What should we keep an eye on in the final preseason game from the Knicks?
Let the final day of meaningless basketball commence! Meaningless might be a stretch, but it does suck that none of these wins mean much. Tonight’s final tune-up with our little brother in Brooklyn does carry a little more excitement, yet still means nothing in the grand scheme of things.
These two already locked horns in the second preseason game at Barclays. It was Allonzo Trier’s coming out party as the neophyte’s electric second quarter propelled them to victory. For tonight’s game we should expect Fizdale to make his final tweaks to the rotation before real basketball tips off next Wednesday against Trae Young and the Hawks.
Who’s the Point?
The starting lineup has had quite a few iterations throughout the first four exhibition games. Fizdale is set on the frontcourt of Kevin Knox, Lance Thomas, and Enes Kanter. Tim Hardaway Jr. is locked in at the two. As for point guard? That discussion is still not settled.
Trey Burke figures to be in the lead for the job. He started the first two preseason games and has been considerably better than Emmanuel Mudiay, who got the start for the third preseason game. Burke’s only competition is Frank Ntilikina, who Fizdale went with last game. Frank answered the call with his best offensive game of the preseason but also racked up five personal fouls rather quickly.
Ntilikina remains the crowd favorite, but Burke makes the most sense if you have listened to Fizdale talk about Frank. He has refused to box Frankie in as just a point guard. That gives me the inclination that Fiz envisions him as a Swiss Army knife sixth man. How Burke and Frank are respectively used tonight could give us a clue.
Filling Out the Bench Mob
We know more or less who will get major minutes to start the season. What about the end of the bench guys? Allonzo Trier continues to be the most impressive player of the preseason. Close behind him, Noah Vonleh can, at the bare minimum, serve as a glass cleaner. With Mitchell Robinson expected to spend some time in the G League, Vonleh should be in line for a nice chunk of minutes. Mario Hezonja has been tame this preseason, but is set up to see steady minutes with the second unit.
Ron Baker, once a candidate for the chopping block, looks to have grinded his way into Fizdale’s good graces. He gets the start tonight, which could mean he’s being showcased for a…ok I can’t even finish, no one is trading for my guy Baker. His start tonight likely means nothing other than his job is safe.
Damyean Dotson and Emmanuel Mudiay find themselves in purgatory. Mudiay is the safest of the two. Fizdale seems intent on this Mudiay reclamation project, so don’t hold your breath on seeing him moved just yet. Dotson stands to benefit the most from a Courtney Lee trade. Thus far he has been given spare minutes, but to his credit has played well in spurts. He carried the offense in the overtime period of the preseason opener. His job should be safe, but his role in the rotation remains undefined.
One Foot Out the Door?
It’s a little odd that Courtney Lee has not made a single appearance this preseason. He has been out with a strained neck, which could be the sole source of his absence. I, on the other hand, have my third eye open. Courtney Lee is not in the future plans of this team. As of this writing nothing has been reported on Lee being shopped around. I believe he is, and a conclusion of some sort is coming.
Spotlight: Mario Hezonja
Mario Hezonja is still getting accustomed to his new surroundings, but boy has he not done much. When the Hezonja signing was announced I had dreams of J.R. Smith without the hijinks. So far, the only flashback Hezonja gave me was Andrea Bargnani.
Tonight is a great opportunity for Mario to get on track for the real season. Fizdale has kept his minutes steady, hovering around that 20 minute mark, so there is no risk of losing playing time. Having said that, it would be great to see Hezonja look more comfortable on the floor, and he can start by looking for his own shot.
One thing Hezonja has been consistent about is setting up others. It’s nice to see that he has the capacity to share, but Perry brought him in to score as well. A nice outing from Mario will include an aggressive initiative on offense. That doesn’t mean running down and launching a hook shot with 19 seconds left on the shot clock, but finding his shots within the flow of the game.