Ian Begley, SNY.tv | Twitter |
The Knicks may have to change their lineups for opening night due to Mitchell Robinson's ankle injury.
Robinson sprained his right ankle in practice on Monday and is questionable for the Knicks' regular-season opener against the Spurs on Wednesday.
Prior to the injury, RJ Barrett, Marcus Morris and Julius Randle were expected to start against San Antonio. That may remain the case, but if Robinson can't play, Randle could slide to center. The Knicks could also start Bobby Portis at center in place of Robinson. Taj Gibson is another option, but he is currently questionable with a sore right calf.
Also worth noting: guard Allonzo Trier is under consideration for a spot in the Knicks' starting five, per SNY sources. Members of the organization liked how Barrett and Trier looked together during preseason and training camp, per league sources.
It's unclear if Trier starting would knock one of the potential starting point guards -- Dennis Smith Jr., Elfrid Payton and Frank Ntilikina -- out of the starting lineup. Fizdale could put Barrett at small forward and Trier at shooting guard while starting one of Smith Jr., Payton or Ntilikina. Or he could put both Trier and Barrett in the backcourt together, which is a scenario under consideration, per sources.
On Tuesday, Fizdale said he was getting close to making a decision on the lineup and he'd announce it on Wednesday.
Barrett handled the ball regularly during the preseason, and Fizdale said earlier in camp that he liked Barrett as a playmaker.
The coach pointed out on Monday that Trier, who averaged 10 points in 16 minutes per game on 43 percent shooting in three preseason games, brings a unique skill to this Knicks roster.
"He brings an element that probably no one else brings on the team from a standpoint of, he can really break you down off the dribble and he's a good shooter from three," Fizdale said. "I've been really happy with the way he's gone about it, when he was playing and when he wasn't playing. He's been a good teammate to guys, and when he got his opportunity, he really played well."
Fizdale has critiqued players for holding the ball too long in the preseason. But he said Monday that he hasn't seen that issue with Trier, whose nickname is 'Iso Zo.'
"This year he hasn't done it. I think he's two possessions where he had maybe taken multiple dribbles in a possession. He doesn't want the nickname (Iso Zo) and he wants to change that perception of him as a guy that holds," Fizdale said. "He wants to be just Allonzo Trier. He's been going about it the right way and he's been showing that in practice."
If Robinson is out Wednesday, New York will be missing its best interior defender. Robinson averaged 2.4 blocks per game last season, just behind NBA leader Myles Turner (2.7 per game).
"Hopefully he's young and it heals fast and can go out there," Fizdale said.
The coach added that Ntilikina, Smith Jr. and Payton have made the decision on who to start at point guard difficult.
"They've all been competing their butts off and fighting for it," he said.
It's fair to say that none of the guards forced Fizdale's hand with their performances. All were uneven at times during the preseason. Fizdale said that he'd communicate with all of the point guards after he makes his mind up about the lineups.
"I try to communicate every move I make to those guys and (explain) why," he said. "Obviously there's always going to be somebody that's the odd man out. But I want to make sure that I have empathy for that guy and give him an explanation of why. And look, it's a long season, none of this stuff is in stone. 82 games, it's long season. We'll see how it goes."
Fizdale on Morris situation
Fizdale said he understands why Spurs coach Gregg Popovich was upset over Marcus Morris backing out of his free-agent agreement with the Spurs to sign with the Knicks.
"I'm happy Marcus Morris is a Knick. No one wants it to go down the way it went down. That wasn't an easy decision for Marcus to change his mind," Fizdale said. "If I was on the other side of it, I'd be upset as well. It's just natural. But I'm excited Marcus is part of our family."
Morris will play in San Antonio Wednesday for the first time since reneging on a verbal commitment to the Spurs. San Antonio traded Davis Bertans to make room for Morris. The Knicks and Morris agreed to a one-year, $15 million deal.
Fizdale declined comment when asked about Popovich saying that the parties involved acted unprofessionally.
Offense still under construction
You can expect the Knicks to add more to their offense as the season unfolds. With more than seven new players in training camp, Fizdale said it will take some time to put the entire offense in.
"I think the first thing that we tried to hammer down was trying to get the ball up the court and get proper spacing and really trying to hammer home the idea of moving the basketball because we got some guys that, they like to hold it in they hands and attack," he said. "So breaking those habits, that takes time. But you're not going to have your whole offensive package in right out the gate."
Obviously, veteran teams with roster continuity can have most of their offense in by opening night. The Knicks are not one of those teams.
Barrett ready to go
Barrett will have some friends and family in San Antonio for his first regular-season NBA game.
"As soon as I run out on the court, I'm going to feel a different type of vibe and different tension," Barrett said Tuesday. "I'm going to go out on the court and have fun."
Barrett was asked about the low win projections for the Knicks entering the season.
"We pride ourselves on having a bunch of dogs. We're underdogs, we know that and we love that challenge," he said.
"Randle had this advice for Barrett on the eve of his first NBA opener: "Just go out there and enjoy yourself your not going to be perfect. Just trust the process and get better day by day."
Randle will be a focal point for New York this season, a role he played in New Orleans last year when Anthony Davis was sidelined.
"(That time) helped me a lot as far as focusing on how defenses were playing me, loading up, so I (had) to make my teammates better," he said. "It gave me that experience and confidence I needed to go to the summer and get ready for this opportunity."
Randle said the Knicks watched 30 minutes of rebounding videos on Tuesday. Fizdale has said that he'd like the club to improve on the glass. New York ranked 17th in rebound rate in the preseason.
"It's cemented in our head now to box out and rebound," he said.
Randle added that defense remained the focus of practices throughout preseason.
"Fiz is drilling the hell out of us every day. That's more of our focus than the offense. Offense is the easiest thing to fix in the NBA," he said.
A few other Barrett notes
College and NBA scouts both noted that Barrett seemed to rely on going to his left often at Duke. Barrett was asked if he works on going right.
"I definitely work on it and I don't feel like I can't go a certain way. It's just, it's natural, right-handers go right too. If I need to use my right I definitely do," he said.
Barrett reached out to his close friend and ex-Duke teammate Zion Williamson to check in on Monday. Williamson is expected to miss 6-8 weeks following knee surgery.
"I texted him yesterday just making sure he was OK, He was in good spirits so it was good."
The Knicks are debuting their statement jerseys on Wednesday. They will wear the jerseys 18 times, including Nov. 3 at home against Sacramento.