NY Sports Day
Jon Wagner

Fizdale Feeling His Way as Much as His Young Knicks Are

Trying to make a jumper with the arena lights turned off is something not even Steph Curry could probably do. But that image seems to serve as an appropriate analogy for head coach David Fizdale repeatedly attempting one shot in the dark after another while trying — and mostly failing — to find effective combinations with his young New York Knicks.

Sitting with the NBA’s fourth-worst record (4-14) nearly one-quarter of the way into Fizdale’s inaugural as the Knicks’ coach, New York is experiencing many of the growing pains it expected with injured star forward Kristaps Porzingis still months from returning to the lineup and currently being unable to contribute to one of the league’s youngest rosters.

That surprises no one.

However, what was counted on a little more, but which has yet to come to fruition, is Fizdale’s limited impact on helping his inexperienced team grow individually or collectively as one defeat after another — now a season-high six straight and eight of nine after Tuesday night’s home loss to Portland — continues to mount.

Initially, the Knicks were showing some fight even if they failed to finish and pull out tough games in the fourth quarter. Yet, increasingly of late, New York’s defense has all but disappeared, giving the Knicks little chance of competing even when their offense had otherwise been enough to secure a few wins.

During their current six-game skid, New York is allowing a dreadful 124.8 points per game, having allowed no fewer than 115 points and giving up between 128 and 131 points on four separate occasions during that span.

There have been some positives under Fizdale, such as shooting guard Tim Hardaway Jr., being among the league leaders in taking charges at one end of the floor, while at the other, averaging 6.5 free throw attempts per game (more than double the amount of his next-highest average over his five prior years in the league) as the Knicks’ leading scorer has focused on settling a bit less and attacking the basket a little more.

It’s not just Hardaway Jr. being more aggressive, either. New York ranks a fairly solid 12th in the league with 24.2 free throw attempts per game. Meanwhile, point guard Emmanuel Mudiay is also shooting 50 percent from the floor this year after shooting no more than 40.1 percent in any of his previous four seasons. And unlike under Fizdale’s predecessor Jeff Hornacek, Fizdale has openly accepted the notion that this season is a developmental one with a primary focus on the Knicks’ youth movement, as he has avoided the temptation of sacrificing the minutes of many of New York’s youngest players in favor of older veterans and trying to squeeze out what would ultimately be a few more meaningless victories.

But the negatives under Fizdale have thus far been more challenging to overcome. The hope was to play a quick enough tempo this season, yet while the Knicks aren’t quite toward the bottom of the NBA in that category, their pace of 100.81 still ranks an underwhelming 18th in the NBA. And in a league in which the 3-point shot continues to become increasingly prevalent, with 19 of the league’s 30 teams averaging 30 attempts from behind the arc this year, New York ranks a disappointing 23rd (with 28.9 3-point attempts per game) and is a disheartening 28th in 3-point accuracy (32.4 percent) even with Hardaway Jr. averaging a career-best 37 percent from 3 on a career-high 8.8 3-point attempts per game.

Moreover, Fizdale hasn’t been able to get a handle on who should start or which combinations work best together.

Through the Knicks’ first 18 games, Fizdale has already tried a half-dozen different starting lineups with twice that many different players getting a start. Fizdale has admittedly taken a trial-and-(mostly) error approach in that regard. He’s also been incapable of thus far helping some of the younger Knick hopefuls take any meaningful steps forward.

Second-year, eighth overall draft pick Frank Ntilikina has struggled so much offensively, he has seen his minutes drastically decrease in addition to losing his starting job (for now) four games ago.

Summer league sensation, rookie forward and ninth overall pick Kevin Knox, has also looked more tentative than anticipated while shooting just 33 percent from the floor and grabbing a scant 2.2 rebounds in 19.3 minutes per contest this year.

After starting the season with nine straight games scoring in double digits, second-year 3-and-D specialist Damyean Dotson failed to do the same in five of his next six games before he was benched for New York’s entire last game against Portland.

Rookie center Mitchell Robinson has also had problems staying on the court, committing 3.8 fouls per game during the month of November.

Overall, Fizdale hasn’t yet seemed to get any of the young players the Knicks are banking on for their future to turn any heads around the league. If you’re going to go young and be on pace to finish the year with a mere 18 wins (as New York presently is), you have to at least have some of your fledging players look like they’re ready to take some significant steps forward. For the most part, though, that has yet to happen under Fizdale.

But is that really a problem in itself? While many might say it is, focusing on the obvious youth of the Knicks’ roster, we should all remember that Fizdale is still largely inexperienced and in the process of learning and evolving as a coach himself.

In the grand scheme, doesn’t Fizdale, at 44 years-old, with only one full NBA season and a total of 101 games as an NBA head coach (with Memphis) before joining New York, deserve the same chance to adapt, grow and develop as the Knicks head coach right along with his budding young roster?

The fairest answer is probably a resounding yes, even if especially in a normally impatient place like New York, Fizdale will have to at some point this season show that he’s achieving substantial results with player development if not in the win column.

Until then, perhaps in order to achieve what Knicks fans are hoping with the young team they’re rooting for, Fizdale requires as much patience from New York’s fans and media as they’re willing to give the players Fizdale is desperately trying to slowly bring along.

 

 


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