Ian Begley, SNY.tv | Twitter |
Three games into the season, David Fizdale already has a tough issue to sort out: how to get Dennis Smith Jr. going.
The Knicks' backup point guard has missed 10 of 11 shots to start the season.
"It seems like he's overthinking it. And he's pressing," Fizdale said after the Knicks' 24-point loss to Boston on Saturday. "It's funny how it works when you work on something so much, and it doesn't click for you right away how that can get to you. But he'll keep working at it and getting better at it."
Smith Jr. worked on his shot extensively over the summer. The team was optimistic that the work would pay off this season. It hasn't happened so far. On Saturday, some fans at Madison Square Garden started to boo Smith Jr. and chant for Frank Ntilikina, another option for Fizdale at point guard.
"Our fans are passionate. They know what they like, they know what they want. It doesn't do anything to my mindset," Fizdale said of chants from the crowd. "I'm going to coach this team and Frank will get his opportunities. We're talking about three games into the season. It's not like we're talking 40 games in. So Frank's mindset is right. He's been working his butt off. And when he gets the opportunity, he'll be ready."
New York is 0-3 heading into Monday's game against the Chicago Bulls. Usually when the fans at MSG start to voice their displeasure with an issue, the only thing that quiets them down is winning. If the Knicks struggle on Monday, don't be surprised if we hear more chants about Ntilikina.
Fizdale was asked on Saturday night what 'the issue' is with Ntilikina that's keeping him from playing.
"There's no issue. We have three point guards and we're three games into it," the coach said. "And I'm just going to keep looking at different rotations until we have the right people out there."
They didn't have the right combination New York trailed Boston by two with 2:38 to play in the third. Nine minutes later, they were down by 20.
Was Smith Jr. solely responsible for that collapse? No.
He was on the floor for 2:38 of it. But the third-year guard hasn't impacted the game in ways the Knicks would like to see.
New York has been outscored by more than 20 points in Smith Jr's 21 minutes on the court. (Plus-minus over such a small amount of time can be misleading, but that's a big number.)
Fizdale was asked on Saturday if he'd continue to play Smith Jr. amid his struggles.
"We're three games into it. It's not like it's 20 games into the season. But other guys will get opportunities," he said. "That's how it's going to work. You either perform and you're getting it done or you're not."
Given that, it's logical to think that Fizdale will tweak his rotation for the Bulls game. We know that Elfrid Payton is going to start. Will Fizdale and the organization decide that its best for Smith Jr. to stay off the court as he gets back on track? Will Ntilikina be in the rotation?
Something to keep in mind with Smith Jr.: he's the best player that the Knicks received in the Kristaps Porzingis trade. Given that, it would be logical to think that the organization is invested in his success. It will be interesting to see how the club proceeds with him.
For those wondering about potential injuries, Fizdale said on Saturday that Smith Jr. is fully healthy. Smith Jr. himself said he's confident in his shot and that his conditioning is in a good place.
It's worth noting that Ntilkina handled questions about the chants from fans diplomatically, saying he appreciated the support for he and his teammates.
"Like everybody, I want to get out there. I want to help my teammates. But I know I have to put in work and we all have to put in work to get better as a team and improve for these next game," he said.
Worth noting: Ntilikina defended Boston's Kemba Walker well in Team France's win over Team USA in the Fiba World Cup two months ago, but he played just 18 seconds against Boston on Saturday. Walker finished with 32 points on 11-of-17 shooting.
Would Ntilikina have slowed him down? It's worth wondering.
But the backup point guard spot certainly wasn't the only issue for New York on Saturday. The club had 25 turnovers (and 15 assists) and the ball didn't move enough on offense in the second half.
"I think, we're trying to take turns right now," Fizdale said of the offense. "We end up forcing situations. The team defenses aren't going to just let you go one on one and attack that way. You've got to move the ball."
A few bright spots? RJ Barrett (26 points, seven rebounds, three assists) and Mitchell Robinson (17 points, three blocks).
In a big-picture sense, it's too soon for interested parties to start panicking about this team. New York is three games into an 82-game season.
But unlike in years past, you get the sense that people in influential positions in the organization won't be happy if the Knicks are playing for lottery position after the All Star break. This team was put together to compete and win games.
Just something to keep in mind heading into Monday's game against Chicago.