Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports
- The New York Knicks hired former Memphis Grizzlies coach David Fizdale to lead their young squad.
- Fizdale went 49-58 against the spread with Memphis, including 25-34 ATS against teams .500 or better.
- The Knicks’ 2018-19 win total could be inflated by the hiring of Fizdale, whose reputation exceeds his betting market performance.
The New York Knicks introduced David Fizdale as their new head coach on Tuesday, and there’s obvious reason for enthusiasm. Fizdale is one of the most-hyped coaches available after being fired by Memphis following his disconnect with star center Marc Gasol.
The league reacted with outright horror at Fizdale’s firing, despite well-established tenets of team building suggesting you need to have your coach at least on speaking terms with your second-best player, and that you need to actually be above .500 at some point over a four-month span. (Memphis, very under the radar, was 9-15 after the All-Star break in 2016-17 — and the Grizzlies still made the playoffs.)
Overall, though, this is a great hire. If nothing else, the Knicks avoided the retread big-name hires that have doomed them in the past. Fizdale brings a lot of positives with him — and a hugely positive reputation to boot — to New York. It’s a quality hire and should help with recruiting free agents and changing one of the most toxic environments in the NBA — two things that go hand-in-hand with one another.
But if we’re looking to get a feel for how to evaluate the Knicks’ market with Fizdale, what are the signs?
Market Tendencies: More Like ‘Fizzled Out,’ Am I Right?
Fizdale went 49-58 against the spread with Memphis. He was under .500 ATS both as a favorite (22-29) and as an underdog (27-29). He was under .500 ATS both at home 26-29 and on the road 23-29. He was 37-35 ATS vs. the West but only 12-23 vs. the East ATS, the latter of which obviously is where these Knicks reside.
While he did go 6-13 in the dreadful end to his Grizzlies tenure this season, he was still under .500 even in 2016-17 when the Grizzlies made the playoffs.
He went 37-38 ATS vs. teams with an offensive efficiency above 105 and only slightly over .500 (21-19) vs. teams with a defensive efficiency below 105.
Fizdale’s Grizzlies went 25-34 ATS against teams .500 or better, a truly ominous sign.
Now, how about them Knicks?
These Guys Aren’t So Bad (Against the Spread)
Since Kristaps Porzingis was drafted in 2015, did you know the Knicks are actually above .500 ATS? It’s only two games at 124-122, and he certainly missed a lot of time in there, but still. The market is keenly aware of how bad the Knicks are.
Still, New York won 29 games straight up in 2017-18, just two games under their win-total mark for the season despite Porzingis’ knee injury. They have a talented young point guard in Frank Ntilikina who may actually see the floor under Fizdale, and a few capable veterans (Courtney Lee, Tim Hardaway Jr.) on the roster.
What will be interesting is how the market reacts to Fizdale, a high-profile hire with a big reputation. In many ways, Fizdale has a reputation well beyond his results. The Grizzlies rattled off three seasons above 50 wins between 2013 and 2015. In 2016, they suffered one of the worst rashes of injuries of any playoff team we’ve seen, finishing with just 42 wins.
In Fizdale’s first season? They won just 43, finishing seventh on defense for a veteran team that had consistently been top 10 when healthy, and just 19th on offense despite Fizdale’s big objective being to revamp that side of the ball.
None of this is to say that Fizdale is a bad coach. His time in Memphis had ups and downs, and there are players who will absolutely vouch for him, not only from his time as an assistant in Miami, but in Memphis as well. However, it’s not a stretch to say that his Grizzlies team underperformed in 2016-17, even before the collapse this season with Mike Conley on the shelf and Fizdale’s unfortunate, regrettable feud with Gasol.
Fizdale is a master motivator and a sharp mind. He’s likely learned from his episode with Gasol in Memphis that he has to get his star player — in this case, Porzingis — on board with his vision. And there are good reasons to suspect that with a young team with low expectations, he may have more success than the recalcitrant veteran team in Memphis that just wanted to keep the good times rolling.
If he plays Porzingis at the 5 — the most obvious decision in today’s space-centric NBA — that’s a start. Fizdale reportedly is flying to Latvia to start building a bond with his young unicorn. But bear in mind that Porzingis hasn’t been the easiest personality, either. He clashed with Jeff Hornacek, he preferred Phil Jackson’s archaic Triangle offense, and he tends to be frustrated when the team isn’t as successful as it should be, despite his stake in that process.
If we see a significant jump in the Knicks’ win total over/under for 2017-18 (30.5) without a major — and I mean big-time — free agent acquisition, it might be a sign the market is overvaluing what Fizdale brings to the table. Unless LeBron James or Paul George decides he wants to be to bring the Knicks “back,” it’s important to remember that 1) Porzingis will still be recovering from his knee injury for a significant chunk of the year, 2) he’s injury-prone beyond that, having missed 16 games in 2016-17 and 10 in his rookie season, and 3) the Knicks roster is still a mess.
Maybe the NBA lottery shifts that, but even if it does, or even if this team lands a high-mark B-level free agent, proceeding with a heavy weight in your analysis toward the under with all things Knicks might be the play.
It’s not just about whether or not Fizdale will succeed with the Knicks (he should) or about how many times things that should have worked for the Knicks have failed (see: the last 20 years); rather, it’s being wary of how the market may over-correct to something as basic as “the Knicks not screwing up their coaching hire” with a coach whose body of work is good, but whose reputation seems far better.
Pictured above: David Fizdale