The up-and-coming players will have an opportunity to receive big minutes with David Fizdale’s New York Knicks, but they must earn their keep.
The New York Knicks have hired a head coach whom they trust to help the up-and-coming players on the roster flourish. While Jeff Hornacek was tasked with simultaneously developing the youth and coaching for his job, David Fizdale has a more clear and defined opportunity ahead of him.
Having been empowered by the front office to look to the future, Fizdale is making one thing clear to his younger players: Opportunity exists, but only for those who earn it.
New York has a promising young core with undefined talent, but talent nonetheless. The latest addition to the rotation was Kevin Knox, whom Scott Perry and Steve Mills selected at No. 9 overall in the 2018 NBA Draft.
In a recent meeting with reporters, coach Fizdale was asked how many minutes Knox will receive during the 2017-18 season. His response was telling of the manner in which the culture is changing:
"“That’s up to him. I’m not handing out nothing. Everything will be earned. Obviously, we’re going to have a super young team. But I feel like: Why even disrupt the culture by handing something to a kid? Make him earn everything along the way, it’s going to make him tougher. They’ll become better teammates. They’ll believe in what we’re doing more if they know that there’s a fair shake.”"
In other words: Knox can play as many minutes as anyone on the team, but only if he works hard and earns the playing time.
Directly after outlining his approach to the matter, Fizdale was asked if he believed that the Knicks need a veteran who can start over Knox early in the 2018-19 season. The point of reference that was offered was Jarrett Jack starting over Frank Ntilikina in 2017-18.
Fizdale responded by not only stating that Knox will have the opportunity to start from day one, but commenting that he would’ve started Ntilikina as a rookie.
"“I got no problem playing him. Starting him, playing him, whatever comes out of it. I wouldn’t have had no problem doing that with Frank. These guys gotta swim now. There’s gonna be some bumps, but you learn faster by going through it.”"
This is a welcome change from the philosophy that resulted in the veterans receiving minutes over the up-and-coming players on the roster in 2017-18.
The younger contributors on the roster may have provided inferior value in the short-term, but it was their long-term potential that mattered most. The context, of course, is that Hornacek’s job was on the line with a new general manager who didn’t hire him.
It was an issue for the franchise nonetheless, as Ntilikina received sporadic playing time that prevented him from playing through his inconsistencies.
Under Fizdale, both Knox and Ntilikina will have an opportunity to learn from their mistakes—a clear sign that the culture is changing.
With Kristaps Porzingis sidelined by an ACL injury that could keep him out until December or later, the Knicks have been given a unique sense of flexibility. The sense of urgency is present, but they’re willing to let a player go through the ups and downs of a season if it means exploring their potential.
It’s that approach that will enable the front office to properly gauge the realistic upside of the players on this generally unproven roster.
If Kevin Knox and Frank Ntilikina want to start for the New York Knicks in 2018-19, they now know what they have to do: Earn it against a level playing field.