New York’s 2017 second-round pick, Damyean Dotson, has all the makings to emulate Miami heat guard Josh Richardson’s game. The next step? Importing a system developed by former Miami assistant coach—and new Knicks head coach—David Fizdale.
New Knicks Head Coach David Fizdale has inherited a roster with a crowded backcourt and a long list of development projects. Damyean Dotson is no doubt far down Fizdale’s priority list behind higher-profile lottery picks Trey Burke, Emmanuel Mudiay, and Frank Ntilikina—but the Knicks other rookie could be a perfect fit for Fizdale and his vision for the team.
Fizdale is making no secret of the type of system he wants his new-look Knicks to run. A fast paced, three-point shooting, defensive minded system executed by a hard-nosed group of finely tuned athletes. Sound familiar? It should. Fizdale is airlifting his vision directly from his former stomping ground down in Miami, where he and his buddy Erik Spoelstra, head coach of the Heat, successfully built said system from the ground up.
Josh Richardson, a 24-year-old, 6-6 winger finishing up his third season with the Heat, is the embodiment of the system Spoelstra has created down in South Beach—and the system Fizdale wants to import to New York. Richardson is an elite defender. He switches one-through-four with ease, blocks shots, and gobbles steals as the fulcrum of an aggressive defensive unit. Beyond cramming the stats sheet, he’s a master of the minutiae of defense—generating deflections, tagging rollers, helping without over-helping, and closing out on shooters without giving up driving lanes. Add it all up, and you’ve got a legitimate First Team All-Defense candidate.
Defense is his forte, but he’s no offensive slouch. Richardson shot a scorching 46.1 percent from three his rookie season, regressed to 33 percent with much higher usage his sophomore campaign, and leveled out this year at 37.8 percent on 4.1 attempts per game—a better than average clip. Continuing to evolve this season, the 3-and-D specialist has started to developed a nice in-between game with floaters and mid-range jumpers. Along with flashing solid play-making on kick-outs to corner shooters.
Part long-range sniper, part defensive Swiss Army knife; Richardson is the perfect NBA wing. This is no accident. Spoelstra knows the type of player that can excel in the modern game and he patented his teams basketball philosophy around a simple trio of skillsets—shooting, defense, and athleticism that collectively amount to basketball versatility. Versatility, in essence, is the absence of exploitable weaknesses coupled with the ability to exploit weaknesses in your opponent. This is exactly the player-type that Coach Fizdale wants in New York.
Many of the Knick guards don’t come close to ticking the right boxes. Mudiay, despite still being young, and publicly talked-up by Fizdale, is a terrible shooter as well as a terrible defender. Trey Burke lacks the size to viably switch across multiple positions, and still needs to prove he can sustain his offensive explosion at the end of last season beyond the always murky statistical waters of early spring when various “capital-T” Tanks warp everything.
Ntilikina ticks all the boxes if you are (like me) of the opinion that his shooting numbers as a rookie will prove to be misrepresentative of his shooting ability long term, based largely on his textbook shooting form, and gym-rat work ethic. His defensive and athletic potential is undeniable, and viewed through the long-term lens of a Miami-esque system, frankly, is mouth watering.
Tim Hardaway Jr. is an athletic, sharpshooting wing who struggles defensively, but shot a career-low 32 percent from deep last season in an uneven year. Under the guidance of the enigmatic Fizdale, the Knicks will be hopeful that THJ can bounce back next year in a more regimented system, similar to the environment in the 2016–17 season playing for Mike Budenholzer and the Atlanta Hawks, where he had a career year that earned him a big contract and a ticket back to the Big Apple.
Damyean Dotson, dubbed the “other” rookie this year as a result of the limelight given to lottery pick Ntilikina, is the other guy that could fit Fizdale’s blueprint. There are a lot of similarities between Dotson and Richardson. Both 6-foot-6, both second-rounders picked 44th and 40th, respectively, both spent four years in college and were drafted on their 3-and-D potential. Dotson (38 percent, 6.9 rebounds, 1.1 assists) shot better than Richardson (32 percent, 4.5 rebounds, 3.6 assists) from three over their college careers, and was an elite rebounder for a guard, whilst Richardson had the edge as a passer—but both were clearly 3-and-D archetypes, nonetheless.
Damyean Dotson had a career night in the Knicks win over Miami. And it wasn’t just hot shooting; he turned defense into offense, moved well without the ball, and rebounded (@TheKnicksWall) pic.twitter.com/VDNJbiE3jW
— Knicks Film School (@KnickFilmSchool) April 7, 2018
Dotson showed flashes of potential in limited and inconsistent minutes this season, so it’s impossible to draw watertight conclusions of his NBA pedigree, but the flashes are reason enough to give the potentially dynamic Dotson a chance to display his skills in real and regular NBA minutes. Time will tell if he’ll get this chance, but given how much his theoretical skillset dovetails with Fizdale’s theoretical vision, he could move up the crowded pecking order pretty quickly. Depth is a good problem for rosters to have up until the point that it hinders development, and Fizdale will have some interesting decisions to make after a likely early season feeling out process in finding his preferred rotation.
Dotson’s most blatant and emphatic claim to be given an opportunity, came in a career night he had, fittingly, against Richardson and the Miami Heat on the April 6th, where he poured in 30 points and snatched 11 rebounds—the first Knick rookie to do so since Patrick Ewing. Richardson only played 20 minutes that night, and like the rest of the Heat squad was lethargic throughout, having clinched a playoff spot in the previous game. Nevertheless, Dotson devoured the rare opportunity to show what he could do.
One avenue to free up some playing time would be if Fizdale liked the look of some super small lineups with a wing at the four-spot. Dotson’s big night against Miami actually included some time at power forward, which is encouraging, and is a lineup where the rookies elite rebounding can mitigate the downside on the defensive glass of going small. The 6-foot-6 Dotson plays bigger than his height, snatching 14.9 percent of opponents misses last season, which is in the 93rd percentile for his position, per Cleaning the Glass. Any lineup featuring all three of Ntilikina, Dotson and Hardaway would be the most potent combination of shooting, defense and athleticism.
Fizdale, by all accounts, is a pretty open-minded coach and will be brazen about experimenting during an all but lost season with Kristaps Porzingis sidelined by injury. Young players are often limited by opportunity early in their careers, but I hope Dotson gets an extended look under Fizdale next season. The Knicks don’t want to join the list of teams who sent talented wing players packing without realizing their potential; the Detroit Pistons traded Khris Middleton for spare parts after one season and 475 measly minutes of playing time (Dotson logged 474 minutes last year, coincidentally), and Middleton blossomed into a solid two-way player in Milwaukee.
The Knicks are in the talent acquisition phase of a rebuild, but acquisition is meaningless without giving that talent an opportunity. Damyean Dotson could be the next Josh Richardson, he could also be the next NBA-nobody, but I’m betting on the former rather than the latter. Let’s hope David Fizdale and the Knicks give us a chance to find out.