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Six things David Fizdale can improve upon at the season’s halfway mark

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The Knicks were always going to be bad this year, but can David Fizdale make them a better version of bad?

NBA: New York Knicks at Denver Nuggets Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

The New York Knicks are a bad basketball team. This doesn’t come as much of a surprise to anybody who was being honest with themselves about the Knicks’ prospects before this season. Even most “optimistic” projections had the team winning somewhere around 25 games. At the exact halfway point of the season, they’re on pace for 20.

So if the Knicks are bad, and most everybody expected them to be bad, should we expect more from head coach David Fizdale than playing whatever dudes in whatever lineups?

Potentially?

Maybe?

There are certainly things under his purview which could stand to improve, but, let’s be honest, any improvements made with how the current roster is handled will only result in marginal improvements. There’s not going to be any eureka solution which transforms the Knicks into even an average team. The roster is flawed, and it’s young, and it’s down the one player who can fundamentally alter the baseline and ceiling (get well soon, Kristaps!) of the team by connecting many of its disparate pieces in optimal fashion.

So am I just complaining for the sake of complaining? Should I shut the fuck up? Yeah, probably, but fuck that. I got ideas for Fiz that he needs to see!

Find a better starting lineup

Yeah, I know, it’s like asking him to find a needle in a haystack. This team, without KP, can count Noah Vonleh as the only player capable of consistent plus contributions on both ends of the floor, at least when he’s not in foul trouble. When Damyean Dotson shoots well, and Frank Ntilikina point guards like a point guard, and Mitchell Robinson does his baby DeAndre Jordan impression, there are a few others who have shown that ability; but their consistency simply isn’t there yet.

Interestingly enough, those four and noted defensive shitbag Tim Hardaway Jr. had a modicum of success in their very limited stint as starters. In 94 minutes over eight games, they posted an impressive +8.1 net rating, including an elite 98.5 defensive rating.

Of the five lineups which have played at least 40 minutes or more this season, it’s the only one which has a positive net rating. Naturally this lineup hasn’t seen a single minute together after a horrific November loss to the Orlando Magic, in which nobody could hit a shot and Ntilikina was pulled five minutes into the game.

At the time, Fizdale’s logic was that the Knicks were only 3-6 with that lineup — including one game Hardaway missed entirely with Allonzo Trier starting in his place. I’d suggest the reasons they may have been losing more than they won was likely due to the reserves not holding their own, but I digress.

The problem is, none of the starting lineups tried out since have been close to as good, and the team has plummeted to the bottom defensively without seeing a meaningful uptick offensively. Keeping faith with the Emmanuel Mudiay-Hardaway backcourt pairing hasn’t paid off in any discernible way. Kevin Knox has provided an offensive spark at times, but only adds to the defensive ineptitude. Mario Hezonja..........is Mario Hezonja. Enes Kanter reclaimed his starting berth from Mitchell Robinson and summarily lost it again to Luke Kornet, who has helped the offensive spacing issues, but done little to plug the gaps defensively.

There aren’t any right answers, at least none that are going to turn the Knicks into a plus team for 48 minutes regularly, but there are better wrong ones. Maybe try those again, or try new combinations we haven’t seen much of like......

Please give Mudiay and Frank run together in the backcourt

I’m not going to pretend that this pairing is anything but imperfect. We don’t have any sample size to suggest they’d be good together. Neither has demonstrated the ability to shoot from beyond the arc with any consistency, which could certainly cramp the spacing.

Frank has an improved handle, but struggles to impose himself on games and penetrate with regularity. Mudiay averages 10.0 drives per game but is a poor finisher at the rim, converting on just 51.5% of his shots at the rim.

But still, what’s the reason for Fizdale not to give the two more of a shot? The starters could use a defensive jolt, and while Mudiay struggles to contain ball handlers at the point of attack, that’s something Frank has demonstrated is one of his fortes. Normally, that would mean you’re conceding a size mismatch elsewhere, but at 6’5” Mudiay can guard most shooting guards without that being the case. Offensively, Mudiay’s initial penetration could also help Frank get more catch-and-shoot opportunities and provide him chances to penetrate against a rotating defense rather than having to break it down initially himself.

Somebody would have to make way for Frank to enter, but who would that be?

It’s time to sit Hardaway down, at least for a little while

Yeah, he gets paid a bunch of money. Yeah, he’s a leader on this team of some sorts.

Whatever.

As mentioned above, he’s also been playing like complete ass, characterized by increasingly shitty shot selection and a complete lack of fucks given on defense. This may or may not be exacerbated by his documented plantar fasciitis problem, an injury which only gets better with rest and recovery.

I appreciate Hardaway’s commitment, insofar as I think a lot of guys who had secured a long-term contract and didn’t need to worry about securing another payday for awhile wouldn’t try to play through such an injury. It’s commendable, but right now he’s not helping himself nor the team.

To be honest, I don’t know how much of this actually falls on Fizdale himself. I suspect the front office may be happy for Timmy to play and continue to showcase himself for potential trades, but I can’t help but think if Fiz had a little talk with him he’d agree. Get Tim right physically, and bring him back when he’s ready (or just put him on ice until next season).

Use Vonleh more as a roll man, and Kornet as a spot-up shooter

This is pretty basic. Yeah, I get that Kornet is useful as a pick-and-pop guy, but he’s not a particularly great screener. Like Mitch and KP, he often lightly brushes the defender on the screen or slips it entirely (an Enes specialty) which doesn’t create much separation for the ball handler.

Vonleh, our awkwardly-dimensioned man mountain, has no problem setting screens. He’s chiseled and not afraid to use his frame to crush opposing defenders attempting to scurry around screens. We have primarily used his skill as a screener in dribble handoffs, but weaving in more straight spread pick-and-roll opportunities where Vonleh operates as the roll man with Kornet spotting up would be a fun and potentially useful wrinkle.

Stop playing Knox entire quarters at a time

Kevin Knox is a talented young rookie, but he struggles with his conditioning, among other things. When he’s cooking, as he has been on several occasions lately, it’s tempting to let him spin for awhile, but Fiz must resist this temptation!

Too often Knox seems to expend all of his energy after a full run in the first quarter and doesn’t have any juice for the rest of the game. That’s not ideal for one of your starters, nor does it seem a particularly effective way of improving his conditioning.

Random quick thoughts on the Trier, Burke and Kanter troika

  • Don’t play Allonzo Trier and Trey Burke together unless you absolutely must
  • Don’t play either with Kanter unless you must
  • Definitely never play the 3 of them together, and there should absolutely never be a time you have to

Even if Fizdale were to adhere absolutely to all of my suggestions, I’m under no illusion that the Knicks would be meaningfully better. Maybe they win an extra game or two. They may even be worse! That’s entirely possible, but if they are, does it matter?

We have a pretty decent idea that the things we’ve done thus far this season aren’t working. That’s fine. Most things were destined for failure this season. That doesn’t mean Fiz shouldn’t keep trying to find better options than what he’s experimented with thus far midway through the season.

It can’t get worse, so why the fuck not?!