RJ Barrett, Bobby Portis, Kevin Knox
ESNY Graphic, Getty Images

The first week of the 2019-20 NBA season was filled with lessons for the New York Knicks. Here’s what can be learned from them.

Another NBA season kicked off, another rough start for the New York Knicks.

The new-look Knicks have looked competitive early on, but still sit at 1-4 less than a year after winning just 17 games in a season. Granted, three of their first five opponents were playoff teams. But even so, this hasn’t necessarily been an inspiring start for New York.

The season is still young and because the Knicks have struggled for so long, I have little choice but to be an optimist. Even in a non-playoff year, the Knicks still deserve some attention.

Record aside, this is a young and fun team to watch. The future also looks ever so slightly brighter despite another slow start.

The first week of the season told us some hard truths about the Knicks, but these lessons are valuable. Based on what we’ve seen in five games, here’s what can be learned from and for these Knicks.

No. 5: Fizdale has the team

Admittedly, New York’s 1-4 start should raise some initial concerns about head coach David Fizdale‘s job security. Knicks management’s reputation for giving coaches a quick hook is well-known, so Fiz could indeed be on the hot seat for all we know.

Except, he shouldn’t be. The worst the Knicks have looked in each of those losses can be chalked up to individual mistakes and not so much bad coaching. Given how young the team is, this is normal.

The truth is, win or lose, this team plays for Fizdale. The Knicks’ lone win came from a 15-0 run in the fourth quarter and something Fizdale said to the team finally clicked. The ball movement and communication were clear.

Results may not be ideal but make no mistake—Fizdale is the captain the S.S. Knicks needs.

No. 4: A work in progress

It’s also worth noting the Knicks have started slow because they aren’t quite fully stocked. Shooter Reggie Bullock, who was added as a free agent in July, has yet to play as he recovers from offseason neck surgery. This leaves Wayne Ellington as the team’s sole dead-eye three-point threat.

Moreover, wing Damyean Dotson missed parts of training camp and preseason while recovering from shoulder surgery. He is still trying to find his rhythm as he works his way into the rotation.

Speaking of the new rotation, the Knicks’ greatest issue is just that. This is a completely different team from last year, in both roster and attitude. Everyone is still learning how to play together and communicate in Fizdale’s system. The good news is, thus far, everyone seems to have bought in despite reports of grumbles over assigned minutes.

New York won’t make the playoffs, but the team has the tools to improve. Soon enough, the right formula will be found.

No. 3: Mitchell Robinson is developing well

Early foul trouble is still an issue, but Mitchell Robinson is proving game after game he is the Knicks’ center of the future. The sophomore 7-footer is averaging 11.3 points, 6.8 rebounds, and 2.3 blocks per game.

Robinson has yet to rebound in double figures and is only averaging 18.5 minutes per game, but he missed the season opener with an ankle injury. Much like the rest of the roster, Robinson is still trying to find a groove.

At that point, Robinson will take a giant step forward in his development.

No. 2: Kevin Knox can score

Let’s be honest, folks. Kevin Knox had a rough rookie season. He posted 12.8 points per game, but shot just 37% from the field and 34.3% from downtown.

This young season, however, we have a different Knox. He might even be a Skynet clone, in which case the Knicks have different issues to consider.

Jokes aside, Knox clearly worked hard in the offseason and has his swagger back on offense. He’s averaging 12 points in 23 minutes per game off the bench and has upped his field-goal percentage to 44.2. Knox is also shooting a deadly 52.4% from three-point range.

It’s unclear what his role will be as the season progresses, but everyone from fans to management has to be thrilled at Knox’s progress even if his defense is still rough.

No. 1: RJ Barrett is for real

Even if the Knicks barely clear last year’s win total, everyone can take solace in rookie RJ Barrett looking like a star from the start. The former Duke Blue Devil leads the Knicks in scoring at 18.5 points per game and has also proven a strong defender too.

That said, Barrett still has room for improvement. He needs to develop a mid-range jumper and has shot an atrocious 40.7% from the free-throw line. The Knicks are also using him at point guard a lot, so he needs to improve his passing and court vision.

Even still, the 19-year-old Barrett looks better at this point than anyone could have anticipated. He has poise, confidence, and is committed to being a better player in each game. The season is still young, but he’s already looking like a star in New York.

Josh Benjamin has been a staff writer at ESNY since 2018. He has had opinions about everything, especially the Yankees and Knicks. He co-hosts the “Bleacher Creatures” podcast and is always looking for new pieces of sports history to uncover, usually with a Yankee Tavern chicken parm sub in hand.