NEW ORLEANS — Pelicans coach Stan Van Gundy said an unheralded factor in the Knicks’ emergence this season was having what he referred to as “an extra training camp’’ in late summer for new coach Tom Thibodeau to get in his system.
Though it came before free agency and the draft in late September/early October, the Knicks and the so-called “Delete 8’’ staged nearly two weeks of organized team activities. Van Gundy said the Knicks kept most of those players around who participated in the OTAs.
Van Gundy, who, like his brother, Jeff, is a friend of Thibodeau’s, said the 2019-20 Knicks season was marred by David Fizdale’s early firing, wrecking continuity.
This Knicks campaign couldn’t have gone any more different from a stability standpoint and continued rolling along with their fourth straight victory, 116-106, over the Pelicans Wednesday.
“Tom got that little extra training camp un the summer with the bubble to start putting things together so he got a little more time,’’ Van Gundy said. “So they stayed doing the same thing all year. That actual helps, guys, when players in play the same system all year. Continuity is a helpful thing and Tom’s a great coach and they’ve been able to learn the system and play the system from the summer to training camp into the season.’’
As a new coach, Van Gundy didn’t have that time because the Pelicans were in the Orlando bubble with former coach Alvin Gentry. Van Gundy clarified that it was fair for the “Delete 8’’ teams to have those OTAs because their seasons were cut short.
Thibodeau said the OTAs were helpful to build “relationships’’ between the new coaching staff, front office and players more than anything.
The Knicks are 29-27, and Van Gundy said they are “playing as good as any team in the East.’’ He isn’t surprised at the record or that they’ve become “a throwback to the 1990s with low-scoring games.’’ Similar to his brother’s squads when Thibodeau was his assistant.
“I’m not really surprised,’’ Van Gundy said. “I don’t know why everyone is surprised. If you look at the East, their talent certainly matches up with the middle of the East. I don’t look at the team and say got they have nobody. Their talent is pretty good certainly compared to the middle of the pack in the East. I’m not quite sure why everyone is surprised but whatever.’’
Julius Randle continued his dominance with 32 points, making five 3-pointers. Van Gundy said he’s gone from a “great scorer to a great all-around player, one of the best forwards in the league.’’
“It was his five 3s that hurt us,’’ he said. “The difference in the game is 3-point shooting. Our 3-point shooting wasn’t good enough.’’
Nerlens Noel was a late scratch with a ankle sprain, forcing Norvel Pelle into backup duty at center. He performed well, blocking a Zion Williamson shot and scoring his first two baskets in 14 minutes.
Thibodeau said he’s not troubled by the play-in tournament, which came under attack recently by Dallas owner Mark Cuban. The seeds from 7-10 have to stage a mini tourney to qualify for the playoffs.
“There’s a lot of benefits to it,’’ Thibodeau said. “It depends on what perspective you’re looking at it from. We have to let it play out first and assess it then. A lot of teams being involved in important games is good for the league.’’
The Knicks will face the Mavericks and Kristaps Porzingis next on the two-game road trip Friday.