Fizdale Under Microscope

He came into town with more hype than any Knick coach since Pat Riley, saying things no prior coach had seemingly ever said before — the Knicks were going to be about Defense, and accountability, and a Winning attitude. Except every coach had said that when they arrived. Still all you heard on Knicks Twitter was how he was “My Coach”.

“My Coach”

Riley had won 4 titles in LA; albiet people said they were Magic Johnson‘s titles and Riley was along for the ride. Still, Riley had a renowned reputation as one of the best coaches in basketball. Fizdale had no such pedigree; he’d won 43 games with a Memphis team that won 42 the year before, but 50 or more the 3 years prior to that. On the positive side, Fiz’s Memphis team was heading for 50 wins before star Mike Conley got injured at the end of the year. But the next year Fiz was mysteriously fired very early in the season, after going 7-12. He had benched and was feuding with his star European big man — Marc Gasol (who started at center and helped lead Toronto to a title last June).

“Fire Fizdale” Chants

The “Fire Fizdale” chants have now broken out at the Garden, starting this past Sunday. To Fizdale’s credit, the Knicks have played good defense in a number of games this year — for example, last Friday night against Boston when they deployed a switching defense and confused the Celtics. Spero Dedes on Knicks radio said that it looked like one of the assistant coaches deployed that defense; some on Knicks twitter pointed to Mike Miller, the assistant coach who deployed a similar defense the last two years in getting Westchester into the playoffs. Sometimes a head coach is only as good as his assistant coaches.

The Microsope Is Replacing the Magnifying Glass

There was a magnifying glass on Fizdale last season; there is a microscope on his coaching missteps now. Here’s a few that I noticed:

1. Yanking/Spanking Trier

Allonzo Trier played great with RJ Barrett at the end of preseason and earned a starting guard spot for the first game of the season.

  • In that first game, the Knicks fell behind by 15 points in the first 6 minutes and Trier was yanked from the game. He played less than a minute in the 3rd quarter to finish the game with 7 minutes played.
  • In game 2, Trier shot 6 of 7 (3 of 4 from 3) to score 22 points, mostly in the 4th quarter, when he led the Knicks back in a close loss to Brooklyn.
  • In game 3, he had a bad game — 0-4 shooting in 20 minutes against Boston. Tim Hardaway Jr could only imagine getting yanked after taking 4 shots.
  • Trier was then plastered to the bench for the next 3 full games. He surfaced vs Memphis in a game the Knicks were getting blown out in.

2. Leaving Smith Jr Out to the Dogs

Fizdale was trying to do a good thing for Dennis Smith Jr — letting him play through his slump, but boy did he leave him to the dogs. Fizdale’s logic and stubbornness have to be examined here.

It is game 2. The Knicks are getting hosed by Boston at Madison Square Garden, and Kemba Walker is Boston’s point of attack in the 3rd quarter. What had been a close game is getting away from the Knicks. Dennis Smith Jr is awful — missing  shots, taking bad shots, making bad passes, letting Walker past him like a matador; Smith’s confidence is clearly shot. Meanwhile, Frank Ntilikina may not be a point guard, but he did stifle Walker just this summer in the FIBA tournament, helping France beat the USA. Fizdale has that weapon on his bench — and he chooses not to use him. Instead he leaves Smith Jr in the game to get humiliated — the Garden starts cheering “We Want Frank” in the 3rd quarter, and then start booing Dennis Smith Jr.

That is all on the coach.

Finally he yanks Smith Jr, and replaces him with .. Elfrid Payton, the game’s starting point guard, who also had been having a hard time against Kemba. Clearly coach was saying to the fans, he is not going to be making decisions based on what they chant — he is not “their coach”.

Ntilikina got less than a minute’s playing time in this game; a game that Kemba Walker dominated; Kemba Walker who Ntilikina had stifled in the summer at FIBA.

Fizdale made adjustments for the next game, and started Ntilikina. It was too late, Kemba Walker wasn’t playing in the next game.

3. Waiting Until an Hour Before 1st Game to Announce Starting Point Guard

What was that about? Trying to ruffle the feathers of Greg Popovich? After much ballyhoo before the season as to who was going to be the starting point guard, Fizdale refused to name one — even in the 3 off days after preseason ended and the season started. He didn’t announce it on game day either. He waited until an hour before the 1st game against Greg Popovich and the San Antonio Spurs, to announce his starting lineup — which didn’t have any of the 3 point guards who were fighting for the job (Ntilikina, Smith Jr, and Elfrid Payton) but instead had Allonzo Trier and RJ Barrett in the backcourt. See Trier above.

Other Moves Under the Microscope

There are other moves to look at — for example, putting Mitchell Robinson to the bench and starting Bobby Portis now to open up spacing for Julius Randle underneath — Mitchell Robinson is the player you want to build around! But Fiz is now on the Hot Seat and Winning is imperative.

Recently Knicks Twitter and Knicks media are second guessing the massive amount of minutes he is giving RJ Barrett, even in blow out loses like the one against Sacramento the other day where Barrett played 41 minutes.

Hopefully the whole thing works out for Fiz. He does have two good assistant coaches in Mike Miller and Keith Smart. It is early. But you are not seeing anyone on Knicks Twitter saying he is “My Coach” anymore. Everyone is busy adjusting the focus of their microscope.

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