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Fizdale and Porzingis Need Each Other to Make This Work

Photo: Bailey Carlin/TKW Illustration
Kristaps Porzingis’ fourth coach in as many years exudes confidence and patient. In order to really sell the rebuild, the Knicks desperately need the partnership of new head coach and star player to form a strong bond.

On my recent trip to Europe, I had some serious time to kill on the plane ride. By serious time, I mean around 20 hours round trip. It would have been an ideal time to crank out work, specifically how David Fizdale has to build a good relationship with Kristaps Porzingis. There was no Twitter or 2K to distract me, but also no Wi-Fi. That’s right, I made the rookie mistake of not booking an airline that offered Wi-Fi. That left me with ten hours of free time.

Luckily, Jeff Bezos is a genius, and Prime Video allows offline streaming. That meant I got to watch season three of The Wire. If you are not familiar with The Wire, the third season closely follows the demise of the Barksdale organization. Up until this point, Avon Barksdale and Stringer Bell had been at the helm of Baltimore’s strongest drug organization. The dynamic of Avon and Stringer worked so well because of how well each complemented the other. Avon was the street-savvy partner while Stringer knew how to finesse the business side. Their abilities forged together opened them up to few weaknesses. It is the best depiction of a successful partnership I’ve seen.

Avon and Stringer’s trial and tribulations brought me back to Fizdale and Porzingis. For this rebuild to succeed, these two have to form a stable partnership. If you look around at the franchises that have had sustained success, you can likely find a strong connection with the star player and head coach. Fizdale witnessed the importance firsthand in Miami with Dwyane Wade and Erik Spoelstra. He also had a first-row seat to the gold standard for head coach–star player relationship in Popovich and Duncan.

Popovich and Duncan’s reign speaks for itself. They won 71 percent of the games they played and 1,001 total including five titles. This ridiculous success does have a lot to do with both individually being geniuses, but the longevity is thanks to a stronger emotional bond. This allowed Duncan to trust Popovich, which made it easier for the rest to fall in line.

In his introductory press conference, Fizdale did a good job to get on the good side of Porzingis. He called him the future. He put the sky as his limit. The message was clear that he views Porzingis as a star and likely a large reason he accepted the job in the first place. The new head coach’s impending visit to Latvia will be the start of what we hope to be a long and fruitful partnership. Fizdale’s plans for how to use his future “mega-star” should get the ball rolling.

Fizdale wants an aggressive defensive team that protects the rim and forces turnovers. The framework for that team is set up in New York and Porzingis’ elite rim protection will be key. Despite missing the final two months of the season Porzingis, incredibly, managed to finish eighth in the league in total blocks with 115.

The biggest question is where is Porzingis going to be protecting the rim at? Fizdale doesn’t seem to care whether it is at the five (where he belongs) or the four (where he wants to play). To him it’s all the same. “I just see so many different ways to use him,” Fizdale told reporters. “Obviously if you play him at some 5, it’s like that super lineup you always seeing from different teams. … I mean, if you have another space, speed guy at the 4, he might even be able to play just position-less.”

I imagine Fizdale wants Porzingis to play where he feels comfortable. As long as he is sending opponent’s shot attempts to the Chase Bridge, he can care less. This will be an easy sell for both guys—offense is where I think Fiz has to win over his star.

More time at center could help Porzingis refine his shot selection. Last season Porzingis began to replicate the poor shot selection of his mentor, Carmelo Anthony. That included a high volume of mid-range chucks. He attempted 326 shots from the midrange and hit at a mundane 40.2 percent per NBA Stats. The presence of another big man occupying the post could have something to do with it. Having him as the only big immediately wipes away that problem.

During crunch time, Porzingis at the 5 makes too much sense. I can rattle off late-game situations where kp at the 5 was too much for the other team. One performance that sticks out is when he disposed of Dwight late in a game to seal the win:

The midrange is an area Fizdale does not particular encourage. Fiz’s mission when he arrived in Memphis was to shoot more threes and find lanes to the basket. That led to Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph attempting career highs in three-point attempts. You can bet that he would want to implement a similar plan with Porzingis, who is a superior three-point marksman to both Gasol and Z-Bo. That could mean more pick-and-pops up top where Porzingis likes to shoot most of his threes.

If Porzingis allows, Fizdale’s blueprint could be that launching point to the next phase of the Latvian’s stardom. The quickest way for the Knicks to achieve their best form is with Porzingis achieving his best self. The easiest way for Porzingis to achieve his best self?–Fizdale being his best and selling his system. It’s all intertwined, you get it?

Porzingis has been silent since Fizdale has been hired. Reports are that he is rehabbing in Spain at Real Madrid’s facility and “crushing” his rehab. We still do not know his thoughts on the hire, but if prior information serves as an indicator he should be happy.

Last season when he blew off his exit meeting, then-Yahoo Sports’Adrian Wojnarowski reported that Porzingis had been looked at what the successful teams were doing versus what was going on in MSG.

Porzingis has educated himself on how successful NBA organizations are run and knows now that the Knicks – from ownership to management to coaching – are nowhere near delivering him the platform to develop into the cornerstone of a winning team.

Both Fizdale’s Miami pedigree and relationship with Wade and LeBron should be a nice jumping off point. The one thing we do know is that Fizdale will be Kristaps’ fourth coach in four years (including interim head coach Kurt Rambis). Stability seems to be the thing Porzingis craves most. Fizdale is also looking to prove he can connect with his European star after the Marc Gasol drama in Memphis.

Porzingis and Fizdale both need each other—and both could bring the best of each other. It’s not a stretch to say that both have title aspirations. One common characteristic I see among them is confidence. You add Fizdale’s championship wisdom with Porzingis’ talent, mix in disciples and something special might just happen. Whatever does end up happening, it starts with these two.

Staff Writer, The Knicks Wall • Ahead of the Spread • Hardwood & Hollywood • Heat Check Podcast

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