In order to ensure everything is ready to roll in the spring, it’s common to inspect the tires of tractors, implements, and other farm equipment in the winter. Farms are filled with potential hazards…
That doesn’t matter to head coach David Fizdale.
Last Saturday, the Knicks claimed victory against the best team in the NBA in the Milwaukee Bucks and had some of their best play from their young players Emmanuel Mudiay, Tim Hardaway Jr., Alonzo Trier, Damyean Dotson, Noah Vonleh, and Kevin Knox.
The game also went out of it’s way to feature a highlight play from Mario Hezonja that will surely be the best of moment of the season when he pulled an “Allen Iverson” and stepped over Bucks star player Giannis Antetokounmpo after an exciting steal and transition dunk before the Greek Freak could block him.
Fizdale has the Knicks play meaningful and hard fought games against the best talent in the NBA. Whether it was the Golden State Warriors, Boston Celtics, New Orleans Pelicans, Portland Trailblazers, or Indiana Pacers, the “Fiz Kids” fought hard and left it all on the court, pulling off surprising wins against the Celtics, Pelicans, and the Grizzlies.
Some of these players who have been struggling to find a home have had their best plays in their young NBA career under Fizdale.
It’s been an interesting season watching Fizdale develop the young players and ensuring that their careers survive in the league whether it’s on the Knicks or another team. You could say that despite the struggles, questionable rotations at times, and botched playcalling moments Fizdale has done a solid job given to the talent he currently has to run with.
So why does it seem like the city is ready to part ways with him 24 games into the season?
It may have something to do with the struggling Frank Ntilikina and Kevin Knox, the two lottery first round picks of 2017 and 2018 prospectively.
Knox and Ntilikina have been struggling as of late and it’s led to some outcry of fans as to whether or not Fizdale truly cares about player development or is just simply all talk and no action.
Before the Bucks game, Knox was struggling mightily from the field. He barely has been able to get his legs in since he suffered an unfortunate ankle injury earlier in the season. He has since recovered but it’s clear that he came back too soon and still had some rust to get over. Knox understood that and was not surprised at the criticism of his play.
“Criticism is going to happen throughout everyone’s year,” Knox said to reporters last Saturday. “You got superstars in the league who still get criticized their first few games and they do really well in the league…. As an athlete, you’re going to get criticized a lot about your game.”
Knox finally was able to shut those critics up when he had his best game of his young NBA career against the Bucks. He walked off with 26 points, 4 assists, 4 rebounds, and 5 three pointers.
Ntilikina, meanwhile, had a solid beginning but later was overmatched against tough outings with the Orlando Magic and Washington Wizards during their initial encounters in the season.
Ntilikina had zero across the board against the Detroit Pistons and only registered two assists with no rebounds or points against the Philadelphia 76ers. He’s having a poor second year than his rookie season. Fizdale more than likely noticed this and decided to bench Ntilikina to help him improve.
“Coach’s decision, but as you could see with these guys, none of them are ever in the dungeon,” David Fizdale said to reporters after the team’s win against the Bucks. “[Ntilikina] was the example of my postgame speech because if you watched our bench tonight, he was the most energetic, the first one up, the first one rooting guys on, the one making sure people knew what they were supposed to do coming out of timeouts. And that’s not easy when you’re getting a DNP. But as you know and as they know, I will come back to him in no time. [Damyean Dotson] is a perfect testament of that.”
That is true. Dotson can attest to that as well.
“I would say if it wasn’t being communicated then it would be tough,” Dotson said to reporters during yesterday’s practice. “For the most part coach is telling us he has a reason behind everything. So just as far as when I wasn’t playing the four games he was steady talking to me, telling me we’ve got to get this rotation going right now, win a couple games. So I kind of understood it. Now as far as Frank right now, stay with it. Nobody is never in the doghouse.”
Jason Concepcion of the Ringer even stated that this year is about development and nobody should be remotely surprised by Ntilikina’s struggles and should give him a chance to improve.
“It’s a player development year and all of sudden everyone is like ‘OH! 19 and 20 year olds kinda suck a little bit,” Concepcion said on the Ringer NBA Show Podcast. “THAT’S RIGHT! They don’t know what to do! They need to learn how to play! So let them learn.”
