Trey Burke has never played in a faster system in his first five seasons.
Every coach likes to talk about running more, but Knicks first-year coach David Fizdale isn’t paying lip service to this goal. It’s happening in Tarrytown, and players are trying to keep up.
“It’s a little fast right now, still getting adjusted to everything, Coach is throwing a lot at us, but I think we’re picking it up pretty good,’’ Burke said of Fizdale’s high-octane offense. “He gives us a lot of freedom. That’s what he says. He wants us to get out and run and that plays to a lot of the guys’ strengths, a lot of the personnel that we’ve got. We like to get out, we like to be able to create. He’s giving me the freedom to get in the lane, create for others and myself.’’
After Phil Jackson’s triangle offense was buried entering last season, ex-Knicks coach Jeff Hornacek said he wanted to run a lot, too. Never happened. The 29-53 Knicks finished 2017-18 second-last in fast-break points per game (8.6). Of course, the Knicks started the season with Ramon Sessions then Jarrett Jack as starting point guards. Burke didn’t inherit the starting duties until late March.
“Coach wants us, if we slow it down, it’s to go inside,’’ Burke said. “But if the team scores, he wants us pushing it right back up their backs. For us, we love that. The guards, we get an opportunity. A team scores, we get an opportunity to just go, get it out of bounds and just push it. We get in the paint, might not have nothing, he wants us to keep our dribble, pull it back out, kick it out and now we’ve got another set on the opposite side. For a player like me, a guy who loves to create, who can make plays off the dribble, I think it’s great for me.’’
The point-guard battle is on between Burke, a sleeker Emmanuel Mudiay and Frank Ntilikina. Judging by how fast Fizdale wants to play, Ntilikina probably is best suited to coming off the bench and playing some off-guard with Burke. The Frenchmen’s strong suit is not as a speedy fast-break ball-handler.
This spin on Mike D’Antoni speedball is why Fizdale preached to the players all summer to come back in excellent shape, ready to pass a strict conditioning sprinting test — which they aced.
“We’re all in tip-top shape, so conditioning is not an issue,’’ said Burke, who ran sand dunes in Palm Springs, Calif. “Before training camp started, get conditioned so we are capable of running. He’s on the bigs about staying with us so it’s not 4 on 5.’’
Fizdale was hardly preaching speedball when he was head coach in Memphis, adapting to his personnel of low-post plodders Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph and a more methodical point guard in Mike Conley. Fizdale kept — for the most part — the Grit & Grind Grizzlies happy.
I really do think we can put a fast team on the floor,’’ Fizdale said. “We’re really athletic, just looking at the roster. We just have a very athletic team. We plan to play fast, but we’re going to share the game. There’s not going to be anybody that dominates the ball for us.’’
Fizdale loves the expression “share the game.’’ It means move the ball. Indeed, there is no longer a Carmelo Anthony to muddle it up or even a definitive No. 1 scoring option with Kristaps Porzingis out indefinitely.
“One-second hold,’’ Fizdale explained. “If you can’t get it done in one second, get off it. There’s four other guys out there that are very capable.”
Mudiay dropped more than 10 pounds to get ready for this offense and he’s been up to speed.
“I feel I’m in great shape right now,’’ Mudiay said. “Definitely got to keep it going, especially the way the coach wants to play this year. All of us have to be in great shape. I feel like as far as being in shape, we’re one of the best [in the league] right now.”
Fizdale’s speedball sounds good in the first week of training camp. Everyone will see what it really looks like Monday in the preseason opener against Washington.
Since accepting the job in May, Fizdale has talked about position-less basketball — something he introduced to the Miami Dream Team during the LeBron James glory days. Essentially, he doesn’t care which guard brings the ball up court. Or forward, for that matter.
It’s looking more and more like Fizdale will have room to play all three of his young point guards and perhaps use a small-ball 4 in Mario Hezonja.
“I’m always going to have two guys who can handle,’’ Fizdale said. “It’s not going to be that he’s primary or that someone else is primary — the first guy that gets it, let’s go. I think for any guard, it’s nice to have a second ball-handler. Kyrie [Irving] had it and LeBron would be next to him, and those guys would trade off.”