David Fizdale
ESNY Graphic, AP Photo

The New York Knicks plan to be back in the playoffs next year, so what should David Fizdale look out for in this year’s playoffs to prepare?

Danny Small

New York Knicks head coach David Fizdale knows all about the NBA playoffs. As an assistant for the Miami Heat, he was part of the two championship teams with LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh. In his first year as head coach of the Memphis Grizzlies, he took the San Antonio Spurs to six games before bowing out. Take that for data.

Although his head coaching experience in the playoffs is limited to those six games, he’s looking to get his young Knicks used to the playoff atmosphere. He recently told Alan Hahn of MSG that he plans to bring some of his players to the conference finals. He actually did the same thing last year just after he was hired.

So while Fizdale is in the mood to watch some playoff games, here are a few things he should keep an eye on.

Atlantic Division Opponents

The Knicks were the only Atlantic Division team to fail to make the playoffs. The bad news is the Knicks play a large portion of their schedule against the best teams in the conference. On the bright side, the Knicks will have more film on each division rival after these playoffs are over.

The Brooklyn Nets bowed out to the Philadelphia 76ers in the first round, but Fizdale should be able to glean some vital information on both teams from that series. Brooklyn head coach Kenny Atkinson came out with a tight gameplan and stole Game 1, but Sixers head coach Brett Brown responded. That type of cat-and-mouse game between coaches is vital in April and May.

The Sixers advanced in five games to play the Toronto Raptors. Out of the four teams left in the Eastern Conference, three are from the Atlantic. Both the Raptors and Boston Celtics could see monumental changes next season. Kawhi Leonard and Kyrie Irving are both free agents in the offseason and there’s no guarantee that either re-signs with their current team.

That being said, Raptors head coach Nick Nurse and Celtics head coach Brad Stevens aren’t going anywhere. Although the Celtics look destined to fall to the Bucks (more on that later), Fizdale has enough playoff film to parse over from the Celtics over the years.

Of course, Fizdale can look for tendencies, weaknesses, and patterns while New York watches their division rivals in the playoffs. However, the Knicks have missed the playoffs in six straight seasons. There’s no doubt that Fizdale is looking to break that streak in 2020 and join the big boys in the division. Perhaps just watching these playoffs can do more to motivate him and the Knicks than anything else.

New York Knicks

Embracing The Unconventional

Fizdale is old school in some respects. He is a disciple of the Miami Heat, after all. However, he seems willing to push boundaries as well. His willingness to play “positionless” basketball was the first indication that he was going to adapt to the changing game.

That being said, positionless basketball oftentimes translates to “small ball.” Every team uses small lineups nowadays. That’s hardly unconventional at this point.

The Sixers have truly embraced positionless basketball by using Jimmy Butler as their second-unit point guard. This helped solidify Philly’s bench unit against Brooklyn and although Toronto is in command with a 3-2 series lead, Brett Brown looks compelled to continue using Butler as a point guard. It may seem like a tiny adjustment, but it helped shift their first-round series in a big way.

This next unconventional strategy may seem strange for Fizdale to embrace. For one, in this defensive scheme, the Utah Jazz basically allowed James Harden an open path to the basket. It’s no surprise that Harden carved up this gimmicky scheme from the Jazz.

However, this bizarre style of defense—aimed almost entirely at taking away Harden’s step back—actually worked for the Bucks during the regular season. The strange scheme wasn’t the worst idea from the Jazz, they just didn’t have the personnel to execute it quite like the Bucks did.

It’s important for Fizdale to think outside the box. Some of the different quirks, adjustments, and oddities seen throughout the playoffs are exactly the kinds of things the Knicks need to file away in their memory banks.

Giannis Antetokounmpo

How in the world can anyone stop Giannis Antetokounmpo? Amidst a sea of unbelievable playoff performances, Antetokounmpo is among the crème de la crème of superstars. Once upon a time, Eastern Conference teams knew that LeBron James was the final boss before reaching the NBA Finals.

Now, Antetokounmpo looks like he might be the new—and potentially improved—final boss. After a non-competitive first-round series against the Detroit Pistons, the Boston Celtics were expected to give Antetokounmpo and the Bucks a challenge. On the contrary, Antetokounmpo is averaging 30.5 points, 11.8 rebounds, 4.5 assists, 1.3 steals, and 1.5 blocks per game against Boston. More surprisingly, the Greek product is shooting 46.7% from deep on 3.8 attempts per game.

This dominant playoff performance is coming from a 24-year-old who still has room for improvement. Unfortunately for the Knicks, the Greek Freak seems intent on staying with the Milwaukee Bucks long-term. As a result, Fizdale will be tasked with going through Milwaukee at some point if they hope to reach the ultimate goal of a championship.

Clearly, there’s no simple answer for stopping Antetokounmpo. Celtics head coach Brad Stevens is considered to be one of the best in the league and he’s having a difficult time figuring out any way to slow Antetokounmpo down.

As the playoffs go on, Fizdale needs to keep a keen eye on how teams are defending the Greek Freak. There’s a decent chance that will be the biggest question for Fizdale in a seven-game series down the road.

Final Thoughts

For the Knicks and Fizdale, so much will change between now and next year. The draft, free agency, and Fizdale’s second season at the helm are sure to bring monumental changes to the organization.

Although year one was spent rebuilding and transitioning towards the future, there is still playoff basketball for Fizdale to soak up like a basketball sponge.

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