David Fizdale

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Schmeelk: David Fizdale Remains A Mystery For Knicks

Coach Has Many Options At Disposal This Year

John Schmeelk
September 13, 2019 - 3:30 pm

What is David Fizdale about? What does he value? How does he want his teams to play? What’s most important to him when deciding who plays and who doesn’t? After coaching a full season for the Knicks, everyone should know the answers to these questions. No one does.

Despite having 82 regular-season games under his belt as Knicks head coach, Fizdale remains a mystery. Going into the season, Fizdale preached he was going to coach a high paced team. The Knicks finished 17th in pace despite having one of the younger teams in the league and playing from behind much of the season. They seldom looked like the team Fizdale described before the season with no good explanation of why they didn’t.

Fizdale also said before the season that his team would be strong defensively. While it is perfectly understandable for a team as poor (and young) as the Knicks to be bad defensively, Fizdale consistently chose to play poor defenders despite better players on that end being available. The Knicks finished with the fifth-worst defense in the NBA by points allowed per possession.

Damyean Dotson was glued to the bench at the start of the year despite defending well. Frank Ntilikina was consistently benched for worse defenders. Enes Kanter played a ton in the first half of the year instead of Mitchell Robinson. Tim Hardaway Jr., Kevin Knox and Emmanuel Mudiay were never held accountable for not playing well defensively.

One thing Fizdale did emphasize with his young team was being aggressive offensively, to the detriment of the team. Allonzo Trier was a good scorer as a rookie, but his ISO-ZO persona did not seem to be discouraged by the coach. Tim Hardaway Jr.’s shot selection was awful and Fizdale never seemed to discipline him for it. Emmanuel Mudiay had more deficiencies to count, but he never lost playing time. Rarely were many players on the team held accountable for bad shot selection, selfish play or poor defense.

It’s possible that Fizdale altered his style and decision-making process based on the fact that the Knicks were going to be one of the worst teams in the league no matter what decisions he made and everybody knew it. Perhaps he decided to prioritize other things that weren’t clear to the outside audience. Given the talent on the roster, giving him a temporary pass is understandable.

That luxury is no longer one that will be afforded in 2019. The Knicks might not be a playoff team, but their offseason moves certainly improved the roster. They are no longer an embarrassment and could make a run at 30 wins. While player development is still the most important goal for the team’s future, winning is now also a priority.

Fizdale has a number of choices to choose from at nearly every position on the roster. Mitchell Robinson and Julius Randle seem to be the only two players on the team locked into starting positions. There are not only questions as to not only who will start, but also who will be in and out of the rotation everywhere else on the roster.

Does Frank Ntilikina’s defense earn him playing time despite not being the offensive player others are? Might Taj Gibson’s defense earn him playing time despite not having the athletic talent of offensive skillset of Bobby Portis? Does Damyean Dotson get a regular spot in the rotation with his “3 and D” skills?

Perhaps more important than who Fizdale plays is what lineup combinations he decides to use. Will he actually try to find offense/defense balance in his lineups, or will he simply play the players together that he thinks are best? There are certainly player development reasons to start RJ Barrett at shooting guard and Kevin Knox at small forward. But if Fizdale actually thinks about the defensive ramifications of playing those two players together at positions they aren’t capable of defending, it would point to a lack of strategic thinking of how to put together winning lineups.

There needs to be a mix of players that can handle the ball and be the focus of the offense, shoot, defend and succeed without having the ball in their hands. Finding these appropriate combinations might mean not starting veterans that they think they deserve it or young players that need as much playing time as possible to develop.

Fizdale has many options at his disposal. It might take him some time to figure it out, but when he does, he needs to stick with it. If he coaches another season with poor lineup construction, the Knicks will know he is not the coach that will eventually get them where they need to go, and a change will eventually have to be made.

You can follow me on Twitter at twitter.com/Schmeelk for everything Knicks, Giants and the world of sports. You can also find my Knicks Podcast, The Bank Shot, on most popular podcast platforms.