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Allonzo Trier doesn’t know what the future holds. It’s as big a mystery to him as David Fizdale’s chances of finishing his second season.

The second-year Knicks shooting guard knows the present has not been ideal. The former Arizona star has not played in eight of the last 10 games.

During Monday’s horrific 44-point loss in Milwaukee, Trier made his first appearance in a non-garbage-time situation in three weeks.

Though he scored 10 points in 11 first-half minutes, Trier didn’t see any action during the second half — which was 24 minutes of garbage time.

The embattled Fizdale has not specified why Trier can’t get back in the rotation after his solid rookie season other than saying he has three other shooting guards on the roster (RJ Barrett, Wayne Ellington and Damyean Dotson).

It is believed Trier’s isolation-style game is counter to Fizdale’s attempt to install a move-the-ball offense. Dotson, with his defensive energy and selflessness, is for now the better fit.

During training camp, Fizdale said Trier aimed to remove his nickname “IsoZo’’ from the conversation. Apparently, the Knicks coach still views the 23-year-old in that vein.

Enlarge ImageAllonzo Trier
Allonzo TrierNBAE via Getty Images
Trier is trying to remain patient.

“I come in every day, do my job and work on my game to try to get better,’’ Trier told The Post. “When I get in the game, I try to be a factor. If I’m not in the game, I try to spread knowledge and be a cheerleader.”

Trier, who was undrafted out of Arizona and originally signed with the Knicks as a two-way G-League player before his contract was reworked, will be a free agent this summer. Fizdale has been eager to play the veteran marksman Ellington over Trier, though Ellington is shooting just 30.9 percent from 3. Trier is shooting 51.2 percent overall — 46 percent from 3.

It’s a long season and there’s no telling whether Ellington will be either traded or waived at February’s deadline if the Knicks are out of the playoff race.


Knicks shockingly aren’t closer to scapegoating David Fizdale
“You take it head on,’’ Trier said of the demotion. “Be prepared whenever that time is, continue to work and get better and help this team if I’m playing or not. I got to accept that. They tell me to stay ready.’’

It’s a far cry from last season, when Fizdale beat the drum for Trier as a glossy part of a rookie trio along with Kevin Knox and Mitchell Robinson. Trier was also known as a friend of Kevin Durant’s from his Oklahoma high school days and perhaps the organization viewed him then as a potential KD magnet.

When asked if he feels he will be a big part of the rotation later in the season, Trier became agitated.

“I don’t know,’’ Trier said. “C’mon. How am I supposed to answer that? It’s hypothetical. I can’t tell the future. I’m being a pro and trying to get better every day and trying to take it day by day.’’

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With the Rockefeller Plaza Christmas tree lit and the Radio City Rockettes kicking into high gear, a grimmer December tradition is coming into focus in the Big Apple: The New York Knicks are in big trouble. Handed their ninth straight loss in heartbreaking fashion against the Indiana Pacers on Saturday, the Knicks fell to 4-19 on the year, equaling the record set in 2014 for the worst start in franchise history.

It is familiar territory for the Knicks, as they failed to attract star free agents like Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving in the off-season, with the bright lights and glamour of New York City eclipsed by six consecutive losing seasons.

Even the sudden firing of head coach David Fizdale, intended to reset the team’s trajectory, seemed to backfire, with stunned players lamenting their leader’s departure.

“It’s a family thing,” center Mitchell Robinson told reporters after their 103-104 loss in front of a rowdy hometown crowd. “(Fizdale is) still going to be part of us no matter what. He looked after us besides basketball but as people as well.”

While a gobsmacking 129-92 loss against the Denver Nuggets on Thursday and Monday’s 132-88 drubbing at the hands of the Milwaukee Bucks should have foretold the coach’s impending fate, Fizdale’s departure nonetheless “caught everyone by surprise,” according to guard Dennis Smith Jr.

