Taj Gibson started all four of the Knicks’ preseason games, and he just may be tabbed to do so — or at least retain an expanded role — in their season opener Wednesday against the Celtics.
Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau declared Sunday that last year’s primary starter Nerlens Noel is doubtful for Game 1 after sitting out the entire preseason slate with knee and hamstring issues.
“You can only base it on where we are right now, so I would say doubtful [for Wednesday],” Thibodeau said about the expected availability of Noel, who did not practice with the team Sunday in Tarrytown. “We feel like we have good quality depth. This is part of the NBA, you have guys out, and that next guy has to be ready, he’s got to step in and get the job done.”
Rehabbed big man Mitchell Robinson played 27 minutes in Friday’s preseason finale against the Wizards in his first game action since undergoing foot surgery in March.
Asked if the 7-footer is ready to handle a starting role or a heavier workload, Thibodeau said the Knicks have been “pleasantly surprised” at the 23-year-old center’s progress — but declined to divulge his lineup or rotation plans.
“He’s really done a good job, to his credit, of practicing well, coming back at night and getting a second workout in,” Thibodeau said. “But he has to be out there taking on contact, and doing that sort of thing. That’s going to take some time, but we really like where he is.”
While the Knicks never have said so publicly, Gibson later revealed that Robinson suffered “a setback” at some point during his rehab from foot surgery.
Just as he stepped in last year with Robinson sidelined, the dependable Gibson long ago established trust with Thibodeau, who he previously played for in Chicago and Minnesota.
“The moment I came into the league, Thibs has always had me in different situation,” said Gibson, who is entering his 13th NBA season. “He’s always prepared me for starting, coming off the bench. He didn’t want me to just be a guy floating. He always told me to have my head on a swivel, always be ready, always be professional and work will handle the rest.
“I’ve been playing with these guys for a while now. Whatever the game throws at me, I’m able to adjust.”
One adjustment the 36-year-old Brooklyn native is attempting to make in the latter stages of his career is to become more of a threat from 3-point range. Gibson has attempted just 133 shots from long distance, and he’s made just 21.8 percent during his career.
“Taj has always been a pretty good shooter, but it was more of a mid-range shot and he stretched it out to the corners,” Thibodeau said. “He’s always had [a] good touch. Now he’s comfortable, he’s put a lot of extra work into it. And what you’re seeing — and we see him shoot threes in practice all the time — is, he’s very confident.
“I think most players, the more time you put into it, that’s where your confidence comes from. So if he’s open, let it go.”
Noel’s injury provided the Knicks an opportunity to take a long look at rookie big man Jericho Sims, who has made the initial 15-man roster. Thibodeau also utilized a smaller lineup in the fourth quarter of Friday’s comeback win against Washington, using Julius Randle at center with Obi Toppin at power forward.
“Yeah, just to change the game. We have good depth,” Thibodeau said. “I think rim protection is important, but sometimes, you have to inject more energy, speed. So, it’s something that I think the way Obi has grown, I think it will allow us to do that more.”