Kevin Knox and company travel south to take on the Washington Wizards in the preseason opener.

We made it! Preseason basketball may be the bottom of the barrel in the NBA’s watchability totem pole, but as a wise man once said, some basketball is better than no basketball. The 10,000 fans at Saturday’s open practice proved that. The return of real basketball in New York does carry an added bonus. For once, there is something to look forward to. The past couple of seasons has followed the same cycle of emotions a child experiences when they know they’re walking home to an ass beating. That is no longer the case.

The cause for such optimism—this is possibly the most optimistic Knicks fans have felt since at least 2012—has been the excitement for this new chapter. Gone (for now) are the days of trotting out second-hand stars New York paid way too much for in the summer. In its place are draft picks we get to watch grow. For once, we get to see the fruits of our labor. (If don’t consider having Kurt Rambis as a coach and watching the likes of Lou Amundson in the starting lineup labor, I don’t know what labor is.) Tonight is our first chance to see the Baby ‘Bockers in action.

First Impressions

David Fizdale, also making his debut, has yet to consider anyone a starter. Tonight’s game against the Wizards gives us a look into Fizdale’s first impressions, and they are in the vicinity of our expectations.

Kevin Knox in the starting line up is a good sign as he continues the path to immediate contribution. Fizdale does a good job of insulating the 20-year-old with a veteran starting lineup. Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr. can handle the scoring load while Lance Thomas and Enes Kanter can do the dirty work on defense and offense, respectively. Knox has hit the ground running since being drafted and tonight is yet another milestone in his young career.

Ahh, That’s Pretty Interesting!

One omission that mildly surprises me is Mario Hezonja, the biggest signing of the team’s frugal summer. I see this move as a further vote of confidence from Fizdale than naming Mario a starter. He has been given the assignment of captaining the second unit. That bench lineup will definitely include Frank Ntilikina and Emmanuel Mudiay in the backcourt. The frontcourt is more of a question mark. Fizdale could choose to play Hezonja as a small-ball 4 with Damyean Dotson on the wing or play him at his more natural position at the 3.

How Hezonja is used on offense is the most intriguing storyline for the bench. He will be the best playmaker on the floor and may also take on the task of initiator on offense. The plan with Frank is still not concrete. Is he going to be the point guard or simply a terror on the wing? It’s not yet set in stone, but sharing the floor with Mudiay and Hezonja tips the scale towards off-the-ball for now. Fizdale will have to see for himself, so if you’re in the “Frank is the point guard of the future” camp, don’t get antsy.

New Noah

Noah should also see some minutes. No, not Joakim Noah—who is not so patiently awaiting his inevitable release—but Noah Vonleh. One of Scott Perry’s low-risk signings sounds like he has a shot to pick up the minutes left behind by Kyle O’Quinn. Vonleh can’t replace O’Quinn’s passing prowess but he can clean the glass. As part of the second unit, that should be his chief priority.

Bargain Busters

Finally, we cannot forget our other promising rookies, Mitchell Robinson and Allonzo Trier. Fizdale thus far has gushed about the two guys that could leave 29 other teams wondering why they passed up the chance at rostering them.

Robinson’s gym rat habits have paid dividends and he is further along than his coach expected him. “Skinny Shaq” does have a nice ring to it, but Robinson has to work on harnessing his talents within a regulation game. He has the potential to block five shots in five minutes or rack up five fouls in five minutes.

Trier has been the bargain talked about least. His energy on the court has not gone unnoticed. Fizdale paid Trier the highest compliment one can get in basketball; a LeBron chase down comparison. Trier was never known as a defender at Arizona, but that might not be the case in New York. A strong showing from Trier could put the likes of Ron Baker on the chopping block.

Spotlight: Kevin Knox

No surprise here. His performance in Vegas accelerated our excitement for a new day. Knox has given off that “wise beyond his years” vibe that Kristaps gave off when he was a rookie. Knox’s maturity sets him up to grow into the capo role to Kristaps once he’s back on the floor. With Kristaps possibly gone for the whole season, Knox will inevitably be asked to take on a large role from the jump.

Fizdale has said he will throw his neophyte to the wolves. Tonight we will see how high up the food chain Knox will start. Timmy figures to be the top gun at the moment, but that could change if Knox continues to attack. Aggressiveness was his greatest asset during his Summer League tear. If he continues to impose his will we could be looking at brighter days ahead, and soon.

Final Notes
  • Courtney Lee will not play tonight due to a strained neck.

The most important thing to do tonight is remember how we got here. When you see Mitchell Robinson send someone’s shot to the nosebleeds, remember, you saw Mike Bibby get playoff minutes. Every time Frank shackles a helpless opponent, reminisce on the nights our best player was Langston Galloway. As you watch Knox glide down the floor for a thunderous transition dunk, never forget, you watched Andrea Bargnani do this.

We bled for this shit. Now let’s go enjoy our reward.