David Fizdale’s tasked with doling out minutes on a New York Knicks team in which everyone is fighting for a spot on the floor. That comes with its challenges.
NEW YORK, NEW YORK—David Fizdale has a problem on his hands, but oddly enough, it sounds like one of those good problems. The New York Knicks have a minutes problem. There doesn’t seem to be enough to go around.
When Kevin Knox went down with an ankle injury, Damyean Dotson stepped into his minutes and he hasn’t looked back. The competition drove Dotson to new heights and he’s since cemented himself in the starting lineup.
Now that Knox is back, Fizdale has some tough decisions about how he distributes minutes. In fact, he told the media prior to the game that he was still unsure of how things would shake out.
“I have no idea,” Fizdale said in response to how many minutes Knox would play. He went even further saying, “That is a great question that I don’t know. I’m still trying to figure all of this out based on Timmy and this is going to be some game time stuff we’re going to have to figure out.”
As it turns out, it was not as difficult to dole out minutes as Fizdale expected. Tim Hardaway Jr., nursing a sore back, was sidelined, and Knox was limited, only playing four minutes.
Regardless, there are tough decisions on the horizon. Knox and Hardaway won’t be held down for much longer and it isn’t just Dotson who is proving he’s deserving of more minutes. Mitchell Robinson and Allonzo Trier weren’t always destined for a role in Fizdale’s rotations. Both were expected to spend significant time in the G League playing at the Westchester County Center, but it’s a meritocracy and they have earned their spots in the rotation.
Fizdale admitted in his pregame press conference that he didn’t expect Trier to be where he is at this stage.
“I never expected for him to be playing with me now if you asked me that.”
But Trier continues to surprise just about everyone. The undrafted rookie started for the first time on Monday and although he struggled at times, his fire and tenacity are hard to miss. He erupted late in the fourth quarter, trading buckets with Zach LaVine. The Knicks may have found something special in this overlooked scorer.
Robinson’s fast start mirrors Trier’s in many ways, but it comes with one major difference — Enes Kanter. The usually outspoken big man does not seem to be happy with his role off the bench. To be fair, he isn’t publicly complaining — unless you consider cryptic tweets a public complaint.
But there’s no doubt that Kanter is, at least, a little bent out of shape with his new role. It’s up to Fizdale to get the big man to buy into his new role and he’s doing everything in his power to make sure he does. Prior to Monday’s affair with the Bulls, Fiz made his best attempt at assuaging Kanter.
“It’s definitely been an adjustment for him,” the head coach told media prior to Monday’s game. “I think in his heart of hearts he probably had his heart set on starting and that’s a good thing that he wanted that.”
It’s unlikely that Robinson will lose his starting spot in the near future so it’s important for Fiz to keep everyone happy. After all, an issue with Marc Gasol ultimately led to his demise in Memphis. Kanter doesn’t have the same pull in New York that Gasol has in Memphis, but it’s clear that Fizdale understands he needs to keep Kanter happy as best he can.
Furthermore, for all his warts — particularly on defense — Kanter still brings a lot to the table. He’s a load inside. Whether he’s using his big body to back guys down in the post or tipping rebounds to himself, he’s definitely a useful player. He turned in a big-time performance on Monday, scoring 23 points, hauling in 24 rebounds, and dishing out seven assists.
“But I just think for our team and for our future with what we’re trying to do, the way we got it right now is the way to go and I thought he played great last night,” Fizdale told reporters, but he took his praise even further. “I thought he had a heck of a game and his attitude with the team and with all of us has been fantastic. I just want him to keep settling into that role right now. Quite honestly, if we keep going this route, he’s a guy that, with the numbers he’s going to get — what did he have 18 and 12 last game? — he’s going to have his hat in that Sixth Man of the Year award.”
Kanter and Robinson are a microcosm for the tough decisions ahead. How do the Knicks balance developing the young talent with playing veterans like Kanter and — eventually — Courtney Lee. It’s not going to be easy, but it’s impossible to see this as anything but a good problem.
“It’ll work itself out. It’ll work itself out. We’ve already been planning for all of that stuff.”
It very well could work itself out. So far, the Knicks are following through on their plans and it looks like the ship is sailing in the right direction. Fizdale has done enough to earn the benefit of the doubt. However, the distribution of playing time is one of the more intriguing storylines to this season.