After striking out on superstars in free agency, the New York Knicks are planning to bring an edge back to Madison Square Garden.
New York Knicks media day marks the unofficial start to the 2019-20 season. While many Knicks fans expected the team to sign multiple max-type players in free agency, the team had to pivot after Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving signed with the Brooklyn Nets.
Without hesitation, New York’s front office pivoted to Plan B by signing the likes of Julius Randle, Marcus Morris, Taj Gibson, Bobby Portis, Reggie Bullock, Wayne Ellington, and Elfrid Payton to team-friendly deals.
It would be easy to crush the Knicks for missing out on the superstars. However, it would be unwise to write off the Knicks before the season starts. With Plan B in motion, what will the roster look like on the floor?
The influx of talent is indisputable. But there are fair questions about how head coach David Fizdale plans to fit the pieces together. The Knicks lacked an identity in year one with Fizdale, but it’s hard to hold that against Fiz. He was given a lackluster roster that was blown up halfway through the season.
In year two, Fizdale will have multiple options at multiple positions. Team president Steve Mills believes the new signings will bring a certain level of toughness to the Knicks.
“This is a team that New Yorkers are going to like,” Mills told reporters in Westchester. “The grittiness of these guys, the toughness of these guys, and it’s a group of guys that has places that they could go. They made a decision to come here to New York and come to New York specifically to play for the Knicks.
“These are guys that our fans are going to like — the toughness that they bring every day when they come to the court and play for the Knicks.”
That sentiment was echoed by several players, but Marcus Morris gave the most colorful description by far.
“There’s a lot of dogs,” Morris said.
Morris was pressed for a description of what makes a player a “dog.”
“You ever seen me play? That’s my definition right there,” said Morris. “Guys who are not going to back down, guys are going to go out there and compete every night. I can tell you this first and foremost, it’s not going to be like last year.”
All of that is great, in theory. New Yorkers loved the rough-and-tumble Knicks of the 90s. Bringing that attitude back is something the fanbase will welcome. New York will always embrace a team with a certain edge.
“Gritty” and “tough” are great buzzwords, but how can the Knicks be that kind of team on the court? That’s up to Fizdale. The league is trending towards a pace-and-space style of play.
“I think that obviously we want to keep up with the Joneses in terms of a pace standpoint,” Fizdale told reporters on Monday. “I don’t see us being one of those teams that’s just running everybody out of the gym, but at the same time, I would like to see us have a hard-nosed defensive mentality that can get us out into the open court.”
The Knicks have enough talent where they should be able to find a rhythm on offense. The defensive side of the ball is where Fizdale must see the most improvement.
Finishing 26th in defensive rating last season, much of their woes on defense can be attributed to a weak frontcourt. The Knicks ranked 24th in second-chance points allowed and 25th in rebounding percentage.
The Knicks were criticized for signing four power forwards in the offseason. With their struggles in the paint last season, it’s no wonder general manager Scott Perry made it a priority to bring in more guys who can play the four-spot.
“We signed some guys that can really rebound the basketball and that’s a big part of getting out in the open court,” Fizdale said. “And we also want to structure the offense in a way that everybody feels engaged and involved with the understanding that there is a pecking order for who’s going to emerge as the top scorer.
Almost every player on the roster can play a couple of different positions this season. Fizdale will have plenty of freedom to mix and match his lineups and tinker with his rotations.
The good news for the head coach is that there’s nowhere to go but up. The Knicks are not the same team that won 17 games just last season. They beefed up the frontcourt and are looking to bring a familiar attitude to the Big Apple.
Whether or not they can bring winning back to Madison Square Garden remains to be seen. But at the very least, they’re trying to form a legitimate identity around their “grittiness.”