New York Knicks: Should a new coach mean new hope?

The New York Knicks have a new coach in interim Mike Miller so should fans have new hope for at least a normal season for the rest of the year?

The New York Knicks abruptly let go of David Fizdale on Friday, December 16, 2019.  At that time, the 22 game mark, the Knicks were 4-18. It was the worst winning percentage of any coach in franchise history.

Assistant Coach Mike Miller was named Interim Head Coach. Since Mike Miller began coaching you can almost sense the relief. The fact is the team is playing better (Coach Miller is 6 -7 in his last 13 games) and players have begun to drop a lot of their bad habits.

Now a month later the team is 10-25. The recent hope of a four-game win streak was dashed when the Knicks reverted to some “Fizdale” type of playing.

Is one game enough to undo all the good the team has done?

After three straight wins, there seemed to be a reason for a resurgence of hope. Friday night, on the beginning of a four-game west coast road trip which includes Phoenix (lost), the Clippers (lost), the Lakers and Jazz, the Knicks seemed to have reverted to their old way of playing.

After having the lead for most of a must-win game against the Suns, the old third quarter Knicks reared their heads. No perimeter defense, nonsense turnovers, missed free-throws and Mitchell Robinson in foul trouble.

The Knicks have definitely changed since Fizdale. By the numbers, things have improved. Under Fizdale this season the Knicks put up an offensive rating of 103.1 and a defensive rating of 114.1. Under Miller those have improved to 111.3 and 112.6, respectively.

Let’s take a look at what those changes are and see if they are enough for New York fans, and the players themselves, to have hope of a normal NBA season.

Defense

Under former coach David Fizdale, the defensive strategy changed with every team they played.

This might be okay for veterans who have played together for a couple of years, but for a young team and some vets who just started playing together, it called for disaster.

Quite often you might find the players jumbled on top of one another, neither defending the rim nor the perimeter, effectively confusing the players. According to Dan Devine of The Ringer:

Fizdale would be calling for his Knicks to aggressively trap ball handlers in the pick-and-roll, drop back into a soft coverage, switch every screen, and lean on different zone looks from game to game, or even within games.

Miller has some great defensive pieces that Fizdale didn’t. Those pieces are Elfrid Payton and Reggie Bullock. Payton with Frank Ntilikina is a commanding presence when they’re on the court.

Their harassment of the opposing guards causes turnovers while giving the team greater offense. Mitchell Robinson is a destroyer in the paint. On the defensive end of the floor, he dares his opponents to charge the paint, and mostly they don’t. Frank Ntilikina lost his starting position to Payton but fits in with the second unit and Mitchell Robinson especially.

Ntilikina’s lobs to Mitchell Robinson contributed to Robinson’s perfect 11/11 offensive game versus the Blazers, and defense creates offense.

Under Miller, the Knicks’ defense is straightforward and stifling, At first, Payton had a problem with the opponent’s zone defense as in the last game of the season against the Washington Wizards.

It was a win for the Knicks, but it wasn’t Payton’s usual game and he had six turnovers. It was only in that game and hasn’t appeared since. Taj Gibson, Knicks’ center, plays a minimal amount of minutes if Robinson stays out of foul trouble. His veteran presence on the floor is priceless. He and Marcus Morris, Sr. are constantly pushing Robinson to play harder and with more attitude.

Offense

Julius Randle apologized to his teammates during the Knicks’ players-only meeting hours before Fizdale was fired. He wasn’t even close to playing like the $63,000,000 man that was signed during free agency. Under Fizdale, Randle was a turnover machine. When asked about Randle’s struggles during a post-game interview, Fizdale laughed, saying

He kept burning his hand on the stove, and not learning his lesson. You burn it enough, and you’re like, ‘I gotta make this change’…it’s gonna help his evolution.

Randle in no way looked as though he could lead this struggling young team.

Under Miller’s defensive plan, the offense has changed immensely. Randle now has space to get to the paint and be a force to be reckoned with, most times he gets that “and-one.”

During the Knick’s three-game win streak Randle was in double figures in each game even having a double-double in the win against the Wizards. What’s the difference in this player under Coach Miller? According to Randle, not overcomplicating anything.

Could it be as simple as that? Scheduling could have a lot to do with it. Miller has had it easy up until now playing teams that are not doing so well at the moment. Again these games against west coast teams will show how much this team has changed since acquiring a new coach.

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