We can already stop speculating about the Knicks starting shooting guard.
Incumbent Evan Fournier was revealed as the frontrunner by Tom Thibodeau, who said Tuesday the lineup requires the Frenchman’s specialty.
“We need shooting,” Thibodeau said. “The one thing I know with [other starters Julius Randle, RJ Barrett and Jalen Brunson], we have to put shooting around them. [Center Mitchell Robinson] will give pressure around the rim. That’s what will force the defense to collapse. Evan’s proven — I thought the second half of last year he played really well. I like the depth we have at that position.”
So does that mean Fournier is the frontrunner?
“Yup,” Thibodeau replied.
It was a somewhat surprising development on the first day of training camp. Second-year guard Quentin Grimes is a Thibodeau favorite and considered a better defensive option than Fournier, especially with offensive-minded Jalen Brunson as the other starter in the backcourt.
But the Knicks plan to play at a faster pace this season and launch even more 3-pointers, as Thibodeau plans to continue to follow the NBA offensive trends.
“We became a top-10 in 3-point attempts last year. We went from [averaging] 30 to 37 per game,” Thibodeau said. “When you look at the playoffs, you look at the two teams that took biggest jumps in those areas — Dallas was one, they took more 3-pointers in the playoffs. And Boston as well. I think that’s the way the game is going. Continues to go that way.”
Thibodeau showed in his first season with the Knicks he can coach a stout defense without individual elite defenders. But they took a step back last season and Fournier acknowledged he struggled early.
“Last year, it took me a moment to really understand, ‘OK, what’s my role gonna be with this team? How can I help the guys and how can I be myself?” Fournier said. “I started the year very poorly defensively because I let my offense really impact my defense. I thought the end of the season was much better on both sides of the court. And I think it’s really gonna help me just knowing the guys. I’m gonna be myself. I’m gonna compete as hard as I can. I’m gonna be a good teammate.
“Because I was thinking about the offense and stuff, I played bad defense to start the year,” Fournier added. “That’s honestly a big mistake to make. It’s not this year at all. But once I found my place within the team, I thought everything was aligned and I started to play a lot better.”
Fournier, who is entering the second season of a three-year, $54 million contract, isn’t making predictions about chemistry with the new Knicks backcourt.
“We’re about to find out,” he said. “I mean, I’m serious. It’s so hard to predict anything. [Brunson’s] obviously a good player. He can really drive the ball. He’s strong and physical. He’s another weapon offensively, so that’s good. But finishing games, especially you talked about being organized — it’s not necessarily about talent. It’s more about being on the same page.”