David Fizdale reacts during the game against the Atlanta Hawks during the second half at State Farm Arena.

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Schmeelk: Knicks Need To Stay The Course

John Schmeelk
November 12, 2018 - 2:58 pm

Coming off back-to-back games where the Knicks suffered two of their most lopsided losses of the season, outside pressure is already building for the coaching staff to make some sort of changes to address the recent slide. The far better idea, especially when it comes to the starting lineup, should be to stay the course.

Despite the Knicks recent struggles, losing four of their last five, the problem has not been the team’s starting lineup. The Knicks current starting five, Frank Ntilikina, Tim Hardaway Jr., Damyean Dotson, Noah Vonleh and Mitchell Robinson, has been their most used lineup this season with 94 total minutes on the floor together.

In those 94 minutes, they are outscoring opposing teams by 8.1 points per 100 possessions.  If the Knicks could sustain those numbers with all of their lineups, they would have the fifth-best such differential in the entire NBA, bested only by the Golden State Warriors, Milwaukee Bucks, Toronto Raptors and Portland Trailblazers. They would be playing like an elite team.

The context of that number is even more telling. The ages of the Knicks starters are 20, 26, 24, 23 and 20. The Knicks are throwing out their youngest players to play the most minutes against their opponent’s best players, and they are outplaying them at a rate of a Top 5 team in the NBA. There couldn’t be better news for a rebuilding Knicks team than that.

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It’s been all about the defense. The Knicks starters' defensive rating of 98.5 (points allowed per 100 possession) would be the best number in the NBA if it was sustained over a full game. The length and versatility of the Knicks' starting unit to switch all screens and be in the right position to help have made them an elite defensive unit.

Their offensive rating of 106.6 would rank them 18th in the league. Given the group only has one legitimate scorer that can create his own shot in Tim Hardaway Jr., struggles on that end are understandable. Improving the offense, however, should not come at the price of dismantling a unit that has played better together over major minutes than any other group the Knicks put on the court.

As a point of reference, the Knicks previous starting lineup of Trey Burke, Ntilikina, Hardaway, Lance Thomas and Enes Kanter have played 65 minutes together and were outscored by just over six points per 100 possessions. Both their offensive and defensive numbers are worse than the current group’s.

The current group hasn’t gotten worse over the recent losing streak either. Even in the team’s last five games where they are 1-4, the current starting lineup has maintained a +8 Net Rating. The Knicks have been losing because when their bench players come on the court, everything falls apart. Inserting some of those players into the starting lineup would disrupt the best combination David Fizdale has going for him.

The Knicks' 2018 season has always been about development. Fizdale has said as much, and has said he will not jeopardize that development to try and hunt wins or small scale successes. He will be tempted again to do just that as the team goes through these struggles while playing some ugly basketball. Changing the lineup now, given the numbers, wouldn’t help in either respect.

The Knicks are the youngest team in the NBA, and games like the one on Sunday against the Magic are going to happen, especially when Tim Hardaway Jr. plays one of his worst games of the season. They will get blown out by bad teams. It is going to happen. Overreacting and adversely affecting the future of the franchise is not the prudent reaction to those problems. David Fizdale needs to stay the course.

 Schmeelk’s Snippets

I’ll write something on Mitchell Robinson later in the week, but his defensive ability at 20 years of age with no college experience is astounding. His physical gifts combined with his hustle and instincts should make him an elite rim protector in the league for a long time. He still needs to put on weight to become a better rebounder, and seriously refine his offensive game, but there is a great defensive base to work from. The Knicks found themselves a gem in the second round of the draft.

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