Kevin Knox in, Frank Ntilikina out of starting lineup vs. Thunder
OKLAHOMA CITY — The Kevin Knox era is finally here, 15 games into his rookie season as he was inserted into the starting lineup for the first time by Knicks coach David Fizdale.
And it coincided with the end of — at least temporarily — Frank Ntilikina’s run as the starting point guard.
Fizdale shuffled his starting lineup again as the Knicks prepared to face the Thunder at Chesapeake Energy Arena Wednesday night, inserting Knox and Emmanuel Mudiay into the starting five and removing Ntilikina and Damyean Dotson in an effort to jump-start the sluggish offense.
Ntilikina, who was the only player to start every game although he had been at small forward for the first five games, heads to the bench, where Fizdale said he will continue to get point guard minutes. Tim Hardaway Jr., Noah Vonleh and Mitchell Robinson will remain in place in the starting lineup.
“I want to see how [Mudiay] looks with that group, see how he and Mitchell and Kevin all combine together out there with Timmy,” Fizdale said at Wednesday's morning shootaround. “Again, it’s combinations. Dot and Frank’s minutes won’t change. It still will be right there at the 25-minute range that we talked about earlier in the season, and we get to look at that second unit now and see how that combination works.
“I want to see how it looks from a pace standpoint, from just a chemistry standpoint. I know I’ve said this a lot but I really do believe [Mudiay] is our best passer. Maybe he can get certain guys going in certain ways in that starting lineup, maybe get us off to a faster start from a pace standpoint. But again, that comes down to what fits each other, what players fit, what players don’t. I’m really just trying to evaluate that.”
At 4-10 entering Wednesday's game and coming off an ugly home loss to the Magic at Madison Square Garden, Fizdale had hinted that changes could be coming. He said Tuesday that seeing the team last in the NBA in assists, “It makes me want to yack, to be honest with you. But you know, it can only go up from here.”
Mudiay was inactive for the first six games, then played just over two minutes in the seventh game and then didn't get off the bench at all the next game. But his minutes have jumped of late and Fizdale is hopeful he can provide something the other point guards have not.
"We were running a lot of plays," Mudiay said. "He wants to get us back to just playing free and playing fast. We’re young. There’s a lot of people that can run, so when we get it out of the net and even on a missed shot, get the rebound, let’s just run. It doesn’t matter who has it as long as we’re all running."
Ntilikina and Dotson are the two best perimeter defenders, but both have been struggling with their shot. So in an effort to prod the offense back to a faster pace Fizdale is sacrificing some defense — and hoping that the players inserted can improve the speed of play and also defend.
“That’s how we’re going to see,” Fizdale said. “It’ll be measurables there. We’ll have offensive efficiency, defensive efficiency numbers we can now look at and say ‘This group did this or this group did this better.’ And see how it all works out. As much as we’re trying to build a top-five defense, every top-five defense isn’t just five guys running around that are great defenders. The system has to be in place. People have to understand their jobs. You have to have competitors and pieces have to fit. That’s really what we’re trying to get to.”
Knox had started all five preseason games but went to the bench after struggling with his shot, and then suffered a sprained ankle that sidelined him for seven games. He played the last three games, slowly increasing his minutes and his production and felt the time on the second unit helped — but for the lottery pick it was never the end game.
“It was better for me because I got to see the game from a different angle, a different view, be able to watch the game and then be able to come in the game and contribute,” Knox said. “It was pretty good, but I think that helped me a lot as well, just playing hard and competing in practice as well as on the court. That’s kind of why coach said he put me back in, because I’ve been playing really well, playing hard defensively and offensively.”