Schmeelk: Fizdale's Fingerprint On Knicks Obvious In Season-Opening Victory

NY Plays Fast Offensively, Aggressive Defensively Vs. Hawks

John Schmeelk
October 18, 2018 - 8:52 am
Knicks coach David Fizdale

USA TODAY Images

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The David Fizdale era at Madison Square Garden began about as well as possible Wednesday night, with the Knicks blowing out the Hawks, 126-107. The Knicks dominated what might be the worst team in the NBA on their homecourt and played the way their new head coach has preached all summer.

The sign of a good coach is when his players actually play the way he wants them to play. The Knicks did that in their first game. It started with how fast the Knicks played. The pace was excellent, with the Knicks putting up 99 shots, even while shooting 31 free throws. Last year, then-coach Jeff Hornacek preached getting out in the open floor more, but the team never played as fast as the Knicks played in their first game under Fizdale.

The Knicks also tried hard defensively. Their execution wasn’t close to perfect, but they were very active. The guards picked up full court for most of the game. Hands were constantly in passing lanes, forcing 24 Hawks turnovers. The Knicks had 12 steals and only allowed seven offensive rebounds. They didn’t foul much, with the Hawks taking only 18 free throws.

Fizdale also put his players in position to play that fast and hard. Only one Knick played more than 30 minutes, Frank Ntilikina. Fizdale used 11 players and was constantly moving them in and out of the starting lineup to keep the players on the floor fresh.

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Fizdale wasn’t perfect with his rotations. At one point in the first half, he had all his youngsters -- Ntilikina, Ron Baker, Kevin Knox, Mitchell Robinson and Allonzo Trier -- on the floor at the same time. He should also try to have either Ntilikina or Trey Burke on the floor at all times so Baker doesn’t have to play point guard as often as he did Wednesday night.

Tim Hardaway Jr. played his usual streaky ballgame but finished 10-of-22 from the field, 3-of-9 from behind the arc and 8-of-8 from the free-throw line, finishing with 31 points. His shot selection will always leave something to be desired, but he was clearly the Knicks' best offensive player, something they need him to be in order for them to be successful this season.

Enes Kanter was his usual force in the paint, with 16 points and 11 rebounds, not to mention a surprising three assists and a blocked shot thanks to improved defensive effort. Burke scored 15 points on 6-of-11 shooting in only 20 minutes.

The play of the youngsters should give Knicks fans reason for optimism as well. Fizdale was effusive in his praise for Ntilikina’s defense after the game, which is why last year's first-round pick played the most minutes on the team (33) despite only scoring five points on 2-of-7 shooting. He had three steals, blocked a shot and grabbed five defensive rebounds.

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It would have been nice to see more from Ntilikina offensively. He was far too often stuck standing in the corner and uninvolved offensively, not even acting as the primary ballhandler when he was on the floor with Baker and Trier. Whether it was by design from the coaches or his own passivity, Ntilikina needs to be more involved in the offense as a playmaker moving forward. He did well when given the opportunity to touch the ball. His handle has improved, and he still shows impressive vision.

Knox was not shy about launching away, taking 16 shots and making just four in only 23 minutes, scoring 10. He was definitely juiced up in his first game, and it showed. He still has to improve finishing at the rim through contact and turning the corner to get all the way there. The jumper still isn’t falling, but there’s no reason to think it won’t come around based on what he did at Kentucky.  

Trier played under control offensively, scoring 15 points on only nine field goal attempts. He did turn it over three times when trying to do a little too much, but his two blocked shots and four rebounds were proof of his effort defensively.

Robinson only played for about a minute before hurting his ankle. He was kept on the bench as a precautionary measure once Noah Vonleh began playing so well. Vonleh finished with 12 points, making all five of his shots, grabbing 10 rebounds and dishing out three assists in only 16 minutes.

Mario Hezonja got a little out of control with his aggressiveness when the game got out of hand in the fourth quarter, but he flashed his talent with 15 points on 14 shots, adding three rebounds, three steals and three turnovers in just 19 minutes. He flashes great talent, but there is still too much recklessness in between those moments.

The Knicks' next two games come in a back-to-back -- at the Nets on Friday and home against the Celtics on Saturday. If they keep playing as hard and fast as they did against the Hawks, the Knicks will be in more games than they aren’t throughout the season. They, however, won’t always be playing Atlanta, which might have the least talented roster in the league. Regardless of competition, if that effort persists past the adrenaline of the home opener, this Knicks team could be a lot of fun to watch.

You can follow me on twitter for everything on Knicks, Giants and the world of sports @Schmeelk.