It may have been a slip, it may have been intentional.
“This is much more about my kids just continuing to take steps forward,” he said.
Note the use of “my kids” when describing his players.
Fizdale has embraced the challenge of being a teacher this season, with a focus on the growth mindset. And player development goes beyond just working with the rookies. It also involves reclamation projects in the form of former lottery picks looking to save their careers.
That brings me to another Fizdale quote that came to mind as the Knicks put away the Pelicans for their second straight win:
“[Emmanuel] Mudiay, we’re gonna get to work,” Fizdale said. “We’re gonna get you right.”
He said this in May when he was introduced as head coach. At the time, not many people thought much of Mudiay’s potential. He had been acquired by GM Scott Perry in a trade from the Denver Nuggets, who were ready to pull the plug on their 2015 first-round pick. Mudiay then dealt with an ankle injury just before the season started, which set him back. All along, Fizdale kept telling people he needed to find minutes for the stocky young point guard.
Once Mudiay got healthy, he slowly earned minutes. Last week in Oklahoma City, Fizdale gave him his first start of the season and it seems like he’s going to keep it for a while. He’s had some good starts over the last few games, but had a tendency to fade late in games. But against the Pelicans, Mudiay was a force driving to the paint and getting to the free throw line. He scored 15 of his season-high 27 points in the fourth quarter and hit some clutch free throws down the stretch to clinch the win.
“I’ve got a lot of confidence in the kid,” Fizdale said of Mudiay. “I keep telling him that every single day: ‘I’ve got total confidence in you. Don’t look over at me. Don’t drop your head.’ Those are the only rules.”
Mudiay talked about the growth mindset when he was interviewed by MSG Network’s Rebecca Haarlow after the game. “We’re just worried about us, trying to get better every single day,” he said. “Coach is always preaching one percent. So we’re trying to get one percent better every game.”
– Fizdale was also instilling confidence in another reclamation project, Noah Vonleh, a 9th overall pick in 2014, who has recorded a double-double in three straight games since being reinserted into the starting lineup. Fizdale called Vonleh “overall our most complete player” and a look at his boxscore certainly backs up this claim.
Vonleh has become a prototypical “stretch four” this season, shooting a high percentage (48%), making threes (41%), passing the ball and also collecting rebounds and blocks. Against the Pelicans, he had 14 points, 11 rebounds, 5 assists, 2 blocks, 2 steals and made 4 threes.
– Offense this season has been record-breaking in the NBA. All the evidence you need is what the Knicks have been able to do over the last five games. They’re averaging 117.2 points per game and shooting 47.9% from the field and 39.3% from three-point range. As we said in the pregame Knicks Fix segment, we have completed the first quarter of the season and what we’re seeing from the Knicks is their highest scoring output (108.9 points per game) and fastest pace (99.5 possessions per game) in 30 years, but neither are anywhere near the top of the league leaders.
– Rookie Mitchell Robinson gave a perfect answer when asked about the move back to the bench after starting for a few games. Robinson told reporters that it would allow him to stay in games more because he wouldn’t get into early foul trouble, which has become an issue. Well, against Anthony Davis and the Pelicans, Robinson only lasted 9:16 before he fouled out. One foul, in my opinion, was unfair as he was assessed with a Flagrant 1 for apparently stepping under Nik Mirotic on a three-point attempt in the third quarter. What you love is how Robinson has already developed an aggressive mentality when it comes to defense. He takes it very personally when someone scores on him. And, by the way, despite playing only a little over nine minutes, he still recorded 2 blocks. Robinson leads the NBA in Block Percentage (9.8%), which is ahead of other notable shot-blockers such as Myles Turner (9.2%), Hassan Whiteside (8.9%) and JaVale McGee (7.9%). Robinson is averaging 4.1 Blocks Per 36 Minutes, but it should be noted he’s also averaging 6.2 Fouls Per 36 Minutes.
– In case you’re wondering, the quickest disqualification in franchise history is 6 fouls in 6 minutes. That was done twice in franchise history, most recently by Len Elmore in Feb. 1984. Last season, Michael Beasley fouled out in 10 minutes against the Hawks. Robinson’s 6 fouls in 9:13 was the earliest disqualification since Rick Carlisle fouled out in 8 minutes in Dec. 1987.
[Watch the Knicks Take on the Grizzlies Sunday at 5:30 PM on MSG & MSG GO. Get the App Now.]