David Fizdale was announced Thursday as the new head coach of the New York Knicks, per Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:
The Knicks get an excellent game coach, a strategist of the first rank, and a guy who gives them instant credibility as they try to get back into the Eastern Conference playoff hunt after a five-year absence.
They also get a graduate with honors of the Fratello-McMillan College Of Boring Basketball.
Fizdale took over a Memphis Grizzlies team with a “Grit N’ Grind” ethos that stretches back to Lionel Hollins‘ last year coaching the team, when they went 56-26 by playing the slowest basketball in the league in 2013, a ridiculous 88.4 pace. (https://www.basketball-reference.com/teams/MEM/2013.html)
Since 2013, the Grizz have placed 30th, 30th, 26th, and 27th in pace (in four years under Hollins and Dave Joerger) and in 2017 finished 28th in pace at a snail-like 92.3 under Fizdale.
Now, maybe we can’t blame Coach Fizz for this; the Grizz were 29th in pace this year despite being coached by J.B. Bickerstaff, the same guy who presided over the seventh-fastest team in the league in 2015-16 in Houston.
So maybe it’s executive meddling here; the Grizzlies’ front office is terrible, after all, and if they want to grit and grind their way to the lottery every year, more power to them. This year they even had their trademark point-differential-defying start (7-4 through 11 games); they didn’t wait until after the All-Star break to collapse like a straw hut in a hurricane, they did so before the Thanksgiving leftovers got cold.
Looking back further into Fizdale’s tenure as an assistant before he got a head coaching job, let’s see if we can’t get to the bottom of whether Fizdale’s a boring coach or whether he just coached a boring team.
His first job was as an assistant in Golden State in 2004; the team went 37-45 under Eric Musselman and played at an 89.8 pace that was 16th in the Dark Ages-mired NBA.
Fizdale then went to Atlanta from 2005 to 2008; under Mike Woodson, the teams were terrible (the lone playoff appearance was as an 8 seed after going 37-45, and they nearly upset the championship Celtics but for the fact that they lost the four road games by a combined 1600 points.)
The pace? 13Th, 17th, 24th, and 18th, running between 90.0-91.4 possessions per 48 minutes.
Fizdale then joined Erik Spoelstra’s band of jolly outlaws in Miami upon Spo’s promotion to head coach for the 2008-09 season.
Spoelstra, who coined the term “pace and space” for what had previously been called either “small ball” or “D’Antoni ball” (after Mike D’Antoni, who invented fun in 2005), was…
Well, here are the numbers for eight years of Spo in charge and Fizz as his loyal lieutenant.
2009: 89.9 (22nd)
2010: 89.6 (28th)
—LeBron James Makes “The Decision”—
2011: 90.9 (20th)
2012: 91.2 (16th)
2013: 90.7 (23rd)
2014: 91.2 (27th)
—LeBron Has Left The Building—
2015: 90.9 (29th)
2016: 93.6 (25th)
Which means exactly what you think it means. Besides the surprise some folks might have to finding out that LeBron played on slow-as-hell basketball teams in Miami, but then again, when your teammates are consistently among the oldest in the league, that will happen.
The Knicks under Jeff Hornacek were 17th and 15th in the NBA in pace in the coach’s two seasons. Before that, they were one of the slowest teams in the league year in and year out trying to run the triangle offense in the post-triangle era.
Which means…well, it means the Knicks are likely to start winning again, anyway. With Kristaps Porzingis hopefully getting some actual coaching stability and a talented young roster that had six guys score at least 12 points a game (admittedly because everyone was constantly injured), Fizdale will have a lot of chances to “take that for data.”
But in so doing, New York is likely to become one of the most boring teams in the league.
Then again, you don’t hire a guy like David Fizdale because you want flashy. You hire him because you want wins. And that’s automatically more fun than anything Knicks fans have suffered through in the past five years.