Evan Fournier had faced teams coached by Tom Thibodeau during his first nine seasons in the NBA before signing with the Knicks via free agency.
What does the $73 million shooting guard think now that he has spent a few weeks learning the defensive system of the reigning NBA Coach of the Year during their first training camp together?
“What’s different is that I’m doing the running now,” Fournier joked after practice Thursday in Tarrytown. “But facing Thibs, like I’ve said many times, it was always playing a team that’s very disciplined, that won’t beat themselves because they don’t make mistakes. You’re gonna have to beat them.
“Nights where they don’t make shots, they can still win because they’re always in the game with their defense and with their discipline, and hopefully we can be that team again this year.”
Replacing the departed Reggie Bullock and Elfrid Payton with Fournier and Kemba Walker should boost the Knicks offensively, but Fournier doesn’t believe his new team will forfeit the defensive identity built last season under Thibodeau.
“I think I’m a good defender, for sure. You can talk to coach Cliff about it,” Fournier said, referring to Steve Clifford, his former coach with the Magic. “There’s no doubt in my mind. I think defensively, the number one thing is knowing the job and to compete.
“I consider myself a guy that competes really hard, so I’m not concerned about the defense at all. Even as a unit, we’re gonna be good defensively. No doubt about that.”
Asked how Thibodeau conveys his defensive messaging to the team, Fournier added: “I think he’s exceptional in the work ethic that he installs in practice. … We’re all tired. We’re all working really hard, but he somehow makes it fun. He knows when to f–k around, joke, smile and bring a good and positive attitude. And he knows when to be tough, make sure we go harder, make sure we understand what he wants from us and he really demands us to give everything we have on each drill.”
Thibodeau hasn’t disclosed which veterans will be rested during Saturday’s preseason game in Washington, but acknowledged that not playing center Nerlens Noel in Tuesday’s opener against Indiana allowed him to give an extended look to rookie big man Jericho Sims, who finished with eight points and six rebounds in 24 minutes.
“That was great,” Thibodeau said. “He’s been here all summer, so he had a very productive summer. And then when the game unfolded, in some ways with Nerlens being out, it was an opportunity to get a good look at him and just let him get his feet wet.“As it is with most rookies, there were some really good things. There were some things that obviously he has to learn and get better at. But he’s a great kid, a great worker, and he’s added a lot to our practices. So it was good to see him out there.”