The New York Knicks are starting over again, with general manager Scott Perry (hired in July of 2017) bringing in new coach David Fizdale to lead one of two Eastern Conference teams that hasn’t seen the playoffs in the last five years. The Knicks’ playoff drought will likely reach six years, because they’ll be without their best player—Kristaps Porzingis, who suffered a torn ACL in early February—for at least some of the season. That doesn’t mean it will necessarily be a lost season in New York. Competing with the best teams in the league will be a struggle, but the next seven months are an opportunity for Fizdale to build a foundation for the future, establishing a culture and a standard for how the new Knicks will play on both ends of the floor.
Coach Jeff Hornacek was fired after his second season in New York ... Fizdale (fired in Memphis last season) was hired ... Versatile forward Kevin Knox (No 9) and athletic big man Mitchell Robinson (No 36) were selected in the Draft ... Enes Kanter exercised his $18-million player option to stay another year ... Former No 5 pick Mario Hezonja was signed to a one-year contract.
1. Patience with Porzingis. Priority No 1 for the Knicks is making sure that Porzingis is healthy and ready to go for the start of next season, when he’ll be more than 18 months out from his ACL tear. That doesn’t mean that he shouldn’t play this year, but that the Knicks should be cautious every step of the way.
2. Get behind the line. With or without Porzingis, the Knicks will need to cut down on mid-range shots. No team had a higher ratio of mid-range attempts to 3-point attempts last season, an issue left over from the triangle-offense era. League-wide, 3-point attempts (1.2 points per attempt) are worth much more than shots from between the paint and the 3-point line (0.8 points per attempt).
3. Can he coach ‘em up on defense? Fizdale had the league’s seventh-ranked defense in his one full season in Memphis (and only one team improved more defensively from the previous season), but the Knicks have a bad history on that end of the floor. They’ve been a worse-than-average defensive team in 16 of the last 17 seasons, and don’t exactly have the personnel to turn things around quickly.
MAN ON THE SPOT
While the Knicks wait on Porzingis, the development of their other young players takes precedence. Knox has the potential to be special, but he’s still a teenager and needs to get his feet wet. Frank Ntilikina, however, needs to take a serious step forward after an uninspiring rookie season and a summer of work. The No 8 pick of the 2017 Draft has already shown that he can make an impact defensively, but he has a long way to go on the other end of the floor. His effective field-goal percentage of 41 ranked last among 269 players who attempted at least 300 shots last season, and his 7.4 drives per 36 minutes ranked 107th among players who averaged at least 10 minutes per game in 40 games or more. Playing on the ball, Ntilikina needs to be more dynamic with the dribble. Playing off the ball, he needs to be a much better shooter.
Frank Ntilikina | 5.9 ppg, 2.3 rpg, 3.2 apg
The Knicks allowed just 96 points per 100 possessions, a rate better than the league’s best defense, with Ntilikina and Porzingis on the floor together.
Courtney Lee | 12.0 ppg, 2.9 rpg, 2.4 apg
One of nine players who have shot better than 40 percent on at least 250 3-point attempts in each of the last two seasons. Still loves the mid-range.
Tim Hardaway Jr | 17.5 ppg, 3.9 rpg, 2.7 apg
Saw a jump in scoring average with a drop in efficiency. Worst 3-point shooter (32 percent) among 59 players with at least 350 attempts last season.
Kevin Knox | 15.6 ppg, 5.4 rpg, 1.4 apg (Kentucky)
Could be the kind of versatile and athletic forward that every team is looking for. He’s 6-foot-9 and only 19 years old.
Enes Kanter | 14.1 ppg, 11.0 rpg, 1.5 apg
One of the league’s best offensive rebounders and a solid finisher inside, but doesn’t shoot from the outside and remains a defensive liability.
Mario Hezonja | 9.6 ppg, 3.7 rpg, 1.4 apg
Taking a chance on the former No 5 pick was a low-risk move.
Emmanuel Mudiay | 8.6 ppg, 2.4 rpg, 3.2 apg
In the last year of his rookie deal, the former No 7 pick has much to prove.
Kristaps Porzingis | 22.7 ppg, 6.6 rpg, 2.4 bpg
It was on defense where the Knicks fell off more after his injury in early February.
With a glaring lack of two-way players on the current roster, it’s going to be a rough season in New York, even if Porzingis returns sooner than expected. Perry and Fizdale sound willing to play the long game and they’ll need to take their lumps in their first year together, to the tune of something like a 20-62 record, which will provide an opportunity to add another Lottery pick to the mix in 2019.
By John Schuhmann
First appeared on NBA.com Global
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