With David Fizdale’s honeymoon season coaching the New York Knicks over, how does it grade out?
The New York Knicks 2018-19 campaign has finally come to a close, with the squad narrowly escaping finishing the season with their worst record in franchise history – instead, they tied it at 17-65.
Futility aside, as well as the potential for a wildly successful offseason this summer (which has been well chronicled), we can now look back on this season in its entirety and evaluate. Neophyte head coach David Fizdale now has a full season under his belt and his performance can be discussed outside of hypotheticals. We can now give Fizdale a proper report card.
To fully and accurately summarize his first season, let’s break out his performance as Knicks head coach into three categories: team performance (we’ll discuss wins, losses and on court strategy), player development as well as culture and identity. Just like in school, we’ll then give the Los Angeles native a letter grade, from A to F.
Let’s address the obvious elephant in the room: the Knicks finished 17-65, tied for the worst in franchise history and worst in the league this season. I think NCAA teams could have given the Knicks a run for their money this year.
This does have to be discussed when reviewing Fizdale’s inaugural campaign as Knicks head coach. The team sucked this year and he was at the helm. However, this doesn’t really come as a surprise: ESPN had the squad tied for the second worst record as a prediction this year and the team is the youngest in the NBA currently.
If we’re talking X’s and O’s and strategy on the court, it’s a little bit more of a mixed bag in regards to Coach Fiz’s performance. Positively speaking, he developed a more fluid, free flowing scheme to the team’s offensive execution as opposed to relying on too many set plays, giving his young squad a chance to learn and grow.
However, as The Ringer’s John Gonzalez points out, even in January before the all-star break Fizdale had thrown together 41 five-man lineups that had played more than 10 minutes together, which could be argued makes it difficult for players to find a groove playing together. Even if this was done by design in order for Fizdale to assess all of the player assets in his proverbial coaching cupboard, record aside the results are not encouraging: the team “boasted” the second worst net rating in the league.
At times, his strategy and judgment look to be disjointed. Fiz’s decision making could be construed as questionable and it could be debated that it gets him into trouble (for example, take January’s game against the Wizards in London, a game the Knicks were winning entering the 4th quarter which was lost at the very end do to poor defensive scheming and communication.
In a season like this one where it could be argued that the team’s tanking performance was ideal, it can also be argued that team performance doesn’t matter as much and instead the following is far more important.
Fizdale’s reputation as a player development guru precedes him. Just look at his work in Miami and Memphis: he’s cited as the main reason why both Chris Bosh and Marc Gasol became solid 3-point shooting big men as well, in Bosh’s case, a better perimeter defender. Gasol even took almost nine times as many three-pointerss in his two seasons with Fizdale than he attempted in the previous 8. Take that for data!
In his first season as Knicks head coach, the signs were encouraging: you could see his player development chops begin to be set into motion. “He’s the best, man. The best coach I’ve had,” said Emmanuel Mudiay, who averaged career highs in points and field goal percentage, the latter of which is now up to almost 45 percent on the season. Sure, Mudiay was lottery draft pick back in 2015 but regardless of your opinion on him, statistically speaking he’s playing his best basketball ever under Fizdale.
Take Noah Vonleh as well, who Fizdale remarked in the middle of the season was the team’s “most complete player this season.” Again: he’s another former lottery pick playing the best basketball of his career under Fizdale, averaging career highs in points, assists and rebounds.
There is a lot of evidence that Fizdale is able to get the most out of his players and forge a strong connection with them – this has definitely been a positive, and is a good sign for the future players considering joining the Knicks. Speaking of reasons why players would want to join the Knicks in future? A strong culture and identity.
Culture & Identity
As soon as Coach Fizdale was hired last May, he began to make his mark on the franchise, at least from a cultural standpoint: he brought young guards Damyean Dotson, Frank Ntilikina and Emmanuel Mudiay to Boston for an in-person playoff experience watching the Celtics take on the Cavs in the 2018 conference finals. And guess what: he’s doing the same again this year!
Fizdale wants his players to experience winning and get into the right mindset for future, even if they were unable to do so in a literal sense on the court this year. He wants to preach accountability to his squad as well: Fizdale several times throughout the season benched his healthy players for games, registering them as “DNPs” as a motivating tool for them to perform better moving forward. He’s laying the foundation for a winning culture in the years to come.
Coach Fizdale has also made an effort to build culture by bringing in Knicks legends to lecture and share knowledge with his current roster: he’s brought in the likes of Patrick Ewing, Willis Reed, John Starks and Jason Kidd to speak with the team. Not only does this help the young squad understand what winning is like in the Knicks uniform, but it also shows that Fizdale is helping create an environment that celebrates past star players – which hasn’t always been the case. That ought to turn some heads in free agency.
Now, what are the results of all this? Does the team appreciate the history lessons and playoff basketball “film” sessions? See for yourself: to quote John Gonzalez of The Ringer once more, when a reporter he observed asked Fizdale how his team kept their spirits high in the face of all the losing, the coach pointed to his roster after practice who were all “talking and smiling and laughing and, in the case of one player… flossing (The dance, not the dental hygiene practice).”
For the first time in a while, players seem positive in Knicks uniforms.
Fizdale receives a C+ on his first season coaching the New York Knicks. When you only win 17 games and finish dead last in the league standings, it feels wrong to give out any kind of B.
However, his player development and culture building have driven his grade way up. Knicks fans should be optimistic about the foundation he is building amongst his young players, regardless of how the front office does with their free agent acquisitions in the offseason. Fizdale’s players respect him and play hard for him, which is a breath of fresh air. That has to turn some heads this summer when prospective players are considering relocating to NYC to play basketball in the mecca.