For David Fizdale and the New York Knicks, the time to commit to the youth movement is now. Saturday’s fourth quarter proved that much.
As a whole, Saturday night was not a good look for head coach David Fizdale and the New York Knicks. The Brooklyn Nets were coming off a back-to-back so in theory, the Knicks should have had fresher legs.
They didn’t. In fact, Fizdale mentioned that his team was in the “mud” for most of the game. In other words, there was no energy on the floor.
But the youngest guys on the team made the biggest impact on Saturday’s game. They couldn’t overcome the 17-point lead the Nets built up after three quarters. But they pulled it to within five at one point and had the Nets sweating another fourth quarter.
The lineup down the stretch consisted of Frank Ntilikina, Allonzo Trier, Damyean Dotson, Kevin Knox, and Mitchell Robinson. Dotson, 24, was the elder statesman in the lineup, but every player is from the 2017 or 2018 draft class—with Trier going undrafted this past summer.
When asked about the performance of the collective down the stretch, Fizdale was quick to point out the group’s willingness to compete. That much was evident. It was the only time when the Knicks looked like they had any semblance of life.
David Fizdale has been understandably non-committal with his lineups and his rotations for much of the season. He originally stated that he should have his rotations somewhat consistent by game 25. He later asked reporters to give him some leniency on that. Fair enough. With his roster, it could take constant tinkering to find the right lineups from game to game.
However, the young lineup that provided the spark on Saturday should see consistent time together going forward. This is a development year and these five players could become important pieces on a winning team in the future. Giving them significant time on the court together seems to make perfect sense. Even if a couple of these young players don’t pan out or leave New York somehow, the other three will have played valuable time together.
This isn’t an argument for these five to start or always finish games. But this group should see a handful of minutes together each night. It’s in the best interest for the future and furthermore, they proved they can hold their own on Saturday. They fit together well and they emphasize Fizdale’s insistence on positionless basketball.
Frank Ntilikina made his return to the lineup—a move that was long past due (also a different topic, for a different day). He provided a defensive spark, picking up the ball full court to try and harass the Brooklyn ballhandlers. But he also had a few pretty plays on offense.
“I’m really proud of the way Frank approached it,” Fizdale said in his postgame press conference. “He was a huge part of that comeback.”
This lineup will give Ntilikina a chance to spread his wings as a point guard. He’ll handle the primary ballhandling responsibilities with this group, but he’ll also have Allonzo Trier and Kevin Knox to fall back. In other words, he’s not on an island.
But the French point guard’s best ability has always been his defense. He can harass point guards 94 feet, but he’s also showing the ability to stand toe-to-toe against power forwards in the post. The coaching staff would much prefer Ntilikina to guard on the perimeter, but he has the size and athleticism to body up inside. His ability to switch one through four can’t be emphasized enough.
On this play below, Ntilikina finds himself boxing out Julius Randle. The physical beast that is Randle secures positioning and grabs the board. But as he rises up to lay it in, Ntilikina swats it away.
This is the kind of positionless basketball that Fizdale preaches about. Let Ntilikina work through his offensive struggles with this group because he doesn’t need to be the primary scoring threat. There’s no doubt that he needs to improve his three-point shot, but it doesn’t make sense to have him do that from the bench.
Fizdale should let Ntilikina take the reins at point guard with this group. It will allow the Knicks to test out their positionless philosophy and it will give Ntilikina ample time at point guard. His offense may come and go, but he’ll play the role of the defensive stopper to anchor the unit—with a little help.
Mitchell Robinson still has a long way to go. He’s far from a finished product on either end, but David Fizdale has stated multiple times that Robinson isn’t going down to the G League any time soon. He may foul out of a few games and he’s going to have some bad nights offensively, but it makes sense to let him run.
He and Ntilikina could become a downright scary duo to attack using the pick and roll. Robinson has shown a natural instinct defending the pick and roll. He has the length to contest outside shots and the athleticism to keep ballhandlers in front of him. His pick and roll defense is far from perfect, but the best way for him to improve is through more reps.