“We didn’t want it to fall all on him,” Smith told a scrum of reporters in the locker room, prior to Saturday night’s contest. “We talked about that actually, like, ‘we’ve got to start taking responsibility,’ because he would stand up in front of y’all and take all the bullets for all of us. It’s not 100% on him.”

Power forward Julius Randle, who missed a second free throw that would have tied Saturday’s game in its final moments, told reporters the team had no choice but to “keep fighting.”

“We’ve got a long season ahead and we have to keep moving on,” said Randle.

The team next flies west to take on the Portland Trailblazers on Tuesday, kicking off a bruising four-game road trip that proves there is no rest for weary.

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New York Knicks center Mitchell Robinson is a 21-year-old, 7-foot terror who protects the rim and scores with incredible efficiency. He currently leads the NBA in blocks per 36 minutes and points created per 100 possessions, and he’s the Knicks’ best player by a comfortable margin in RAPTOR, FiveThirtyEight’s new measure of a player’s per-possession effectiveness. Playing so well under the bright lights of Madison Square Garden, you might think that Robinson is a megastar on the rise.

But Robinson has come off the bench just about as often as he’s started, and he’s averaging a paltry 18.4 minutes per game. For all of his impressive rate statistics — and he is averaging a double-double (19.8 points and 12.8 rebounds) per 36 minutes this year — Robinson can’t exert his influence on the game if he’s not on the court.

At least some of this comes down to Knicks coach David Fizdale, who is under fire early this season partly because of decisions like starting veteran Taj Gibson over Robinson despite Gibson’s vastly inferior rates. But Robinson has helped create this problem with his propensity for fouling — and Fizdale has said as much in explaining his rationale for moving Robinson to the bench.

“Taj gets us off to really stable starts and keeps Mitchell from the potential of getting into foul trouble,” Fizdale told Newsday last week.

But Robinson fouls so often that even this plan hasn’t helped much. He was disqualified after just 22 minutes on Nov. 14, was whistled five times in 17 minutes on Monday and mustered only 13 minutes against the 76ers on Wednesday after picking up four fouls. The Knicks, who lost by just 5 to Philly, could have used more from Robinson against Joel Embiid, but Embiid was able to use Robinson’s shot-blocking instincts against him a couple of times, drawing a foul once. With 6.6 fouls per 36 minutes, Robinson is the fourth-most foul-prone player in the NBA this season, rendering his incredible per-possession numbers largely moot and helping lead to the Knicks’ predicament as one of the worst teams in the league.

In fact, if Robinson keeps it up, he could join a not-so-elite group of players who performed like stars when they saw the court but fouled so much that they couldn’t stay on it for very long:

If fouls were unlimited, they would be superstars
Best overall RAPTOR ratings in a full season since 1977 for players with at least 50 games played, fewer than 20 minutes per game and at least six fouls committed per 36 minutes — plus Mitchell Robinson in 2019-20

2019-20 Mitchell Robinson 11 18.4 6.7 +3.9 +1.2 +5.1
2007-08 Amir Johnson 62 12.3 7.6 -0.5 +3.9 +3.4
2009-10 Amir Johnson 82 17.7 6.8 +0.6 +1.8 +2.4
2006-07 Paul Millsap 82 18.0 6.3 +0.5 +1.8 +2.4
1999-2000 Ryan Bowen 52 11.3 6.1 +0.0 +2.0 +2.0
2008-09 Amir Johnson 62 14.7 7.8 -0.9 +2.5 +1.6
2007-08 Leon Powe 56 14.4 6.2 +1.3 +0.2 +1.6
2005-06 DeSagana Diop 81 18.6 6.9 -2.6 +4.0 +1.4
1978-79 Kim Hughes 81 13.4 6.7 -2.5 +3.9 +1.4
2008-09 Leon Powe 70 17.5 6.2 +0.3 +1.1 +1.4
1991-92 Kenny Williams 60 9.4 6.4 +0.4 +1.0 +1.4
*Foul rates have been pace-adjusted to 100 possessions per game.

