Schmeelk: Fizdale Needs To Make Better Case To Keep His Job

John Schmeelk
November 29, 2019 - 8:00 am

As the Knicks head into a tough stretch of games against the Sixers, Celtics, Bucks, Nuggets and Pacers before a four game West Coast trip, the team has hit another rut.

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After winning two of four after the infamous Steve Mills-Scott Perry press conference on November 10, the Knicks have lost four straight. Two of the four were not very competitive efforts against the Spurs, who were on an eight game losing streak, and Raptors.

The Knicks probably aren’t going to win many of their next nine games, but they probably have to have at least competitive losses for David Fizdale to remain employed or in good standing with the front office. If the team has too many no-shows there is no telling when Mills decides he has to move on from Fizdale to try to save his own hide at the end of the season.

While there is value to having stability, it cannot be the only reason to keep a coach. Otherwise, no head coach would ever be fired. If the front office is convinced that Fizdale is not capable of leading the team to better places, he should not keep his job. It should happen sooner rather than later if that’s the case. Leaving the wrong person in place for too long can hurt a franchise and its young players.

The question then needs to be asked is simple: What has Fizdale done, or not done, that shows whether he is the right coach for this team?

1. Player Development

Nothing is more important to the Knicks than player development. There has not been enough of it.

Kevin Knox has made some progress in his shot profile and as a three-point shooter and finisher at the basket. But Fizdale is struggling to find a consistent role for him this season, even using him (inexplicably) at shooting guard. His defense is still abysmal. Tough love is good, but Knox also needs playing time at the right positions to figure things out.

Knicks forward Kevin Knox (20) dribbles against the Lakers' Nick King during a Summer League game on July 10, 2018, at the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas.

Mitchell Robinson is still struggling with many of the same things he had issues with as a rookie, specifically foul trouble. He still is a bit too undisciplined defensively and hasn’t expanded his offensive game. Fizdale can’t figure out a way to harness Allonzo Trier’s scoring ability in a positive way off the bench.

Frank Ntilikina is contributing winning plays as a starter, but Fizdale can’t get credit since he was forced into using him after Dennis Smith Jr. and Elfrid Payton got hurt. Ntilikina’s shooting is a bit improved since becoming a starter but he has not gotten any better as a driver and penetrator. He has still played his best basketball for the French National Team, not the Knicks.

Dennis Smith Jr has regressed from last year to this season. The Knicks thought they might have acquired their point guard of the future in the Kristaps Porzingis trade. He hasn’t played backup quality minutes this season.

2. Forging An Identity

Does anyone know how the Knicks want to play? What’s their offensive identity other than handing it to Julius Randle and Marcus Morris so they can take low percentage mid-range two point shots? He has proven incapable of forging cogent offensive lineups with enough shooting and shot creation. The Knicks still don’t push the pace or shoot enough threes? There is poor spacing with their pick and roll game and very little meaningful ball movement. No one screens well. He is not adding value here.

Defensively, the Knicks seem to switch how they want to play defense on a game-by-game basis. Guarding the pick and roll is the most basic defensive strategy each team must figure out. One night the Knicks switch everything. The next night, they trap. The next night their big man stays deep in the paint in drop coverage. Then they throw in zone here or there.

Brad Penner / USA Today Sports

There is no consistency, which must hurt a young team who has to alter their fundamental defensive principles on a nightly basis. Their defense is better this year but their rotations off-ball are still inconsistent, and they do not guard the three point line well.

3. Fitting In The Vets

Julius Randle came to the Knicks has a very efficient scorer. Randle is rarely rolling to the hoop or cutting off the ball. Instead Fizdale has used him as an isolation shot-creator. He isn’t efficient anymore and is playing some of the worst basketball of his career.

Fizdale was put into a bad position by the front office, but no one is forcing his hand to play the lineups he is putting out there that are hurting the team. Marcus Morris has seldomly played with Mitchell Robinson as the only two big men on the floor. He has not given Damyean Dotson and Wayne Ellington minutes in the rotation at the same time.

Going back to last season, he insisted on playing guys like Emmanuel Mudiay as the starting point guard instead of prioritizing other players on the roster.

4. Recruitment

No one of significance came this past offseason. Kristaps Porzingis still insisted on getting traded with Fizdale here. This has not been his strength. It might not be his fault, but at least for now, he hasn’t made a positive impact.

5. Winning

Last year’s team was destined for 17 wins. They had too little talent. This season, the Knicks are tied with the Hawks for the second worst record in the league. It doesn’t have to be this bad.

The problem when arguing Fizdale shouldn’t be fired is that there aren’t many boxes he has checked. What has he done well?

The only argument to be made is that he hasn’t been given a fair shake with the mediocre talent at his disposal. My guess is that the front office that acquired that talent isn’t going to be so willing to extend him that excuse, which is why the team better starting playing better, and fast, if Fizdale wants to keep coaching it. 

Follow John on Twitter: @Schmeelk