesday night at United Center. “The growth part of Joakim’s game was great.
“He started off as a defensive player, an energy guy, a guy who ran the floor well. And actually, when Derrick [Rose] got hurt, we ran the offense through him. He was an excellent passer, decision maker, very good with dribble handoffs and I think that’s a part of Mitch’s game that can grow. And so we’ll challenge him in that way.”
Obi Toppin was pulled from Monday’s loss at Chicago because of a lapse on defense, but Thibodeau said he believes the rookie forward has made “steady strides” defensively this season.
Toppin, the eighth overall pick in the 2020 draft, played only nine and 10 minutes respectively, off the bench in the two straight games against the Bulls. He scored all five of his points in Wednesday’s second quarter.
“I think for any rookie coming in it’s a different game so you have to learn the NBA game, you have to learn your opponents, you have to learn your own teammates, your system, and I actually think he’s playing well,” Thibodeau said. “I think the injury has set him back some, but I like what he’s doing in practice, I like the way he’s approaching things. I think his athleticism is a big asset for us.”