The Knicks find themselves torn between wins and development

JAIME C. HARRIS | 11/7/2019, 1:39 p.m.
The Knicks played their eighth game of this season last night (Wednesday) against the Detroit Pistons on the road.
Knicks center Mitchell Robinson Bill Moore photo

The Knicks played their eighth game of this season last night (Wednesday) against the Detroit Pistons on the road. They were trying to recover from a listless and disappointing 113-92 loss to the Sacramento Kings at Madison Square Garden Sunday, a game in which they were down by 36 in the third quarter.

“I really expected us to take a step forward tonight, but we didn’t,” said Knicks head coach David Fizdale after his team was smoked by a Kings crew that like the Knicks had only one win—they were 1-5—coming into the Garden.

Before facing the Pistons, the Knicks were 1-6, last in the 15 team Eastern Conference, a spot at which the franchise has become all too familiar. They ended last season at the bottom of the league in the standings. And while the Knicks were viewed by oddsmakers and reasonable followers of the NBA as a longshot to make the playoffs this season, they were expected to be demonstrably improved with the additions of several suitable veterans including Marcus Morris Sr., Bobby Portis, Julius Randle and Elfrid Payton.

The newcomers haven’t had the impact the Knicks trio of president Steve Mills, general manager Scott Perry and Fizdale envisioned or hoped for. While Morris has been arguably the team’s best player thus far, Portis and Randle have been inconsistent at best and Payton had been out since injuring his right hamstring against the Chicago Bulls at MSG on Oct. 28.

Fizdale is also going through his trials, laboring with finding effective combinations to start and close out games. He is also seemingly conflicted in trying to give the veterans ample opportunities to place the team on a winning track while also growing some of the young players who are possibly future cornerstones.

The time may soon come when Fizdale and the Knicks higher ups must decide if playing Kevin Knox II, Mitchell Robinson and other young players they need to thoroughly evaluate the bulk of the minutes is more feasible than losing with short-term veterans.

RJ Barrett has already established himself as a favorite of Fizdale and has done enough to earn that status. He led the Knicks in scoring (18.3) and minutes per game (37.1) heading into last night’s matchup at Detroit. While there are some obvious holes in his game, foul shooting the most glaring—Barrett was at 47.6%—his energy, physicality and mental toughness have resulted in a solid start to his career.

Fizdale has dismissed questions as to whether he’s playing the rookie from Duke too many minutes. “We gotta get off this load management crap,” he defiantly said Sunday after Barrett logged 41 minutes and scored 22 points. “Latrell Sprewell averaged 42 minutes for a season. This kid’s 19 years old. Drop it.”

As a point of fact, Sprewell, a still popular former Knick, averaged 40 minutes per game or more five times in his 13-year NBA career, which began in 1992 when he was a 22-year-old rookie. Fizdale hasn’t afforded the other members of his green group the same cachet. Knox II was only playing 23.4, Robinson 19.2 and Frank Ntilikina 17.8. Ntilikina has been starting at point guard with Payton injured and Dennis Smith Jr. away from the team dealing with the recent death of his stepmother. Fizdale’s system also isn’t a clear meritocracy as Randle, the Knicks’ starting power forward, was playing an average of 33.4 minutes, third most on the team behind Barrett and Morris (34.0, 17.9 points per game) despite his struggles shooting only 41.8% from the field and 60.7% from the foul line. He was leading the Knicks in rebounds at 10.4.

The Knicks will face Kristaps Porzingis and the Dallas Mavericks tomorrow before returning home to host the Cleveland Cavaliers Sunday.