Concepcion also commented on the supposed trade rumors and Fizdale’s relationship with Ntilikina.
“Also, for all the people who say [in a mocking tone] ‘oh the Knicks are disappointed in Frank Ntilikina but teams like the Phoenix Suns and the Brooklyn Nets have expressed interest in trading for him,’ you can’t on the one hand go ‘this guy sucks!’ and the Knicks are extremely disappointed in him but also all these teams on the upswing are interested in acquiring this player. Do you not see the disconnect? I’m not saying that it is good when Frank Ntilikina puts up “bagels” and gets a DNP-CD (Did Not Play — Coach’s Decision). That’s unfortunate, but this is what happens. It’s the growing pains and you just have to let it happen.”
So if Fizdale is communicating with his young players and letting them know what they did wrong and how they can improve and benching them if they commit errors but guaranteeing they’ll get a chance in the future sounds commonplace (if not fair) for a young player’s development, why are some members of the media and fanbase ready to throw Fizdale out of town?
It’s not something that he’s done personally per say. It has something do with his organization’s history of “player development.”
The Knicks don’t have the greatest history when it comes to coveting young players. To be quite frank (pun intended), the Knicks haven’t had a team filled with players in their late teens and early 20s in YEARS. Most of the time they have gone through quick fixes just to get to the playoffs and have the pretentious, fool’s gold of winning a championship with mediocre talent. It’s backfired for years and a lot of folks are expecting the Knicks to fall for the same trappings again.
Do you know who was the last Knick player to be drafted and given an extension by the organization and allowed to play for most of his career?
That’s right! Charlie Ward! The Knicks point guard who was drafted when I was seven years old (couldn’t make this up).
Now people are speculating whether if some of the Fiz Kids will be added to the list of young players Knicks gave up on too soon. Rumors are running rampant that trade talks are being arranged. Media believes it’s a travesty that this year is being made on development and not wins. There are others who feel the Knicks are doing the right thing and should remain conservative with their approach and not jeopardize the team’s future with “win-now” strategies.
The only people who can provide the answers to what the Knicks’ future plans are happen to be the ones in charge: Scott Perry and Steve Mills.
Fizdale’s job is to coach and develop the players. He can only answer so many questions in regards to team direction since he has to work with the roster given to him by the higher ups and what the expectations are for the club. To his credit, Fiz seems aware that this roster isn’t good enough to compete for the playoffs but is going to try his damndest to ensure that they learn the way to play professional basketball and win as many games as possible.
That is why I think it is important for Mills and Perry to clarify the team’s direction and where they are now in terms of development.
It’s not really fair considering that we are not even in the halfway point of the season when team executives usually speak with the media after trades are done and what they plan to do next but unfortunately the NY media has little patience and apparently there’s so much disorientation as to what’s fact and what’s fiction. Perry and Mills are the only ones who can make it abundantly clear what the organization is doing.
They don’t even have to say much. They can just clarify some things as whether or not they trust Fizdale with the development of the players, the latest with Kristaps Porzingis’ recovery, where they stand on the point guards, or if they’re looking to trade away any of the young players.
These can be answered without giving away too much as to what the plan is for the team. It’s understandable that people are nervous and concerned but truth be told, they have to remain calm and not jump to rash conclusions. Fizdale can be criticized because he’s not perfect but they shouldn’t think that he’s not developing the players just simply because they’re not on playing on the court. Ntilikina and the others are allowed to struggle because that comes with the process of morphing into a better athlete. That doesn’t mean they’re doomed to be busts. The Knicks are allowed to explore trade options and keep everything open on the table. Good organizations hear what other teams have to offer but they shouldn’t rush to trade everyone because that type of dealing has what’s doomed them in the past.
It may be asking a lot from a fanbase that has put up with many disappointments and bad decision-makings over the years but if the NY sports crowd can learn anything from the Philadelphia sports crowd is, whether they like it or not, to “remain calm and trust the process.”
*additional content provided by Knicks Film School, Knicks Wall, NY Post, Daily News, ESPN, the Ringer, FreeDawkins, MSG Entertainment
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