The New York Knicks continued their impressive preseason play leading up to the start of the 2015-16 NBA season, and Derek Fisher feels optimistic about the strides he’s seeing from the newcomers as well as the veteran players as well.
D-Fish and the Knicks are now undefeated in preseason play after a 115-104 victory over the Washington Wizards on Friday and also 94-88 triumph over the Philadelphia 76ers on Monday. Even more important than victories, the preseason games have given Fisher and Knicks fans an opportunity to get a more in-depth look at how some of New York’s recent acquisitions are fitting in with their new team—and how the rotation might shake out when the regular season campaign begins.
“In terms of building on, just finding ways to win. It’s the preseason, but it is preparation for the season. So there will be nights where you don’t play as well and you just kind of have to find a way. We’re practicing like that, so we can build on that,” Fisher said.
In Friday’s victory over the Wizards, Fisher saw impressive performances from many players trying to secure their spots on the opening night roster and also more encouraging signs from Carmelo Anthony, as he looks to find his groove after offseason knee surgery.
Kristaps Porzingis, who has displayed encouraging sings in the preseason, was on his game once again on Friday, and Fisher definitely likes what he is seeing so far from the prized rookie out of Latvia when it comes to his aggression on the court. Porzingis scored nine points to go along with a solid defensive effort in which he came down with 10 rebounds and also blocked a couple of shots.
“For Kris it’s about just not being afraid of taking advantage of every opportunity he gets to go make a play. He has all the skills necessary to shoot the shot from the perimeter, to post up, but what we like about him the most it that he pursues the basketball, he challenges shots at the rim, he rebounded the ball well and went after it,” Fisher explained.
Derrick Williams is also proving to be an extremely efficient player for the Knicks having averaged about a point per minute in preseason action. In Friday’s contest, Williams led the team in scoring with 23 points.
“[Williams] trusted his game and didn’t think much about what he needed to do or where he needs to be,” Fisher said. “We want our guys to be confident, to trust themselves, to go out there and make plays. He did that tonight.”
D-Fish has seen a high-level of play from his bench over the course of the preseason and in Friday’s game against the Wizards, Fisher credited the group’s experience as the main culprit of the unit’s early success.
“A lot of the guys that are currently coming off the bench, from Langston Galloway in particular, Lance Thomas, Cleanthony Early, even getting Lou Amudson some minutes tonight,” Fisher said when discussing the impressive 59-point performance from the bench on Friday. “Our bench is now made up of guys that are comfortable out there and they played against some of the best players in the league last year and I think they feel pretty good about matching up with guys now.”
One of the biggest headlines to take away from the Knicks preseason play so far is how well Melo has been playing coming off of knee surgery. On Friday, the eight-time All-Star continued to impress offensively scoring 21 points and also dishing out four assists. D-Fish expected his superstar to regain his shooting stroke with ease, but it’s Carmelo’s demeanor that has impressed the head coach the most.
“He’s shooting the ball really well,” Fisher said. “But it’s more about what you see in his mindset and approach to the game. He’s being aggressive, he’s making passes when he should make passes, he’s putting in effort on the defensive end and he’s really leading our guys in the direction that we want them to go.”
When it comes to Kyle O’Quinn, Fisher was complementary of how his presence and verboseness are having a big impact on the team. O’Quinn was brought in to be that type of role player and up to this point in the preseason, it is paying the expected dividends.
“His presence out there is really impactful for us. But it’s really his voice that has the most value. His communication on the defensive end is invaluable and that’s really what’s helping us on that end of the floor, especially with that second unit, in both games, having come off and done a good job on the defensive end.”
O’Quinn was the only Knicks player to record a double-double on Friday, as he scored 14 points to go along with ten rebounds and a couple assists.
In the preseason, the Knicks have shown that they are a more polished team defensively and Fish wants that to be a facet they rely upon heavily during the regular season. After Friday’s game, Fisher was happy with how well his team performed defensively against a high-octane offense like the Wizards.
