David Fizdale and the Culture

Once again, the New York Knicks are starting from scratch as their newly hired head coach, David Fizdale, is about to embark on the most important job of his career. Coaching the Knicks, regardless of the state of the roster and the projections and who and what they don’t have still makes the earth turn.  David Fizdale will become Knicks coach number 10 since the 2004-05 season. The longest tenure in that span was Mike D’Antoni who lasted 3 years and a half and so it makes sense to write the David Fizdale name with pencil and not ink, anticipating that he too will be chewed up and spit out.

Still though, there is romanticism about what might be and ignorance to what was. It’s convenient to say the best predictor of past behavior is future behavior but Fizdale has never been here before, the center of New York Knicks attention.

In Memphis, which feels like a lifetime ago, Fizdale continued the defensive philosophy that had been put in place by Lionel  Hollins and the Grizzlies made the playoffs with a two star system in Mike Conley and Marc Gasol. The Knicks lack stars but the grand plan is for Fizdale to blanket the Knicks youth with a culture. No one expects playoffs without knowing where Kristaps Porzingis is in his rehabilitation and even then the Knicks need more help.

2017-18 Weaknesses

  • 20th: Opponent Points, Offensive Rating, 3-Point Defense
  • 23rd: Defensive Rating
  • 27th: 3-Point Percentage
  • 28th: Free Throw Attempts
  • 29th: 3-Point Attempts, Steals

David Fizdale signed a 4-year deal. The first year will be learning the system. Last season, the one bright spot was that the Knicks efforted on defense that wasn’t the three ball.  Fizdale has to incorporate perimeter principles into a very young group so they can stay in games.  Absent, a bona fide scoring star at the guard position, their only recourse is to make scoring difficult for their opponent.

For sure, Fizdale brings some positive cred. He’s young and ambitious. He’s coached in the playoffs. He’s been on a championship team and understands rituals and habits. Players not named Marc Gasol are devoted to him. The Knicks have a leader. But even they won’t know if it will work.

There are elephant in the room issues that Fizdale has to deal with but thank God Joakim Noah isn’t one of them, despite a buyout that has yet to take place. But as much as Knicks fans scapegoated Noah, he was the least of their issues.

The Knicks were next to last in three point attempts and for good reason. There is no talent. No one could make long range bombs except Courtney Lee. If you can’t make threes in this era you aren’t making the playoffs or anything close to it as you are fighting two against three all the time. A three point attack increases the pace. It creates fast breaks. It puts the defense in confusion mode. It’s a back breaker and a way to erase a lead fast. The Knicks need to find some three point specialists and fast.

New Scoring Pickups: Kevin Knox (R), Mario Hezonja

Lacking multiple creators who can drive to the rim, finish through traffic and get fouled, the Knicks have to play slow since they lack explosiveness. Rarely did the Knicks get to the free throw line last season and that has to change under Fizdale. The defense didn’t stop the game, draw fouls on the opponent’s best player, get easy baskets, make defenders have to think about how they are going to get buckets. The Knicks made it easy on their opposition. Too many jumpers. Not enough postups and fouls or drives.

David Fizdale is a very young coach and I don’t mean his age (he is 44). I mean he hasn’t been a head coach long, just 101 games. Just one full season plus some spare change to buy a cup of coffee. Jeff Hornacek had more head coaching experience. Fizdale is going to have mistakes and the NY media loves to point out mistakes. In a way, it is a perfect marriage that Porzingis is out and Fizdale will have to mentor and develop younger players while he is developing. He’s going to have bumps in the road. He learned the hard way with Marc Gasol that certain players matter more than the coach. He’s going to have his humility lessons because coaching in the NBA is hard.

Like most non-playoff teams, the Knicks have a roster problem in the short term. But even with an incomplete roster, habits, style of play, pace, what is a good shot, how to defend on a string, footwork , can be developed so when the free agent year begins in the summer of 2019 talented veterans like Kyrie Irving and Jimmy Butler are possibilities. But the Knicks have to show veterans their young players have grown and that the culture promotes toughness, competitiveness and will.

Fizdale has never had this empty a cupboard of A-list talent. Not in Miami. Not in Memphis. In Memphis, no one paid attention to the machinations of David Fizdale. Now all eyes on him.

Welcome to New York brother.  Welcome to the most watched year in your life.