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Schmeelk: Knicks' David Fizdale Faces Tough Decisions Before Start Of NBA Season

John Schmeelk
October 11, 2018 - 2:18 pm
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The Knicks only have one preseason game remaining and there are still a number of decisions that head coach David Fizdale, general manager Scott Perry and team president Steve Mills have to make. After the final preseason game on Friday night, there are four days before the season opener on Wednesday, October 17. Here’s what the Knicks have to figure out before then.

The Starters

David Fizdale made it abundantly clear that his starting lineup would be decided by how his players performed in the preseason. There doesn’t seem to be much doubt about four players: Tim Hardaway Jr., Kevin Knox, Lance Thomas, and Enes Kanter. Some Knicks fans might be surprised to see Lance Thomas have a starting position secured, but his defense, effort, and leadership made the decision easy for Fizdale.

The point guard position is the only remaining question. Emmanuel Mudiay has played his way out of the competition by struggling in the preseason with the same things he had issues with last season. He didn’t shoot well, turned it over too much, and didn’t show much feel for the game.

Trey Burke started the first two preseason games, while Frank Ntilikina was given the opportunity to start the fourth preseason game. Burke is better at putting pressure on the defense, but Ntilikina is a much better defender. Burke could be a good scoring spark off the bench while Ntilikina could add a necessary defensive presence (along with Lance Thomas) in a starting lineup with Enes Kanter, Tim Hardaway Jr., and Kevin Knox.

Whoever starts at point guard on Friday night could be the man Fizdale has decided on for the start of the season.

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Frank Ntilikina’s Role

There is still some question as to how the Knicks organization thinks Ntilikina is best utilized. Obviously, if he ends up being a starter in the backcourt next to Tim Hardaway Jr it’s clear they see him as a primary ball-handler.

If Ntilikina comes off the bench, however, it could be because the team sees him as more of an off-guard and secondary ball-handler, not someone that will run the team in the half-court on a consistent basis. Whatever the coaches decide, Ntilikina will play major minutes for this team and will be a big part of its future. His spot-up jumper this preseason, albeit in a small sample size, looks to be improved.

The Knicks’ priority this season should be developing players for future seasons. Ntilikina is only 20 years old, is in just his second year, and is signed long term. Burke is 26 and has only one year left on his contract. There is a far better chance Ntilikina will be a more significant part of the team’s future, and thus his development should be prioritized. It should start by finding out if his future in the NBA is at point guard.

Allonzo Trier Two-Way or Full Time?

The Knicks control Allonzo Trier’s rights on a two-way contract, but he has been the Knicks’ best player in the preseason. If David Fizdale is truly dolling out playing time based solely on effective play, Trier should not be with the G-League team in Westchester this year. The Knicks would be wise to sign him to as long of a rookie contract as they can to make him part of their young core.

If the Knicks front office does decide to make Trier a full-time member of the team they need to decide who to cut loose. Joakim Noah is a possibility if his contract situation is ever resolved, as is Emmanuel Mudiay. Ron Baker, though limited in physical talent, has done everything Fizdale has preached he wants his players to do in terms of defending and working hard.

How Big Will The Rotation Be?

David Fizdale has not spoken much about how many players he will use on a game-in and game-out basis but it won’t likely be more than ten. Burke, Ntilikina, Hardaway Jr., Knox, Thomas, Lee (if healthy), Kanter, and Hezonja are all likely to see regular minutes, but then what? Will it be Noah Vonleh or Mitchell Robinson getting regular backup center minutes? Who will be the tenth guy? Trier has earned regular minutes, but will Fizdale be more apt to use a veteran like Mudiay? My bet is on Trier, who may even fight his way into the top eight or nine spots in the Knicks rotation.

MORE: Schmeelk: Knicks Fans Get Glimpse Of Fizdale's Style, And Other Takeaways From Preseason Opener

Joakim Noah’s Contract

We’ve covered this in detail before (link), but the Knicks still need to decide whether to stretch or waive Noah. It is fairly clear he will not be on the roster this season, but it remains to be seen if the team can convince him to give any money back in a buyout scenario.

 

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