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Schmeelk: 5 Questions As Knicks Training Camp Gets Going

How Will Fizdale Coach? What Impact Will Rookies Have?

September 26, 2018 - 10:40 am
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Knicks training camp started Tuesday without drama or controversy. The team will practice for about a week before their first preseason game Monday against the Washington Wizards. Here are some big questions that need answering during training camp and the preseason.  

What is Frank Ntilikina going to become? 

Head Coach David Fizdale stressed last week he is going to let his second-year guard be himself and naturally develop into his own type of player. There’s little doubt Ntilikina has the potential to be an elite defender who can guard multiple positions, but how will he be utilized and what will he transform into on the offensive end?

How much is Fizdale going to put the ball in his hands and allow him to be a playmaker in the pick-and-roll? Will he be more of a spot-up shooter off the ball? Ntilikina has been praised as a tireless worker, but will all that work on his jump shot be reflected in his shooting efficiency in games, especially in catch-and-shoot situations?

With all the talk about Ntilikina becoming more aggressive and getting to the basket, if he becomes even a league average shooter in his second year, that will make him an extremely useful NBA player thanks to his defensive acumen. Significant improvement in his shooting, especially from behind the 3-point line is the most important part of his development.

 Will Fizdale practice what he preaches?  

In the very early stages of his Knicks coaching career, Fizdale’s words have been refreshing, but they are just words. For two years, Jeff Hornacek preached defense time and time again but then refused to play the players who could actually help on defense.

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Fizdale has stated that every single starting job is up for grabs. Time will tell if he will favor younger players over veterans or truly just play the best player. He has stressed one of the biggest parts of his job will be player development. His playing-time allotments will be telling in how important it really is.

He has also stressed that the team needs to move the ball, spread the floor and shoot 3s. The analytics of efficient shot selection is something he professes to believe in. Last year, the Knicks were near the top of the league in terms of taking long 2-point shots. We’ll see if that changes under Fizdale.

It’s easy for a coach to talk about these things abstractly, without players and decisions attached to them. It will be interesting to see how he implements them with real-life people with certain limited skill sets at his disposal.

What’s going on with Joakim Noah?

The Knicks still have Noah on their training camp roster, and it is encouraging that they haven’t just cut him loose by either buying him out or waiving him on the stretch provision. That means they are either willing to have him report and be a part of the team (unlikely), working on a trade (highly unlikely) or are pressuring him to give back money in whatever agreement they come to in his release.

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The stretch provision or outright buying him out should have always been a last-ditch decision if he was a disruption to the locker room and all else had failed. The best-case scenario for the team is for Noah to agree to a buyout, giving back $6 million to $8 million in the final year of his contract, which would give the Knicks additional cap space in the summer of 2019. Noah would get his full contract allotment owed him this season.

He could recoup some of that lost money by signing and playing elsewhere. The bigger motivation for Noah, however, is that he would actually get to play basketball somewhere rather than sitting on the Knicks' bench. Noah is under no obligation to give any money back, but the Knicks are under no obligation to play him, either. A buyout in which he surrenders 15 to 20 percent of what he is owed in the final two years of his deal -- less than 10 percent of his total contract value -- is fair.

Who’s starting?

The names actually aren’t more important than the type of players. Does Fizdale throw an immobile Enes Kanter in at center along with a bigger power forward who can’t move? Or does he play a Kevin Knox or Mario Hezonja as a power forward in an effort to stretch the floor? Maybe Kanter doesn’t start at all due to his defensive liabilities? Fizdale came from a pace-and-space system in Miami but played big people together in Memphis. It will be interesting to learn what he thinks is the best use of his personnel. Whether he starts Ntilikina along with another ball-dominant guard such as Trey Burke or Emmanuel Mudiay will also determine what he thinks of Ntilikina's future player profile.

How good are the rookies?

How much  Knox and Mitchell Robinson can contribute early on in their careers will go a long way toward determining whether this Knicks team will be in contention for a top-five pick, will be selecting around 10th again or be challenging for a playoff spot. Robinson shouldn’t be expected to be anything more than a finisher at the hoop and a rim protector. He is extremely raw, having taken a year off and never playing above the high school level until he joined the NBA Summer League.

Knox, on the other hand, could be a difference maker if he proves to be someone who can truly create for himself and others with the ball in his hands. Asking for a 19-year-old to carry that sort of burden is unrealistic and should not be expected, but his Summer League performance has certainly raised the bar for his performance from a lot of fans and analysts.

You can follow John on Twitter for everything Knicks, Giants and the world of sports at @Schmeelk.