The Knicks started the season with just one win in their first eight games, but as of late, the team has shown signs of finding more consistency.
With a stretch of three wins in their last seven games, the Knicks are building back into the team they hoped to be heading into the season, and according to head coach David Fizdale, it all comes down to how well the Knicks have been defending the paint lately.
"We're taking care of the paint, and that was our number one emphasis," Fizdale said prior to Saturday's game against the Spurs. "Can we be a top five team defensively in shutting down the paint? I think right now we're like five or six, teetering in that area now. The next thing is us getting a little more uncomfortable at getting to the three-point line. Touch fouls I think is another thing we can get better at and improve on, but I'm definitely happy about the way we're shutting down the paint."
"We're taking care of the paint and that was our number one emphasis"- Knicks Videos (@sny_knicks) November 23, 2019
David Fizdale on the team's defense pic.twitter.com/egrR3LqsgE
The Knicks' emphasis on shutting down the paint is partly based on personnel, with players like Mitchell Robinson averaging two blocks per game, while Marcus Morris, Julius Randle and Bobby Portis can also provide a physical presence down low. But it's also a philosophy that Fizdale has carried with him during his coaching career.
"You've got to pick a poison, and I just felt like the easiest basket in the league is a layup right now, although teams shoot a lot of three's I just feel like that if you can limit the number of easy baskets in the paint and limit your fouls in the paint, you give yourself a chance, and I feel like that's what's been happening recently," said Fizdale. "We've been in games because we've cut the points in the paint way down.
"If you can eliminate easy baskets, cuts, rim runs, drives to the rim, things like that, I think you at least give yourself an opportunity to win the game."
The Knicks have also gotten more consistency out of their starting lineup of late, with Frank Ntilikina, RJ Barrett, Marcus Morris, and Taj Gibson on the floor.
According to Fizdale, finding that right combo has gone a long way for the entire team, including the players on the bench, who combined to score 42 points vs. Cleveland and 29 points against Philadelphia.
"It took a while to get there and figure out who fits with what, but now it's starting to kind of formulate which players play better together and which groups play better together," said Fizdale. "Obviously I always say it's nothing concrete, but at least we're starting to find some consistency with the lineups."
"(I like their) pace," Fizdale said of the Knicks' bench. "I think the way we're attacking, we're really starting to open up Mitchell's game a little more and utilizing his ability to catch lobs and run the floor. I think (Damyean Dotson) has brought a real motor to that group. Dennis Smith Jr. is starting to get his legs underneath him and starting to make plays for us and make shots, because he's worked so hard on that. I think we just have to continue to build habits and continuity."
Allonzo Trier hasn't played in the Knicks' last four games and was in and out of the rotation prior to that. Fizdale said Trier, a second-year guard, has handled the role like 'a pro.'
"You watch him on the bench, I think that tells you everything you need to know. He's the first one rooting for his teammates," Fizdale said. "Now is he happy or ecstatic that he's not playing? No. And I don't want him to be. I want him to be hungry. I want him to keep fighting. And by no means is he out of sight, out of mind. I don't think I have that luxury with this team to put anybody in that position. Just right now I'm starting to find consistency with the groups that are playing. I'm going to lean toward that right now before anything else."