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August P&T mailbag: Fizdale and Porzingis, Knox and Robinson, Ntilikina and more!

Start your Labor Day weekend right & enjoy the fruits of others’ labors

NBA: New York Knicks at Miami Heat Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

August being our last month to obsess over the big picture, before September rolls in and we obsess over scrimmage whispers and preseason projections, a mailbag is in order.

1) “ you think that Fizdale can build the culture, or is he dependent on the leadership qualities of Porzingis, presumably the franchise player for now and moving forward, and his ability to bring the best out of the Latvian to do so?”

Ashwin Ramath (née The Ghost of Kristaps Past/née Lavor Postell)

There are a lotta answers here, and they’re all “no”: I don’t think David Fizdale can be the main energy driving a culture build, and I don’t think he’s dependent on Porzingis’ leadership qualities because I have yet to see any from KP, and I don’t think Fizdale maximizing Porzingis is a requirement for the team building a new culture.

I say “team” and not organization because unless James Dolan is going to butt out and stay out, very much a Charlie-Brown-trusting-Lucy premise, any culture change will originate within the team. As is true throughout history, when things change, they change from the bottom up. Or from Pat Riley.

The last successful culture change in New York was 25 years ago under Riley, fresh off eight years in Los Angeles, seven Finals and four titles. Fizdale’s resume? A year-plus in Memphis, one first-round exit and the imprint of Marc Gasol’s size-20 foot on his keyster. He has a big enough task in front of him just trying to last more than two years on the job; at MSG, that’s like scoring 70+ in a game, a once-in-a-generation miracle.

Gregg Popovich is an all-time NBA coach. But if the Celtics win the ‘97 lottery and the Spurs end up with Ron Mercer instead of Tim Duncan, odds are Popovich goes down in history as a nobody. He’s a Hall-of-Fame head coach, yes, but only because Duncan allowed him to be. Those things are both true. Fizdale’s ship will rise and fall as does the good ship Porzingis.

To be fair to KP, he hasn’t had anything to lead his first three years here. His rookie year he was a shooting star in a solar system centered by the growing black hole of Carmelo Anthony’s New York endgame. His second season, Derrick Rose bumped him down a spot in the rotation. Last year, things started out great, faded, and then Giannis Antetokounmpo’s foot happened and the show was canceled without a satisfying season finale.

I don’t think Porzingis will be the leader of that someday messianic Knick team that turns it all around. I think that person isn’t here. Or they’re too young or too new to know as such yet. Look at Golden State. Undoubtedly Draymond Green is an integral part of the culture they’ve built. But Draymond wasn’t DRAYMOND until his third year, and it’s not like Steve Kerr’s third eye saw that coming. David Lee got hurt. Then Jesus took the wheel.

Maybe an outsider assumes the mantle of leadership. Maybe that’s the cherry atop Kevin Durant’s career. Maybe Kyrie Irving has depths most of us miss because we dwell on his statement about the shape of the Earth, because defending that’s a thing that matters in so many of our lives. Maybe it’s Ntilikina, who displays the IQ, unselfishness and passion needed for the role.

2) From Twitter user @ahassoun26:

For Knox, I’m hoping for 20-24 minutes a night, eight points, four rebounds, 45% or better from the field and 33% from distance. I’ve settled on these numbers because that’s essentially what Rashard Lewis put up as a 20-year-old, and when I watched Knox in summer league he reminded me of Lewis. I’m curious: would you sign up today for Knox’s career to peak as Lewis 2.0 (minus the PED-conviction, natch)? Lewis was a two-time All-Star. Or do you dare dream for more?

As far as Robinson, I don’t have numbers for him because I have no comp for him. There’s no precedent. He could be the Knicks’ Hassan Whiteside: a physical specimen who may need a few years to put it all together but would be worth the wait. He could be Randolph Morris, who if you don’t remember...that’s the point. The only number I hope for with Robinson is 10, as in “If he’s part of the 10-man rotation by season’s end, his rookie year was a success.”

3) Which Knick will score the most total points this season? Total assists? Total rebounds?

— Kupe

The obvious answer for points is Enes Kanter. Porzingis led the Knicks in points scored despite missing nearly half the year, and with him likely out at least another half-season, EKG (the “G” stands for “grounded,” a.k.a. “no hops”) is the favorite out of the clubhouse. Still: what’s the fun in picking the obvious? Let’s get nuts!

New York’s third-leading scorer was Michael Beasley, now bringing his 11% to the Lakers, so he’s out. I propose the same idea here I do every election cycle: third-party candidates are where it’s at. I think the Knicks’ leading scorer will be a guard. Can you name the last Knick guard to lead the team in points over a full season? Hint: he invented “The Invention.”

