From Day 1 we’ve heard about developing the young guys and seeing who we would need to keep moving forward as part of the long term vision. For the most part, the Knicks front office and coaching staff has done an excellent job bringing along the young players.
Those who are cynical may laugh at the thought that anything good can happen with a record as poor as the Knicks. It’s true, however, that despite the lack of wins, the young players on the roster have enjoyed vast improvement from the beginning of the year until now.
Some won’t let the Knicks off the hook so easy though. Somebody has to be at fault for all the losses and some have chosen to pile on Coach Fizdale as one of the problems. This is a poor take for a multitude of reasons but it’s understandable that some in the fanbase are sick of the losing and tanking and want to see rapid improvement. News flash: we all do. But the NBA is a process and to end up as a winning team, you have to undergo painful stretches. That’s the phase the Knicks are in right now. So is it fair to blame Coach Fiz? Let evaluate what we can see at least from an outside perspective.
Fizdale: The Person
Coach Fiz is a likable guy. Even after his fallout in Memphis, it feels like none of those guys have anything bad to say about him. In fact, players that we’ve heard talking about Fiz this year have all had glowing remarks and generally view him as favorable and someone that they would love to play for. One of the criticisms of Hornacek was his inability to connect to players in today’s era. He wasn’t able to relate with the same mindset that younger players these days have. This isn’t a problem for Fizdale, not even a little bit. In fact, his biggest strength might be his ability to connect to players, both veteran and young.
He’s generally also very charismatic in his post-game press conferences and even after losses, puts such a positive spin about the team’s ‘fighting spirit’ that you come away convinced that the team is improving each day. And for the most part, they have. Other than a few blowout losses where the team didn’t really compete, the Knicks have held their own. Fizdale’s ability to diffuse tension in difficult times is a remarkable skill that he has. And it’s become important with a team as young as the Knicks that any negativity coming from the outside is deflected away. It’s a large reason why despite all the losing, the team always looks to have high spirits and enjoy playing with one another.
Fizdale: The Coach
Now we know that Fiz is a good guy overall, but how does he grade out as a coach? It’s tough to look like a great coach when you have a roster lacking talent. However, there are things that we can look at to help evaluate Fizdale.
His rotations game to game are difficult to follow and understand sometimes. There tends to be a heavy fluctuation of who is first to come off the bench versus starting games, etc. Too many times this year, end of game rotations have left fans wondering why certain players were in, instead of others that were relegated to the bench during crunch time. And it’s a fair assessment. It’s tough for players to get into good rhythms when they don’t know when or where their minutes are going to come from. At the same time, with a roster bereft of talent, nobody’s minutes should be guaranteed. Fizdale likely has spent a lot of time tinkering with different lineups because in all reality the Knicks don’t have a solid five-man lineup to go to at moments notice. At the beginning of the year, Fizdale aimed for 25 games in before he came up with a solid rotation and that simply hasn’t materialized.
How about his X’s and O’s? The offense the Knicks run now is thankfully much more modern than how we’ve seen the team play in previous regimes. The team is taking more 3 pointers and is getting to the rim at a larger percentage than last year. Fizdale has made it a point for his guards to be aggressive getting to the hole, which in turn opens up more outside shots. With the right infusion of talent, the offense could really take off in the next year or so.
While the offense might be fine for the roster we have now, the defense has never quite established an identity. Coach Fizdale talked from day 1 about the Knicks being defensively minded. To their credit, they’ve been pretty decent since February. The increase in Mitchell Robinson’s minutes has certainly helped, as has the trades of players that were below average on that end of the floor. However, the team needs guys that are simply better on defense to establish the identity that Fizdale desires. It’s hard to evaluate at this moment and hopefully next year we see better defenders on this roster.
Coach Fizdale has more work to do on his out of bounds play calls. There have been some instances this season where plays haven’t worked out of a timeout, or simple plays under the basket haven’t developed properly. These plays should be perfected in practice and used efficiently in a game scenario. This is certainly one aspect of Fizdale’s coaching that needs improvement.
Fizdale: In Conclusion
Overall, I think it’s fair to say that Fizdale has done a fine job his first season given the circumstances. Considering having a roster with very little or very young talent, there weren’t any expectations coming into this season. Unfortunately, Fiz has to wear that record. However, the season hasn’t been a lost one like some may try to lead you to believe. The Knicks haven’t had a young core as talented as this in some time and the coaching staff has done a great job bringing these guys along and getting them legitimate NBA minutes.
While Coach Fizdale does have some things to work on as a coach, he is a good one. One that the Knicks fans should be happy to have on board. He’s been in the league for a long time and knows what it takes to have a winning basketball team. His fostering of relationships is excellent and will be a key to the Knicks bringing in marquee free agents. Once this team gets some more talent, the offensive and defensive schemes that Fizdale is implementing will show. At that point, we can truly tell just how good he is as a coach. For now, there’s no reason to doubt his ability.
All coaches have aspects of their jobs they feel they could improve on a year to year basis and he’s no different. Let’s see how this season ends and what the roster looks like by training camp next year.