If only for a day, Frankie Smokes should spark a celebratory cigar. Per ESPN, the New York Knicks signed David Fizdale to a four-year contract on Thursday, making him the 29th head coach in franchise history. The key takeaway from this hire? Phil Jackson’s reign of influence is finally, officially, over.
Leftovers from the triangle are now a thing of the past. Fizdale has helped modernize both the Heat and the Grizzlies, and he’ll take his act to Madison Square Garden. Though Fizdale didn’t even have time to find a favorite ribs joint in Memphis—the Grizzlies hired him in 2016, his first head-coaching job, only to fire him 19 games into the 2017-18 season—he did solidify his reputation as a player’s coach during his short time with the franchise. Fizdale’s work as a bigs whisperer goes back further to his time as an assistant with the Heat. “I wouldn’t have a job right now as a head coach if Chris Bosh couldn’t shoot 3s,” Fizdale told ESPN in 2016. “And he developed that in Miami.”
Fizdale helped Bosh transform into the prototypical stretch 4 that is now a staple for most frontcourts. In addition to becoming more comfortable from the perimeter on offense, he also became more effective defending the perimeter—two musts for most bigs these days. Also consider what he did with Marc Gasol: The big Spaniard attempted 588 3-pointers in the past two seasons combined; he attempted 66 in the previous eight. “In my first conversation with Marc, I said, ‘Well, you know I’m going to start taking you out if you don’t get up at least four 3-pointers a game,’” Fizdale told ESPN. “And I think he about fell out of his chair when I said it.” Sure, Gasol didn’t exactly have a great relationship with the guy, and that likely influenced Fizdale’s eventual firing, but he’s now much better suited to survive in this era than he was before Fizdale’s tutelage.
In Memphis, Fizdale was tasked with taking an old team into the future, but he won’t need to play catch-up with his new franchise cornerstone this time around. Fizdale’s track record with Bosh is like getting double pink Starbursts in a Halloween two-pack for the Knicks: It bodes well for the actualization of Kristaps Porzingis’s potential as a unicorn, and also for the modernization of the Knicks’ old-school offense in general.
The Knicks constantly felt stuck in the past with Jeff Hornacek. Even after he was given the freedom to move away from Jackson’s triangle offense and toward the free-flowing offense he coached in Phoenix, Hornacek’s team didn’t exactly embrace the ball-movement … movement. The Knicks were in the bottom third of the NBA in assist percentage and 29th in the league in 3-point attempts per game, ahead of only the Timberwolves. (If it weren’t for Clyde Frazier’s suits, the Knicks broadcast would probably be aired in black and white.) Having spent much of his career in Miami, Pat Riley’s hard-nosed defensive sensibilities have rubbed off on Fizdale, which should be a positive for the Knicks going forward.
Fizdale’s big project in Memphis was convincing a plodding 7-footer to shoot 3s; in New York, maybe it’s convincing Porzingis to play the 5. KP played center for only 12 percent of his minutes this season, per Basketball-Reference. In a reimagined Fizdale defense, the Latvian could play a role similar to Anthony Davis’s this season after DeMarcus Cousins’s injury pushed Davis to the 5-spot.
There’s once again reason for excitement in the Knicks hive. Rather than hiring someone to fit the old Knicks mold, the front office took a step forward with Fizdale. It’s the only direction to go with a superstar of the future. Now they just have to nail their draft pick.