“I thought defensively we were really solid. [Washington] scored 129 points a couple nights ago and right until the end there they hadn’t broken over 100. So that’s the end of the floor we have to take pride in and I thought we did so tonight,” D-Fish said.
On Monday, New York put together another impressive performance in their 95-88 victory over the 76ers. As far as the offense was concerned, similar to Friday’s game against the Wizards, Anthony and Williams paved the way. On the defensive side of the ball, D-fish thought there was still room to improve after coming off of a well-rounded defensive effort on Friday.
Williams stood out again, leading the Knicks in points for the second consecutive game with 21, while also dishing an assist to go along with three rebounds. Williams drained both of the three-pointers he attempted in the contest, which bodes well for what the power forward can bring to the team from a versatility standpoint.
“Derrick’s versatility, on both ends of the floor: he can defend multiple players, offensively he can do multiple things,” Fisher said. “It’s not a points thing or a statistical thing. He’s done that the last couple nights, but it’s more than that. We think he can do a lot of things for us, and if he can stay healthy, we think that can happen.”
Anthony also continued his impressive offensive play this preseason, scoring 18 points while knocking down one of the two threes he attempted. The signs from Melo over the team’s first three preseason games are all positive and the focal point of the Knicks offense should be able to return to form as the start of the regular season quickly approaches.
Some questions still remain as the Knicks look to sharpen up on both ends of the floor. In Monday’s contest, Philadelphia attempted a total of 39 threes while making only eight of them. While it is good that the percentage from beyond the arc was low, Fisher still emphasized the importance of cutting down the opposition’s attempts in general.
“If they’re taking that many [threes] you’re fortunate that they missed that many tonight. If you take 39, even on a bad night you’ll probably make 13, so that’s 15 more points for them, and they win the game. So it’s really about taking the attempts away,” Fisher explained.
With Porzingis and Kevin Seraphin sitting out this game, Fisher had to rely on Amundson to close out the game from up front. According to Fisher, the team didn’t want Robin Lopez playing too many minutes in only the third preseason game.
“Up front, we’re just finishing with Lou because he finished a lot of games for us last year. So we trust what he can do out there, and he did make some winning plays down the stretch. We played smaller tonight because of the frontcourt guys that we had out. At times it worked well for us, other times it didn’t. That’s something we really have to work on is when we have two forwards, two guards and one big, how to play with some purpose offensively,” Fisher said.
Fisher also added that with the plethora of lineup combinations at his disposal could come in handy when he tries to determine the best matchups to roll out when trying to close out games.
“It allows us to really do some things defensively, with Derrick and Cle or Lance. If you think about lineups that might finish a game during the regular season with Melo at a forward or Derrick Williams at a forward, or Lance at a forward, with Afflalo and Calderon and Vujacic, or Porzingis or Lopez, or Seraphin. We have a lot of different lineups we can finish games with and we’re excited about that,” Fisher said.
Jerian Grant had a busy day on Monday as he logged 27 minutes of action recording seven points, six assists and also three rebounds. Fisher said that with Arron Afflalo out, he’s been contemplating the possibly of starting Grant at point guard to start the regular season. The rookie has looked good in the early preseason games, but Fish wants to keep his options open, as he likes the idea of having the two talented guards as a duel-threat.
“I’ve thought about it some, considering that Arron is out, but I’m also keeping it mind that we’re hoping to be able to plug Arron into that spot, so I’d like to be kind of consistent with guys that will probably be coming off the bench. But he’s doing some very good things,” D-Fish explained. “We think the things that [Afflalo and Grant] can do defensively as young guards, and then also both guys being good ball handlers and decision makers, that will be really good for our second unit. I think they’ve proven that.”
After the Knicks first three preseason games of the season, from Fishers’s perspective, there is definitely areas of their play that they can build on in preparation for the regular season campaign. On the other side of things, he acknowledges that there is still a lot of work to do as well.
“In terms of work to do,” Fish said, “still really figuring out how we can play offensively with some of these different lineups, and helping guys understand spacing and where they should be on the floor sometimes when they’re being asked to play a different spot than what they’re accustomed to.”