Can you name which Knick backcourt man led the team in points last year? Your better angels long to sing “Tim Hardaway Jr.,” but angels have no place in the perennially chthonic-dwelling Knickerbockers; Hardaway spent 71% of his minutes at small forward. The Knicks’ highest-scoring backcourt man was Courtney Lee. Does that make you sad? Their second-leading scoring guard was Jarrett Jack. Ntilikina was third. So Crawford still out there in free agency may be something to entertain. Sayin’...

I nominate Lee as your dark horse to lead the team in scoring this year. The Knicks would love nothing more than for him to play well, inflate his numbers, and compel another team to take on the last year-plus of his contract. Lee may be motivated to play well-enough to earn one more shot with a contender: remember that as a rookie, he was a rotation player on an Orlando team that reached the Finals. Plus Kanter is more likely to be sent packing, given that he’s still just 26 and does two things well (score in the paint; offensive rebound), whereas Lee, 33, does one (hit open threes).

Most assists? Def this dude.

I know, I know: Trey Burke dished nearly 8 assists per 36, while Frank was just a shade over 5; even Emmanuel Mudiay averaged more. But the number that gives me the most confidence in Ntilikina is 78. That’s how many games he played last year as a 19-year-old rookie, a number Burke and Mudiay have never reached in eight seasons combined. Ntilikina played nearly three times as many minutes last year as he did his entire pre-NBA career. I think he hit a wall around the All-Star break, and I think the guy we saw at the end of the year is closer to his truth than the guy before that.

From mid-January to mid-March, Ntilikina had 4+ assists in just four out of 22 games. Over the final month, he tallied 4+ assists in six of 14 games. I think Mudiay is always going to be an up-and-down player. I think Burke is going to crash back to Earth this year, or at least have a rough landing; his numbers from the midrange seem unsustainable, he’s never shown the ability to be both a high-percentage and high-volume shooter from deep, and those two factors could close off some of the passing avenues he enjoyed during the career-half-year he enjoyed as a distributor last season.

Most rebounds? Again Kanter is the obvious choice. But did you know the Knicks currently employ the only two NBA players with the name “Noah”? WHY NOT JOAKIM? WHY NOT VONLEH?

So yeah. It’ll be Kanter.

4) If the Knicks draft Romeo Langford or Zion Williamson, should [they] encourage him to put his first name on the back of his jersey rather than his last?

— Russ

YES! Just like MLB’s started doing, the NBA should let players put whatever the hell they want on their jerseys. Think of the possibilities! Kanter’s could read “Düzmek Erdoğan.” Mitchell Robinson could, in very tiny print, have “I blew off NCAA basketball and all I got was this lousy jersey and millions of dollars.” New York City is a union town and proud of it; KP’s jersey could keep a running tally: “XX days with no workplace accidents.” What would you like to see on the various Knick jerseys?

This last question is really three in one.

5) How do you guys plan out and schedule articles? Especially in months like August and September when literally nothing is happening?

— Melo’s Bucket Hat Collection

It’s a lot like Peaky Blinders. Joe Flynn is Cillian Murphy in the video below; the folks he’s talking to are the P&T writers staff when we have a project “in development”; the waiter at the end is whoever’s about to publish something in the offseason.

What is the lamest article idea any of you has come up with to try to fill the summer content drought?

— AJ_in_VA

The lamest injustice I’ve witnessed at P&T was Team Miranda besting Team Marceda in quadruple overtime when we pitted our all-time Knick teams against one another, only for the competition to disintegrate right after, before a champ was crowned.

I can’t speak for the other writers, mostly because I’m adjusting to a new job and forgot to ask them this until late last night, and the last thing any writer wants to do after dark is reminisce over their failings. Drew Steele did offer that “tying Stoicism and fandom together and then going out of my way to create a shooting percentage based on where you shoot” was not his finest hour.

If I go by responses, the lamest piece I ever published here was one of my first, when I imagined how the 2014 Knicks would fare in a zombie apocalypse. For me it was a bucket list project, getting to mix my love for the Knicks and the undead. The comments made it clear some readers felt differently.

Even so, that unpopular post featured possibly my favorite sentence I have ever written, one relevant within the piece and regarding the piece itself’s place in the world: “Hasta en el roto del fondillo del Diablo hay poesia. There is poetry even in the Devil’s butthole.” Remember that, kids.

Who all is in the P&T Slack? Is Seth still in there? (Is he still involved at all?) Is the Slack channel “lit?”

— SellingLikeHotTakes

The P&T Slack channel is always lit; after all, they don’t call us “the literati” for no reason (or at all). The spirit of Seth compels and haunts us, but if you need a fix check out the great video work he’s doing for SBN Studios.

The P&T Slack conversations break down as follows:

There’s your glimpse of how the sausage gets made. See you in September, piggies.