Written by: Austin Snyder
In order to fully understand the following jumble of words about America’s favorite target for uninformed sports opinions some backstory is needed. The enigma at the center of the story? David Fizdale (finally, a twist worthy of Stephen A. Smith). The general consensus about the Fizdale hiring from those who, like myself, actually pay attention to the Knicks is that Fizdale was brought in with the sole intention of being a lure for Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving and was probably never thought to be a solid choice to lead a team on a complete rebuild. So why does it matter?
Anyone who watched the Knicks with Fizdale at the helm would have been hard pressed not to notice the lack of an offensive system (or defensive one for that matter) under his guidance. Instead, the most valuable franchise in the NBA, worth an excess of four billion dollars, sported an offense reminiscent of watching my 7 year old nephew’s elementary school games on a nightly basis. No ball movement, no plays, and certainly no consistency. So why did Fiz ever get the job in the first place?
It seems that these days, at least with much of the elite talent in the NBA, relationships
have risen to the forefront of what is important. Fizdale was brought in to coach two of the greatest offensive players in the league. Guys who, like LeBron and Wade in Miami (where Fiz served as one of the most highly regarded assistants in the NBA), would put you in the top 15 offenses even if Air Bud was the one holding the clipboard on the sideline. Fizdale’s value came from his ability to build strong relationships with his players. Players who had ideally already worked out their value and role in the NBA. After his dismissal just 22 games into the 2019-20 season, and just 4 games into Mike Miller’s tenure as interim head coach, his fingerprints remain on many of the bad habits still ailing the Knicks. I give you the Fizdale Effect.
The improved play of the Knicks over the last 4 games (with potentially the exception of the beat down in Portland where hitting the basket was almost as tall an order as convincing Dolan to sell) has highlighted some of the key problems the Knicks acquired under David Fizdale, and now work to fix. After watching the Knicks under Miller, one thing is abundantly clear; good things happen when the Knicks play fast off of the pass and leave the isolations behind. Just look at the assist totals! In the last 4 games the Knicks have had 24 assists in 3 of their 4 outings and I believe it is due in large part to the slow death of the isolation first mentality of Fizdale.
Knicks fans would be happy if Julius Randle never took more than 3 dribbles at once for the rest of eternity. Randle has been extremely prone to turnovers and forced shots when attempting to play iso ball. Just the mere mention of the dreaded Randle spin move sends a chill down the spines of Knicks fans everywhere. But fear not! Over the last 4 games, the thing that has stood out to many is the improved play of Randle since Miller took the reins. He’s finally letting the game come to him! He’s posting up, looking for his teammates, passing out of double teams, spotting up for 3’s and he just looks more comfortable. There’s still the occasional lapse when he returns to the Fizdale system of ‘whoever has the ball better not be soft and just go score’, but the improvement is there and the results are obvious. I’m not sure I will ever understand bringing the ball up the floor just to hand it off to Randle at the top of the key, but
even that is happening less and less. And the improvements don’t stop at Randle. Bobby Portis and Kevin Knox have made similar strides of late, something that has made it much easier to stomach extended minutes on the floor during close games.
The reality is, this roster needs ball movement to survive. There are two and a half
players on the whole team that I actually trust to go and create a good shot for themselves; Marcus Morris, Damyean Dotson, and Elfrid Payton (the half). There is most certainly an argument for Alonzo Trier as well, he may even be the most talented at creating his own shot, but the reality is he isn’t getting the minutes when it matters. Making quick decisions off the catch and not letting the ball stagnate has made the Knick’s offense decent again and we’re starting to see glimpses of consistency. Best case scenario it could be reminiscent of the post-Melo Nuggets (or any San Antonio team from 2012-2014); a team that overachieved on offense by playing fast, disciplined, and selfless.
There’s obviously miles to go before the Knicks will be competitive on a nightly basis, but now it at least feels like we’re watching development instead of regression. Perhaps it’s naive, or using Fiz as a scapegoat, but it just doesn’t seem like a coincidence that so many of the issues and concerns people had under him are now showing improvement. And who knows, I could always be writing about absolute collapse and catastrophe a week from now anyways.
Thus the carnival ride of Knicks fandom churns on.