Another year, another plan, another new cast of characters.
One of these days, the Knicks are going to get it right, right? And the latest attempt by David Fizdale, who represents James Dolan’s 11th coach since 2001, will begin in earnest this week with his first training camp. As always with a new coach and overhauled roster (only five players remain from the Phil Jackson era), there will be plenty of questions to be answered in camp and preseason.
Here are the top 4:
1. Who will be the starting point guard?
Last season, Ramon Sessions was the starter on opening night and Jarrett Jack was most frequently in the lineup. Both of them are gone. The Knicks now have three candidates for the spot – Frank Ntilikina, Trey Burke and Emmanuel Mudiay. All of them are former Top-9 draft picks, and all of them believe they should be the starter. Based on their production last season, Burke is the frontrunner. He is, by far, the best scorer in this bunch. Ntilikina, 20, still probably has the highest upside, but he’s more of an offguard who plays better alongside a ballhandler. Mudiay had fitness issues last season but, according to a source, dropped about 15 pounds in the summer. If he can suddenly – and consistently – exhibit the talent that made him a No. 7 draft pick only three years ago, he’ll emerge as the starter.
It’s an open and intriguing race.
2. Who will be the starting forwards?
Fizdale has said that nobody is guaranteed a starting spot, but we’re ready to call locks on shooting guard (Tim Hardaway Jr.) and center (Enes Kanter). Fizdale is also on the record as saying Courtney Lee is not big enough to play small forward, so there are questions surrounding both forward starting spots. Of course, the Knicks would absolutely love for Kevin Knox to step into that role and produce immediately. Whether he’s ready at 19 years old could be determined in training camp and preseason. The Knicks need defense so Lance Thomas is a good bet to fill one of the starting spots. They’ve also trumpeted Mario Hezonja as their big offseason signing, and he’ll get a chance in training camp.
Basically, it comes down to four players for two spots: Knox, Hezonja, Thomas and, depending on the matchup, Lee.
3. Is Mitchell Robinson ready for the NBA?
The second-round pick was a revelation in Summer League, but that was the Summer League. What it showed is that he’s very clearly athletic and capable of becoming a force around the rim. It also showed he is extremely raw, prone to fouls and often out of position. All these things should be expected from a player who took a year off and never played above high school. But there is a spot for him on the Knicks roster if he learns quickly. Assuming Joakim Noah is gone, the only paint player and strong rebounder is Kanter. Robinson could fill the role vacated by Kyle O’Quinn. However, it could also be determined in preseason that Robinson is better-suited for the G League.
4. How will Fizdale influence the playing style?
We’ve heard a lot about playing faster, playing longer, playing harder, playing with “accountability,” whatever that means. We’ve also heard these things at every press conference for the past 20 years. Fizdale can’t magically transform players, but the facts stand that the Knicks were way behind the curve in terms of fastbreak points (29th in the league), defensive rating (23rd) and 3-pointers (29th) last season under Jeff Hornacek. All those numbers need to drastically improve under Fizdale. If nothing else from the coach in preseason, it’s important to see he’s trying to change the Knicks’ outdated style of play.