Robinson is on track to play 60 games in 2019-20, if prorated to an 82-game schedule.


Some players fit this category early in their careers but were able to evolve into proper stars by playing with more discipline. Paul Millsap, for instance, was a fouling machine in his first few NBA seasons, but he eventually cut down on the whistles enough to log nearly 33 minutes a night in his prime. Yes, his block rate suffered as a result — but that was a small price to pay to stay on the court longer.1
Some, however, always leave their teams wanting more. Amir Johnson, most recently of the Sixers, was emblematic of this over his career: As with Robinson, his per-minute numbers were perennially amazing, but he averaged 5.1 fouls per 36 minutes in his career and never logged more than 28.8 minutes per game in any season despite owning a career RAPTOR plus/minus of +2.1. (There’s a reason he appears in the table above three times.) Before the season, Johnson showed up among Robinson’s 10 most comparable historical players — a bad omen for Knick fans hoping that Robinson can log enough minutes to become a true superstar.

Robinson isn’t the only player this season whose effectiveness has been limited by foul trouble. Washington’s Moritz Wagner is averaging only 19.3 minutes a night despite an eye-popping +9.1 RAPTOR because of an equally mind-boggling 7.5 fouls per 36 minutes. But most of Wagner’s RAPTOR is wrapped up in defense,2 so there might be more of a question about whether he can keep up his rates in more minutes while simultaneously fouling less.

For Robinson, though, he remains a player who looks like a legitimate star two-way big man in the making — if he can just cut down on the unnecessary fouls. There’s plenty of time for him to do that and cash in on his full potential, but for now he might be the best player in the league that you probably won’t even get to see play for 20 minutes on any given night.

Check out our latest NBA predictions.

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The old cliched definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. This is where the Knicks are with Julius Randle. David Fizdale keeps using him the same way. Randle keeps playing the same way. Aside from a blip against the Cavaliers, nothing is changing and it’s not good. Something has to give.

Listen to your team news NOW.

This is not a matter of the team still getting to know one another. This is not a chemistry issue. Unless Randle makes some kind of personal adjustment that makes a lot more of his shots go in and a lot fewer of his passes go to the opposing team, history is going to continue to repeat itself.

Julius Randle is a very talented basketball player, but he has not been able to utilize those talents to play winning basketball. He struggles to understand what a good shot is and what isn’t. His shots very seldom come in the flow of the offense, but rather on isolation plays. He shoots low-percentage shots early in the shot clock. He has very little feel for the game and what a good basketball play looks like.

NY Knicks
Bill Streicher/ USA Today Sports
The Knicks’ desire to bring Randle in this offseason was understandable. They were a team that lacked players that could score efficiently and create their own shot. Randle averaged 21 points per game last season with a 60% true shooting percentage. The year before he scored 16 points per game with nearly identical efficiency.

His scoring efficiency was so rare that he was only one of seven NBA players last season to score 20 or more points with a True-Shooting percentage of 60% or higher. Who were the others? It is a pretty impressive list: Stephen Curry, James Harden, Kevin Durant, Kawhi Leonard, Giannis Antetokounmpo, and Karl-Anthony Towns.

If a player can score in volume at that high of efficiency, it makes it much easier to swallow the obvious flaws. Randle was a bit of a ball-hog last season, with his focus on getting his own shot. Despite possessing passing ability, he has never been a good decision-maker. His defense has always been suspect.

The problem is that Randle has shown up this season with all those flaws on full display but without the efficient scoring. His true shooting percentage is down nearly ten points to 50.5%, with his raw shooting numbers a pedestrian .444/.262/.613. Randle is also shooting two fewer free throws per game than he did last season. Some of those numbers, especially the three-point and free-throw shooting should tick up, but the two-point shooting is the real problem.

Randle’s issues have everything to do with his shot selection and how he is being used by David Fizdale. The issues are easy to see when you look at Basketball Reference’s shooting chart that shows where his shots are coming from and how often he is making them.

