David Fizdale will coach a game Monday for the first time since he was fired by the Grizzlies 10 months ago.
It’s just preseason, so the final score against the Wizards means very little.
But when a franchise is attempting a reboot (yet another one) with a new coach and possibly three new starters, every exhibition is an opportunity to learn about the possibilities, good or bad.
Put it another way: the Warriors preseason is about not getting hurt; the Knicks preseason is about finding out how the heck this might work.
“What I’m looking for is effort, connection, are we staying connected through the process, are we communicating in a way to solve problems?” Fizdale said. “We’re going to screw up. I expect things to go wrong. So how do we handle it once it happens is what I’m looking for.”
That was broad from the coach.
Here are 4 specific things to look for in the Knicks’ preseason opener at Washington.
THE STARTING LINEUP
Fizdale has declared all five positions are up for grabs in training camp, but it’s difficult to believe the coach doesn’t have his preferences, which we’ll learn about Mondayn. As of Sunday afternoon, Fizdale said he hadn’t settled on a lineup for the preseason opener.
But it’s worth noting that a potential starting-5 wore blue jerseys at practice – PG Trey Burke, SG Tim Hardaway Jr., SF Kevin Knox, PF Mario Hezonja and C Enes Kanter.
“(I haven’t decided) yet,” Fizdale said. “We’re still going to play around with it. But I feel like I can throw anybody out there and they’ll know their job.”
Guard Frank Ntilikina and forward Lance Thomas are also in the running for a starting spot.
He looked great in Summer League but the competition was lower than what the prized rookie will experience against the Wizards.
All eyes will be on Knox. But it’s not just about his own performance, but also who works best around him. Hezonja, if he indeed starts with Knox as the two forwards, likes the potential.
“Yeah, especially because we’re the same height. So we definitely can mix from four spots in the game, so it’s definitely going to be a lot easier – especially switching defensively, and all these things won’t be a problem with who is guarding who,” Hezonja said. “And then offensively, he’s talented. He’s moving well. He’s calm with himself, he doesn’t do crazy stuff. He’s doing really, really good and he’s going to be even better than this. So it’s definitely easy to play with him. He’s going to get so much better playing in the NBA. And we’re going to just build – continue to build our relationship.”
We understand it won’t be close to a finished product, but Fizdale has pointed to specific characteristics about his offense: he wants to play faster, he wants to shoot more 3-pointers, he wants to get easy buckets early in the possession.
In other words, Fizdale wants exactly what Derek Fisher and Jeff Hornacek wanted (not Phil Jackson — he wanted the triangle).
Fizdale said he expects execution and communication to be shaky Monday, but believes the Knicks should play fast.
“Pace. Getting up the floor. Advancing the ball quickly and looking to score early in the clock. Offensive force. The way we run our routes. Sharing the ball. I think that’s stuff we can be pretty good at right now,” he said.
HOW BAD IS THE DEFENSE?
For all the talk about their commitment to athleticism and effort, the Knicks don’t project as a good defensive team. Frank Ntilikina has potential as a strong individual defender, but most of the remaining roster is average to subpar.
Fizdale believes he can work magic. We’ll get our first glimpse Monday.
“A lot of these guys haven’t had the time to develop defensively,” the coach said. “Everybody doesn’t walk into the league guarding. They all have to go through certain education to get to where they become high level defenders. Some guys are. I just feel like with the right training, with the right prep work, drills and reps, these kids can catch on and become a pretty dang good defensive team.”