WASHINGTON — Lance Thomas got the first crack at power forward.
Impressing yet another coach with his defensive tenacity and leadership, the longest tenured Knick started in Monday’s preseason opener against the Wizards and contributed to the overtime win.
Thomas beat out Mario Hezonja, the Knicks’ big free agent signing over the summer. Fizdale was happy with the starting lineup’s performance Monday – including Thomas’ 12-point, 4-for-5 shooting effort — but warned the configuration might not be permanent.
“This is not set in stone by any means. This is just to get us going. You’ll most likely see every guy who was in camp play (Monday night),” Fizdale said. “I just have really enjoyed the way Lance has led, the way he has held guys to a higher standard of practice habits. Details in practice. I’m thinking it will be a good way to start off with guys that’s already played here in a different system to see how they look in my system. So it’s a good observation for me to see some of the older guys play together around Kevin (Knox). So there’s a lot of factors we looked at in deciding.”
The rest of the lineup was predictable based on indications from camp: Trey Burke at point guard; Tim Hardaway Jr. at shooting guard; Knox at small forward; Enes Kanter at center.
“Mario still has a chance to start,” Fizdale said. “Again, this is just to test it out. But I think whatever role I put him in he’s going to be fine either way. He’s had a really good camp as well. His motor has been second to none and again that versatility is a very important thing to me.”
Knox was aggressive and solid in his debut against NBA competition, finishing with 13 points and 10 rebounds in 26 minutes.
“I got to go against some actual NBA guys, see some of the movements they do, the way they communicate offensively and defensively,” Knox said. “But it was finally good to go against that competition.”
Frank Ntilikina’s omission from the lineup was another indication the Knicks view him as a shooting guard, rather than the primary ballhandler. He could beat out Burke for the point guard spot, but certainly not Hardaway — the $71 million man — for shooting guard. Ntilikina had trouble last season beating defenders off the dribble and, as a result, was tortured by the fullcourt press.