David Fizdale was asked an innocent question this week. Had he considered sending either of the team’s two struggling rookies, Kevin Knox and Mitchell Robinson, down to the G League for a game to get minutes and boost confidence?
Before the first question, focused on Knox, could be completed, Fizdale quickly replied.
“No. No way,” the Knicks first-year coach said. “I want him with us, even if he’s not playing a lot of minutes on nights, just being around the group, being around the NBA, watching games from that perspective. It’s all experience and learning. I don’t want him spending a minute there right now.”
Of Mitchell, he echoed the sentiment, noting, “No, him neither. I’m keeping both of them with us. We’re raising them as a village now with the group. Through whatever tough times they go through that’s what we’ve got to go through with them right now. But I want them with our guys, playing with our guys, interacting with our guys, having successes and suffering with our guys.”
The suffering is the thing that the two have been mired in of late. Knox, the lottery pick, has looked like the 19-year-old that he is, hesitant on offense and lost on defense. Robinson has become a player who compiles fouls faster than points or rebounds.
And that raises the question, just what is the best way to develop these young players? Fizdale has advocated a learning on the fly system and taking the hard lessons on a nightly basis courtesy of veteran opponents as a teaching method.
In a season dedicated to player development, rebuilding and plotting out a summer makeover, the playing time may be useful. But there are clear blows to the confidence of players. It has led to games where even Knox is used sparingly.
Knox insisted that his confidence has not wavered throughout the hard start to his career.
“I’m just going to keep getting better,” Knox said. “I’m still young, still learning a lot. So I mean, going against some of these big guys in the post and on defense, it’s helping me every single day in practice. I’m getting better and better every single day.”
What is hard to understand is how Fizdale has shuffled players in and out of the lineup, starting them for a stretch and then burying them at other times. Other young projects like Frank Ntilikina have found themselves shuttled between different positions. Oddly, the only rookie who has found his way has been the undrafted free agent Allonzo Trier.
“I think I’ve got a 19-year-old and a 20-year-old trying to figure out the NBA, the league that’s full of the absolute best players in the world, the best coaches in the world, doing it in the absolute toughest market in America,” Fizdale said. “Give them a break. These guys are learning on the fly.
“Whoever’s criticizing them, let me know how many people can become great at 19 and 20 while they’re being punched in the face and they’re learning it all at the same time. I don’t hear those critics. My kids come in here and bust their hump every day. Our organization, we love our kids. We put our arms around them. We’re in here just trying to get them better every single day. And they’re going to go through struggles. That’s just part of the deal.”
Fair enough. The only question is whether the Knicks are helping them through those struggles.
Decision time coming
While Trier entered the season on a two-way contract, allowing him 45 days with the Knicks this season and expected to spend the rest of his time in the G League, he has not spent a day down in Westchester and Fizdale said he will not. That means that the Knicks must convert his contract in mid-December (the exact date depends on a variety of factors like travel days and days off).
To make room for Trier the Knicks will have to either trade or release someone. If no trade is available the most likely candidate to be cut loose is Luke Kornet, who was active for the first time in weeks Saturday. Kornet has a one-year deal worth $1.62 million.
The other candidate is Ron Baker, but Baker’s deal pays him $4.54 million this season. He has played sparingly this season, but was active until Saturday when he was kept out to make room for Kornet — a move that was related to Mitchell Robinson’s bruised left heel.
Lance Thomas update
Thomas spoke for the first time since undergoing arthroscopic surgery on his left knee last month and was optimistic that his return will come soon.
“Feeling great, no pain,” Thomas said. “Just got cleared to do spot shots and stuff on the court. Can’t run yet. Going to start ramping up my conditioning in the next few days.
“I just want to be back with my team. The timing for my surgery, it happened to be when we had a road stretch, so I wasn’t able to be with the team. I had to stay and do the things I needed to do to hurry up and get back. I’m just anxious to just get back with the guys, get back competing with them.”