The New York Knicks may not be winning games, but David Fizdale has done a stellar job making the team’s future look much brighter.
The New York Knicks hired David Fizdale as the 11th head coach of the franchise since the 2001-2002 NBA season. He was not inheriting a team that needed a few tweaks to become a playoff squad, but a rebuilding one focused on player development. It is a real possibility that the Knicks could have their most losingest season in franchise history under Fizdale.
Typically Knicks fans would be going after the head coach following a disappointing season, but something with Fizdale feels different. Maybe it is his charisma with the media, the rave reviews he receives from players, or management and fans being patient with results. The 2018-2019 season was not expected to be a playoff year, but a year focused on getting the young players some more confidence. Fizdale has done just that and is proving that management made the right decision of hiring him to lead this young group.
Fizdale is not perfect. You can criticize his late-game adjustments, player rotations, play-calling, and even his handling of the Enes Kanter situation. However, it is nearly impossible for anyone to come to any conclusions about Fizdale.
It is hard for a coach to prove himself in just one season especially if the team is incredibly young. The Knicks roster is a work in progress with a lot of players on one-year deals and a lot of young talent. Coaching a young team is a challenge, and there are some things that you are going to have to live with. Not only are you teaching them how to win, but also teaching them how to play the game of basketball and get acclimated with the league. However, Fizdale has thus far embodied everything management was looking for in a coach.
One thing that has been observant with Fizdale is his connection with the younger players. He has been a pivotal factor in the revivals of Emmanuel Mudiay, Noah Vonleh, and now Henry Ellenson’s careers.
Mudiay is someone who Fizdale was high on the second he was hired, and we see that Fizdale has instilled a level of confidence that was nonexistent with Mudiay before. He is averaging a career-best 14.8 points per game on 45 percent from the field.
Vonleh has arguably been the Knicks best all-around player this season, and Ellenson just had back to back 13 point outings with the team. These three were looked upon as draft busts with bleak futures, but under Fizdale we’ve seen them blossom into quality role players.
Fizdale has also been an important part in the growth of rookies Kevin Knox, Mitchell Robinson, and Allonzo Trier. Although Knox has struggled as of late, there is no disputing the potential the 19-year-old has flashed in his rookie season. He won the December Eastern Conference Rookie of the Month averaging 17.1 points per game and 6.0 rebounds per game. He has not been shooting great from the field all season but has given glimpses of the type of player he can one day become.
Robinson proved right away that he was an elite shot blocker, but a recent hot streak has seen him improve his rebounding and scoring around the rim. In February the young center averaged 11.0 points per game, 8.7 rebounds per game, and 3.2 blocks per game.
Trier, an undrafted free agent, entered the league with virtually no expectations but has proven to be a reliable scorer off the bench. After struggling with a hamstring injury, the 22 year old is finally healthy and in his last six games, he is averaging 15.7 points per game on 55.8 percent from the field and 50 percent from beyond the three-point line. His performance has been one of the biggest storylines for the Knicks this season, and the team locked him up to a two-year, $7 million deal with a team option.
The performance of all three rookies have been impressive, and there is little to no doubt that Fizdale has played a large part in their play. Having a coach that believes in you especially at a young age goes a long way, and it is clear that Fizdale has helped them deal with the ups and downs of being a rookie.
Dennis Smith Jr has also taken strides as a player under his short stretch with Fizdale. Before Smith arrived in New York, he was averaging 12.9 points per game and 4.3 assists per game while shooting 44 percent from the field with the Mavericks. In the 11 games he has played with the Knicks, Dennis is averaging 15.5 points per game and 6.6 assists per game. We have seen him become much more of a playmaker which is something coach Fizdale has been adamant about him becoming.
When Smith was asked about coach Fizdale he said, per Marc Berman of the New York Post:
"“When you have a coach like that, you should go out and put max effort every time you get a chance. If I can get to the level they want me to be, I can consistently bring it night in and night out. I think I’m fully capable of that.”"
After the Knicks 130-116 victory over the San Antonio Spurs a few games back, Dennis Smith and Damyean Dotson both acknowledged Fizdale’s confidence in them as a big part of their strong performances.
The one young player that has not taken the expected strides under Fizdale is Frank Ntilikina who has struggled to establish himself in the Knicks guard rotation. Ntilikina has not played since Jan. 27 due to a groin ailment, but even before the injury, he was behind Emmanuel Mudiay in the rotation. With the acquisition of Smith and the strong play of Kadeem Allen, the future looks hazy for Frank. He has regressed this season in comparison to his lackluster rookie season, but he is still incredibly young with time to grow.
Fizdale is far from perfect, but his impact on the younger New York Knicks is encouraging for the future of the franchise. He has proven to be an influential part of the growth and development of countless Knick prospects. In a year focused on building a team for the future and having the young guys grow together, Fizdale has proved to be the perfect leader.