David Fizdale

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Schmeelk: David Fizdale Changes Starting Lineup With Predictable Results

John Schmeelk
November 15, 2018 - 10:10 am
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Heading into last night’s game, David Fizdale decided to change the Knicks’ starting lineup by removing its two best perimeter defenders. Replacing Frank Ntilikina and Damyean Dotson with Emmanuel Mudiay and Kevin Knox yielded exactly the type of results one would expect: a defensive meltdown.

The Knicks allowed 17 points in the first four minutes of the game. They allowed 37 in the first quarter. With no plus defenders on the perimeter in the first unit they were helpless against Dennis Schroeder and Paul George. Inside, rookie Mitchell Robinson predictably struggled with the much stronger Steven Adams.

When Damyean Dotson and Frank Ntilikina finally got into the game along with Enes Kanter, Allonzo Trier and Mario Hezonja the defense didn’t improve. With Kanter’s inability to guard the pick and roll, and slow reactions from Trier and Hezonja as help defenders, whatever perimeter defense Ntilikina and Dotson provided was negated by their support’s deficiencies.

The Knicks prior starting lineup of Ntilikina, Hardaway, Dotson, Vonleh and Robinson struggled offensively, but their rugged defense more than made up for it. When they were on the floor together they outscored opponents by eight points per 100 possessions because their defense was elite. Splitting the unit up and placing them with poor defenders in other lineups meant that any defensive advantage evaporated without improving the offense in any meaningful way.

It is understandable that David Fizdale wanted to get a better offensive team together to start games, but if he wants to build a team based around defense and effort, benching the two players (Ntilikina and Dotson) that exemplify those traits the most might be counterproductive in the long run. It destroyed whatever identity the young Knicks were building together on the floor with their prior starting lineup.

Fizdale is correct that Mudiay drives and dishes far better than Ntilikina, but his deficiencies elsewhere (turnovers, shooting, defense) negate however he might help the ball movement and the offense in general. Mudiay is only shooting 44% from the field, 27% from three and 54% from the free throw line with 19 assists and 13 turnovers. Those numbers are not so much better than Ntilikina’s (.345/.278/.917 with 51 assists and 26 turnovers) as to justify the step back on defense.

Knox getting more playing time is a worthy goal, but it would have made more sense for him to replace Noah Vonleh in the starting lineup rather than Dotson. It might have had a very negative impact on the team’s rebounding, but Knox’s ability to stretch the floor would have helped the group’s offense more-so than replacing Dotson has.

In a season that’s about development it also doesn’t make much sense to give starting spots to two players that do not have contracts beyond this season. Both Mudiay and Vonleh are on expiring contracts, and with the Knicks hoarding cap space (and not holding Vonleh’s full Bird rights), re-signing either is unlikely.

MORE: Schmeelk: Knicks Need To Stay The Course

It’s doubtful that Fizdale will go away from this new starting lineup quickly, but there isn’t any reason to think its defensive issues are going to go away given the personnel. Fizdale can challenge that group to defend well as much as wants, but it won’t change their skill sets. Bad defenders are bad defenders. It is a skill some players don’t have.

This is a rebuilding season for the Knicks with a ton of young inexperienced players getting a lot of playing time. There are going to be ugly games. The point should be establishing an identity and getting as much experience as possible for the young players that are part of the future as possible. The old starting lineup did that. The new one doesn’t and it is only a matter of time before Fizdale realizes it. The sooner the better.

Follow John on Twitter @Schmeelk