David Fizdale
(Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)

After a humiliating performance in the fourth quarter of the season opener, the New York Knicks need to do a better job of communicating with each other.

Josh Benjamin

If there’s one way to describe the New York Knicks and their season-opening loss to the San Antonio Spurs, it’s lack of communication.

For context, the Knicks led 84-83 after three quarters and were up by as many as six in the fourth. Cue Elfrid Payton being sent to the bench with his fifth foul, and the Knicks crumbled as San Antonio went on an 18-0 run before winning 120-111.

The sad part? This all could have been avoided had the players actually talked to each other instead of playing not to lose.

Simply put, the Knicks need to get it together. This is just one game out of 82, but the lack of communication should still be a serious concern.

An unlikely problem

Let’s be honest. Nobody expects the Knicks to be a great team in 2019-20. Between general roster construction and missing out on top-tier free agents, this is the next phase of rebuilding. Still, the general consensus is New York will improve upon winning just 17 games last year.

Of course, the Knicks realize communication is a key part of building a winning team. Head coach David Fizdale’s reputation as a strong communicator precedes itself. By imparting this piece of his wisdom on the roster, the Knicks should become stronger as a unit. Adding leader types in Marcus Morris and Taj Gibson only strengthens Fizdale’s locker room creed.

Except, one wouldn’t have known it based on Wednesday night’s collapse. Payton kept the ball moving when running the point and the team performed well as a result. He was a plus-14 for the entire game and fellow newcomer Julius Randle was the only other positive plus-minus at plus-4.

Cut to Payton’s fifth foul, and the Knicks’ performance was a Kevin Smith fan convention with everyone dressed as Silent Bob. Transition defense suffered and too many contested shots were taken, with Wayne Ellington attempting a three-pointer despite being heavily defended.

Payton only sat for a couple of minutes but it was too late. The Knicks completely unraveled and the Spurs used their own new momentum to their advantage. It was a sad end for a team that trailed 22-15 after the first quarter and then embarked on such a comeback.

Make no mistake, Knicks fans. This cannot become the norm during the regular season.

What’s the fix?

Now, in the Knicks’ defense, lack of communication wasn’t the only reason for the loss. New York had only 39 rebounds to San Antonio’s 51. This disparity was probably due in part to second-year center Mitchell Robinson missing the game with an injured ankle.

The Knicks also committed an ungodly 32 team fouls to the Spurs’ 18. This negated strong on-ball defense by New York, who forced 21 turnovers while committing just 14.

Those issues aside, however, the Knicks’ first and foremost priority has to be communicating with each other on the court in every circumstance.

Payton and rookie RJ Barrett need to be the guys running the offense in practice and constantly keep the ball moving. This keeps opposing defenses on edge and forces the Knicks to gel faster as they grow accustomed to constant motion.

Pass, pass, and pass some more

It’s also worth noting, New York ranked dead last with just 20.1 assists per game last year. There was no clear leader on the floor in a hard rebuilding season. Even in the 2012-13 campaign, when the Knicks last made the playoffs, the team still ranked last with 19.3 assists per contest. Suddenly, a seemingly early exit from that year’s playoffs now makes more sense.

Contrastingly, the reigning champion Toronto Raptors ranked 13th in the NBA with 25.4 per game in 2018-19. The runner-up Golden State Warriors, meanwhile, ranked first with 29.4 per game and were also tops in each of their three championship seasons under coach Steve Kerr.

Oddly enough, in Fizdale’s lone full season coaching the Memphis Grizzlies, the team’s passing numbers jumped from 25th to 21st in the league.

The Knicks are thus capable of becoming better communicators with each other. It’s just a matter of learning what went wrong in the season opener and building off of that.

Final thoughts

The good news for the Knicks is one bad game does not a whole season define. Bad as everything was, there were several instances where the Knicks looked like a strong squad; a workable unit; a team.

The lesson here is good teams don’t gel overnight and the Knicks learned this the hard way in San Antonio. Would things have been different with Robinson in the lineup? Maybe so, but basketball is a game of wins and losses and not one of coulda, woulda, shoulda.

In short, the Knicks need to build off of Wednesday’s loss and figure out just how to communicate on the court more effectively. Even in victory, the ever-tough Spurs clearly walked away from the game knowing they were pushed to the limit by a team they should have beaten handily from the start.

The Knicks are capable of being a strong communicative team. If they can perfect the formula this season, the rebuild could turn to playoff contention soon.

 

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