Bryan and Charlie are back to divulge the good—and the bad—parts of the beginning of David Fizdale’s Knicks. Frank Ntilikina’s on-and-off ball treatment plus Damyean Dotson’s nice performance in the wake of Kevin Knox’s injury and more make their way into the discussion.
Bryan Gibberman: The New York Knicks are off to an exciting (not sarcasm!) 1-2 start to the season with a tough stretch of games on the docket beginning with the Milwaukee Bucks tonight. Through the first three games of the David Fizdale era—Kevin Knox injury aside—there’s been more good than bad.
New York has played three games against three completely different levels of teams. The Knicks proved to be a class above the Hawks, somewhat similar to the Nets, and punched above their weight class in a tight defeat versus the Celtics.
I’m encouraged by Fizdale’s big picture philosophies. It’s nice to have a coach that does understand basic NBA-related math after watching years of Mike Woodson, Kurt Rambis, and Jeff Hornacek.
Do I have questions about some of the in-game decision making from Fizdale so far? Yes, I think there’s some fair criticisms to be had.
Deciphering what’s experimental and what is truly going to be incorporated in the future is going to be a difficult task all season. That’s why I’m not going to freak out when we see strange stuff like Mitchell Robinson sharing the court with Enes Kanter. I’m chalking that up to finding a way to get the Knicks’ rookie big man on the floor while being put in an uncomfortable position defensively that he can learn from.
I’d be more critical of such a decision next season.
One players’ role who I’ve found intriguing to begin the year is Frank Ntilikina. The second-year Frenchman has seen a pretty balanced amount of time on and off the ball offensively. This is good for Frank because what he ends up doing in the future can partially depend on circumstances out of his control (like the development of other players on the roster and who New York signs as free agents).
Where I question Frank’s deployment more is on the defensive end. Fizdale has not been putting his best defensive player opposite the opposition’s top offensive initiator. He’s preferred to have Frank defend a guard or wing where he can use his physical tools and smarts in various ways.
I tend to think the on-ball defense will derive more value to the Knicks than the off-ball attributes. This is something I’m going to be paying attention to as the season goes on.
I really do not like the Robinson-Kanter pairing.
— The Knicks Wall (@TheKnicksWall) October 21, 2018
Charlie Zegers: Yeah, that Robinson/Kanter pairing was weird, but in a fun—or at least interesting—way.
It seems abundantly clear that Fizdale isn’t going to lock himself or his players into overly-restrictive roles; that he’ll mix-and-match at times based on matchup, circumstance, and opportunity. I doubt we would have seen the Robinson/Kanter frontcourt if Knox hadn’t gotten hurt earlier in that game. But with a man short, he tried to get away with a non-standard lineup for a bit.
It’s equally clear that, while the Knicks aren’t openly tanking, the focus of this season is player development, not wins and losses. So we’ll get Robinson matched up against fours to see if he can handle it. And we’ll get Tim Hardaway Jr. defending Caris LeVert on the final possession of Friday’s game.
I’m O.K. with this. These are the situations that will either help players develop new skills or show management that those players aren’t part of the team’s future.
I think Fiz is experimenting with Frank a bit, and that’s okay too. At some point, we might see Ntilikina unleashed as a general-purpose free safety defender assigned to the opponent’s biggest threat. For now, Fiz may be getting him used to guarding bigger players. I do think they’ll need to make some adjustment to the starting five, if only because they’ve been consistently falling behind by double digits in the first quarter of every game. (I like Trey Burke, but I think long-term, Burke is an instant-offense off-the-bench guy.)
Burke and Frankie workin' in transition! pic.twitter.com/CCwvbOsL7D
— The Knicks Wall (@TheKnicksWall) October 21, 2018
One other observation from Saturday night—if Kevin Knox hadn’t gotten hurt, Damyean Dotson probably wouldn’t have gotten nearly as much (any?) run. And Dotson looked really good—good enough, certainly, to be a part of this rotation. But if Dotson gets minutes along with Frank and Burke and Hardaway and Baker, what happens with Emmanuel Mudiay and Courtney Lee?
Bryan: Do we know that Mudiay’s ankle is actually hurt or are they just using that as an excuse to not dress him without making him look bad?
I assumed that’s what they were doing with Lee but his injury appears to be real, so who knows.
Not playing Mudiay shouldn’t be an issue to me. He’s in the final year of his rookie contract and he’s not a part of your future. Every other one of the guards and wings outperformed him in the preseason. Marc Berman has already been dropping hints in stories that he could be the one waived when Allonzo Trier’s 45 days are up on his two-way contract.
Charlie: I have no idea whether or not he’s really hurt. (I do believe Lee is hurting.)
I see Mudiay’s status as a real test for the front office—and, in some ways, for Fizdale’s authority and independence as coach.
Clearly, somebody liked Mudiay at some point. But he hasn’t shown anything in the time he’s been here. He’s pretty clearly behind three—possibly four—guys on the depth chart at point guard. I could see hanging on to him in case of injury, but if they have to clear a spot for Trier, he’s the obvious candidate to be cut. But that means the front office will have to admit they made a mistake, and team executives aren’t always willing to do that. (For a cross-sport example, look at how long Christian Hackenberg and Bryce Petty hung on with the Jets.)
Meanwhile, Fizdale keeps preaching accountability and “you keep what you kill.” Mudiay’s presence undermines that philosophy the second it costs Trier a spot with the big club.
Personally, I love the Knicks’ willingness to take flyers on lottery picks who haven’t played up to their draft position. But if you’re going to gamble on players with upside, you have to be prepared to lose on occasion. Burke looks like a win, as does Vonleh. But with Mudiay, they need to cut their losses.