The thing about a rebuilding plan is that there are lessons that will be learned. Hard, slow lessons, stretched out across 82 games. The Knicks’ plan is for the season to be a developmental process, and some of those lessons may take a while, but some were on display just minutes into the first preseason game Monday night.
The learning moment that we all saw came when Mitchell Robinson was trotting up court and suddenly turned and went nose to nose with burly Wizards forward Markieff Morris. That was an immediate lesson, one that likely won’t be soon forgotten by Robinson.
But it was just one very visible lesson. There were others, less worthy of becoming memes. The Knicks’ higher-profile rookie, Kevin Knox, saw that.
“A lot of calls,” he said. “As a rookie you don’t get no calls and you’re going to get called a lot. That’s just something to get used to as a rookie, keep talking to the refs, keep asking for tips and how we can get better. As a rookie you expect that.
“We’re going to get tested a lot. Me, Mitch, a lot of rookies, this whole year. Got to be able to stay level-headed, not back down, but Mitch did a good job not getting the [second] tech and staying out of it. As a rookie you’re going to get tested a lot, but that’s something we expect.”
There were the hits that the rookies -- Knox just 19 years old and Robinson 20 -- had to take, things that preparation from coaches or practice sessions can’t quite teach. But the other lessons imparted by the coaches were well learned, too, with Knox, Robinson and undrafted rookie Allonzo Trier all making impressive debuts.
First-year coach David Fizdale has stressed that he considers development a key, citing everyone who crosses paths with the players in the organization a part of that process. But the most important part of that remains teaching the young players to excel in the NBA game.
Knox had 13 points, shooting erratically early before converting a pair of three-point field goals in the second half. But what he said he was focused on was what the coaches had preached before the game, challenging him to rebound and defend. He finished with 10 rebounds, and when he pulled one down on the defensive end, the 6-9 forward turned almost every time and raced the ball up the floor to kick-start the offense.
“Yeah, Fiz before the game told me he wanted me to get seven, eight rebounds,” Knox said. “So he challenged me to get that. I went out there trying to focus on defense and rebounds, talk more, communicate more, and the offense will come.”
For Robinson, who did not play in college, taking last year off to prepare for the draft after a brief stay at Western Kentucky, the mistakes are expected, and so are the growing pains. But what the Knicks were happy with were the flashes of athleticism, including one stretch in which he finished off a lob dunk, running the floor ahead of the defense, and then swatting a shot on the other end. His biggest flaw was an 0-for-4 performance at the free-throw line.
“For a young kid that hasn’t played on the big stage, those were excellent minutes,” Fizdale said. “We’ll clean up the free throws. He’s got a good shot. He just was off balance. He was leaning to his left a lot. But his follow-through and everything else was fine. I like the fact that he’s in there getting those O-boards, and putbacks, and the activity. That was fantastic.”
Notes & quotes: According to an NBA source, the Knicks signed 6-8 forward Phillip Carr Tuesday, taking the 20th roster spot after the team waived Tyrius Walker earlier in the day. Carr, a Brooklyn product, played at Morgan State.