Tom Thibodeau coached Jimmy Butler at the start of the guard’s career in Chicago and later traded for him in Minnesota.
The six-time All-Star is among Thibodeau’s favorite players, so any comparison he makes involving newly acquired Knicks guard Josh Hart should not be taken lightly.
“Watching Jimmy in college, and the things he did at Marquette, Josh reminded me of that,” Thibodeau said after Monday’s win over the Nets. “The things that [Hart] did at Villanova, there’s just something about him. Those types of players, they give your team heart, they give your team toughness, and that goes a long way.”
Of course, Butler is a far more accomplished player at both ends of the court, with five All-Defensive team nods and a scoring average of 21.9 points per game over a dozen NBA seasons.
Still, Hart has provided the traits Thibodeau mentioned for the Knicks off the bench in his first two games following a trade ahead of last week’s deadline from Portland. The guard has totaled 38 points, including 6-for-9 on 3-point attempts, with five steals in two victories ahead of Wednesday’s game in Atlanta.
Hart only had been connecting on 30.4 percent from long distance this season with the Trail Blazers, but Thibodeau added that the six-year veteran has an “ultra green” light to shoot from the outside.
“I know the teams that I’ve been with since he’s been in the league, we’ve always had interest in him,” Thibodeau said. “If you coach against or you play against him, those are the types of guys that you respect. You respect a fierce competitor. Obviously, he’s got great talent. He wouldn’t be here without great talent. But his competitive spirit is special.”
Starting small forward RJ Barrett endured a second straight terrible first half with no points, rebounds or assists and five straight missed shots before finishing Monday’s game with four points in 24 minutes. He had managed just three points through two quarters the previous game Saturday against Utah, though he contributed 17 after halftime in that win over the Jazz.
Barrett’s 24 minutes on the court represented his lowest total since he logged 20 on Dec. 3, not counting when he left the Knicks’ loss in Dallas on Dec. 27 in the opening minutes with a lacerated finger. He is 9-for-38 (23.7 percent) from beyond the arc in his past seven games.