Ntilikina and Robinson showcased their potential in pick and roll defense when they trapped Spencer Dinwiddie, forcing one of the few bad plays from Dinwiddie on the night. Ntilikina and Robinson attacked Dinwiddie and used their length to force him into a difficult pass, one that was snatched out of midair by Robinson.
Additionally, Robinson is just scratching the surface of what he can do offensively. He’s mainly a lob threat and an offensive rebounder at this point, but he’s a very creative finisher.
He makes the type of finishes that one normally sees from diminutive guards who have had to figure out how to finish in traffic. But with Robinson, he doesn’t need to finish over anyone in particular. He’s just using his sheer athleticism to make unreal plays out of nothing.
Of course, Robinson has a long way to go. But he complements the rest of this young lineup with his uncanny athleticism on both ends of the court. His rim protection combined with Ntilikina’s hounding nature on the perimeter could spell trouble for opposing offenses.
If this lineup can hold its own defensively, it already has a leg up on most groupings Fizdale can put together with the roster he has on hand.
Clocking in at a geriatric 24-years of age is Damyean Dotson. He’s not really old, even by NBA standards. But he’s the eldest of the bunch and as you may expect, he’s the most dependable guy in the lineup.
He’s scored in double figures in 15 of his 21 games this season and he’s shooting it with impressive efficiency. He’s a 45.9 percent shooter from the floor and 38.5 percent from beyond the arc. Dotson is a legitimate threat from the three-point line and he will bring some much-needed floor spacing to this lineup.
— Danny Small (@dwsmall8) October 23, 2018
But his dependability goes beyond his offensive game. Dotson is a solid defender and rebounder. He’s capable of covering wings and he’s another player that can switch onto a variety of positions, emphasizing the shift towards a positionless game.
Dotson has the potential to be a valuable 3-and-D guy for the Knicks in the future. He could be a valuable second unit piece for the future. Moreover, he might not be the only player in this lineup with a future in the second unit.
Allonzo Trier emerged from nowhere and kept what he killed. But his rise from two-way player to rotational mainstay is old news. Now the focus shifts to what he can potentially become. Perhaps he can develop into a starting two guard and a dynamic scorer.
But while that’s his ceiling, his floor could be as a second-unit scoring spark. That’s when he’s been at his best for Fizdale and the Knicks thus far. Playing Trier in this lineup would be an excellent way to build chemistry between players that could be playing together for years to come (see Dotson).
Additionally, Trier brings the ability to create his own shot. He’s not nearly as dependable as Dotson in terms of consistent scoring. But he’s always one bucket away from catching fire. Add in his ability to relieve Ntilikina of some of the ballhandling duties and he makes perfect sense in this lineup as well.
Kevin Knox is the wild card of this group in a weird way. He has the highest ceiling, but he’s bound to experience some growing pains. Knox, 19, won’t be pulled too far out of his comfort zone in this lineup.
Dotson and Trier can shoulder some of the scoring load if the Knicks’ most recent lottery pick doesn’t have his stroke. Ntilikina and Trier will handle the ball for the most part. And of course, Ntilikina, Robinson, and Dotson will anchor the defense.
Knox will never be asked to do too much of anything in this lineup. While this may be true, Knox will have the opportunity to take control when he’s in a groove offensively. He doesn’t have to be perfect for it to work, but that’s when this group will be in peak form.
This lineup gives Knox the opportunity to take a major role when he’s ready for it, but it doesn’t put any undue pressure on him to be the guy on a nightly basis. This is the perfect way to ease Knox into a primary scoring role. Not to mention, this lineup will pit Knox against opposing power forwards, furthering his defensive development.
Saturday was tangible proof that the Knicks should be embracing the youth movement this year. Fizdale won’t publicly commit to any specific lineups for long because he doesn’t want the fans and the media to throw his words back at him.
But media and fans be damned. Fizdale needs to commit to giving this five-man grouping more time on the court together. He doesn’t need to say anything, but we need to see this lineup with some consistency.
This five-man grouping doesn’t need to start and they don’t need to finish every game. But this group should see consistent minutes together. It makes sense for the future of the team and the grouping should be able to hold its own against most teams. Each player adds something different to the group and perhaps most importantly, it will give Kevin Knox the opportunity to become the lead dog the Knicks hoped they drafted.