First-year Knicks coach David Fizdale announced on Tuesday that second-year guard/forward Frank Ntilikina will start in place of Knox when New York opens the season on Wednesday against the Atlanta Hawks.
Fizdale had said at the conclusion of preseason that Knox, who had started all five exhibition games, would start for New York to open the year.
After studying film and going through preseason statistics, Fizdale decided that Ntilikina had earned a spot in the starting lineup. He will start alongside Tim Hardaway Jr., Enes Kanter, Lance Thomas and Trey Burke.
“I think the most important thing I was trying to get out of it was culturally you’ve got to earn it,” Fizdale said. “I don’t think Kevin got to the point where he earned it more than Frank. But there were some good things for Kevin (in the preseason), and I was really happy with him having to go through highs and lows early on.
“He had the two double-doubles early and then he hit a wall. That’s just a learning opportunity for him. I don’t want to reward that yet. I do think Frank, consistently throughout the preseason, no matter where I put him, he got the job done. So for our culture that’s more important.”
Knox, selected ninth overall by New York in the 2018 NBA Draft, shot 33 percent in the preseason and missed 25 of his last 34 shots. Fizdale hopes the move to the second-unit can spark the former Kentucky star.
“Sometimes just a little change might help a guy get his rhythm, take a little pressure off of him,” Fizdale said. “He can see the game developing first before he subs in. But you know he’s determined to get back to the starting lineup. Don’t think for one second he’s taking it light. But he understands how I operate: fairness. And he’s on board with that. Hell, he’s the first layer of our culture, so he has to understand.”
Fizdale noted that he will evaluate the starting lineup regularly and he reserved the right to change it at any time. He also believes the Knicks — as one of the youngest teams in the NBA — weren’t well equipped to handle a young player being handed a starting spot without earning it.
“A veteran team could handle me going, ‘Hey let’s go with the young guy and let him play through it’ This is a young bunch of guys that’s all dog-fighting to get in that lineup,” he said. “And I think for my first year, the culture was more important than the development part of that. And this is still helping Kevin’s development. Him having to go through a bump and having to fight his way to that starting lineup, I think is going to be a great thing for him.”
The Knicks hope that Knox develops into a part of the young core they are trying to build around injured All-Star Kristaps Porzingis. New York, which has missed the playoffs in five straight seasons, hopes to attract a top free agent in the coming offseason.