David Fizdale
ESNY Graphic

Head coach David Fizdale has taken his lumps this season. The New York Knicks have just 14 wins, but there are reasons to be encouraged.

Geoffrey Campbell

As the sands of time drip through the hourglass of the 2018-2019 season, the New York Knicks are certain to have one of the worst records in the NBA. They will also most likely end up at the bottom of most statistical categories.

Head coach David Fizdale has had plenty of sleepless nights. Despite being one of the youngest teams in the league, even he did not see this many loses in the forecast when he took the job last summer. There are reasons to be encouraged with Fizdale’s Knicks, however, win-loss record aside. They continue to change the culture and build an identity. Hopefully, it becomes an attractive one to free agents during the summer of 2019.

Modern game trends (Part I)

Any free agent that makes his mark on shooting has to love a team that is adept at screen-setting. And even without Enes Kanter, the Knicks have managed to stay among the top teams in the league at screen assists.

Via NBAstats.com, the Knicks currently rank in the top 10 for both screen assists per game and points off screen assists. As they improve their talent, these stats will become very important. Better players will equal better field goal percentages. Thus, their overall offensive efficiency will improve if they can continue to free up shooters.

Defensively, the game is moving towards schemes that emphasize protecting the rim and closing out to three-point shooters. Besides Mitchell Robinson, the Knicks have been a turnstile on defense, especially at the rim. Yet, the Knicks are surprisingly ranked seventh in the league in contesting three-point shots. Again, another stat that will mean a lot more once the talent improves.

Coincidentally, if defenses are trying to stop shots at the rim and from the three-point line, offenses are trying to figure out how to manufacture shots from either of those areas. In those regards, the Knicks have taken baby steps towards improvement.

Compared with last season, the Knicks are currently getting 28.5 percent of their points from three-point range, compared with 23.6 percent from 2017-2018. The Knicks along with the Milwaukee Bucks and Charlotte Hornets showed the greatest amount of improvement in this category from last season.

The orange and blue have also decreased their percentage of points coming from the mid-range. This season the Knicks have scored 12 percent of their points from the mid-range. This compares to 17 percent from last season.

Modern game trends (Part II)

The Knicks have been playing at their fastest pace in the last four seasons. The “Fiz kids” have posted a 100.36 pace which ranks 17th in the league this year. Part of this is due to the overall growth of the league. NBA teams, in general, have been playing faster this season. The Knicks have consistently ranked in the middle of the league over the last few seasons in that category.

But if you’re going to focus on small victories, consider this next point. Between December and January, the Knicks posted their best pace of the season, ranking 12th in the NBA. Unfortunately, this did not coincide with many wins. They managed to win just one game during that time span.

David Fizdale
ESNY Graphic, Getty Images

Yet the overall growth in the offense has been observed by those who favor analytics. Ian Levy of Nylon Calculus wrote an article grouping NBA teams by their offensive style. Using categories like ball movement, player movement, pace, and shot selection, Levy ranked teams by their adherence to current trends of efficiency on the offensive side of the ball.

The Knicks, despite their record, did not fare poorly. In fact, they were grouped similarly in the top half of the league with teams like the Spurs, Clippers, and Pacers. Shot selection was the most-needed area of improvement for the Knicks, according to Levy’s graphics.

Once again, as the talent base for the Knicks improves, shot selection and efficiency will improve as well. And Fizdale to his credit has done this before. With the Memphis Grizzlies, Fizdale helped his squad post their best offensive rating in three seasons along with career-best three-point shooting from players such as Marc Gasol and JaMychal Green.

The Knicks are far from where they want to be. Fizdale and his players are still developing. However, the piling losses have not deterred his players’ spirits. Nor have they deterred his team’s small but notable growth towards a more efficient and modern NBA offense.

Time is running out on this season, but Fizdale has laid some of the groundwork for future success.

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