10% fewer of his shots are coming inside the restricted area when compared to last year, and 20% fewer than two years ago. On those shots, he is shooting 10% worse than two seasons ago, and 6% worse than last year. He’s also shooting fewer shots from within ten feet of the hoop. Those shots have turned into mid-range shots and threes. They are never going to lead to efficient scoring, especially when Randle is not hitting his threes at a high rate.

The other telling number on that chart is the percent of his two points shots that are assisted. This year, a career-low 32.2% of his two-pointers have come off of someone else’s assist. It’s a drop of 17% off his career average. It is all the evidence anyone should need that he is being asked to do too much on his own as an initiator of the offense. It has not worked.

This is where Fizdale has to make his adjustment. Randle is being used as the roll man on pick and rolls and as an off-ball cutter too seldom. When Randle does set screens on the ball, he too often glides out to the three-point line rather than diving to the hoop. Until Randle proves he can be someone you can run an offense through, he needs to be used as a finisher rather than an initiator.

It doesn’t help that the Knicks lack a true high-level playmaking point guard, but Frank Ntilikina has proven an adept pick and roll passer, while Dennis Smith has gotten Mitchell Robinson involved with the second unit. It needs to be tired because the way the team is using him now isn’t working. The Knicks are actually a better offensive team when he is on the bench so far this season.

Fizdale could also try moving Randle to the second unit where he can regain some confidence going against other teams’ backups. Fizdale can easily insert Mitchell Robinson and Damyean Dotson or Wayne Ellington into the starting lineup, and move Gibson and Randle to the second group. It would still leave the first and second units with a good mix of shooting and shot creation.

Something needs to change. Randle needs to shoot better and alter the types of shots he is taking. Fizdale needs to change how he is using him. Until those things happen, Randle will continue to play poorly, his acquisition will look like a mistake, and the team will keep losing games. The Knicks need his efficient scoring. They just need to figure out a way to get it out of him.

You can follow John on Twitter at @Schmeelk for everything Knicks, Giants and the world of sports. You can also check out “The Bank Shot,” his Knicks podcast, on most popular podcast platforms.

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We’ve got answers to the hot-button questions following David Fizdale’s firing:

Q: Is this really Fizdale’s fault? Doesn’t he have a flawed roster?
A: It’s a combination of mediocre coaching and a roster no one in the league believed was playoff worthy. The timing is rough as Fizdale’s Knicks had just faced five straight teams with title-contending credentials (Philadelphia, Toronto, Boston, Milwaukee, Denver). The roster is flawed with no No. 1 option, as Julius Randle failed to fill that role. But management saw rookie RJ Barrett and Kevin Knox regressing instead of improving, and a second-to-last 3-point defense that made the same mistakes over and over.

Q: How safe are Steve Mills and Scott Perry?
Owner James Dolan has a strong bond with Mills, but he must see the plan not working, with the Kristaps Porzingis trade backfiring and their free agents not excelling. The pitch to Dolan now is their cap flexibility they can use on trades or free agents.


Top NBA coaches take digs at Knicks over Fizdale firing
Q: How soon now before the Knicks start unloading some of their veterans in trades?
A: This firing could be a give-up and a push to either trade some of the veterans at the deadline or just waive them to open roster spots for young guys such as G-Leaguer Kenny Wooten and two-way G-League player Ivan Rabb.

Q: Is there a chance interim coach Mike Miller could get the job long-term?
A: Miller was a proven winner on the G-League level and certainly if he gets this roster to close out in .500 range, he’ll be in consideration. Why wouldn’t he?

Q: Fizdale has now been fired twice in three years. Will he get another head-coaching job again?
A: Fizdale has lots of friends in the NBA and turned down the Atlanta and Phoenix jobs, but is getting the reputation he’s better off as an assistant coach. Fizdale might be best off at the college level with his charismatic personality put to use in recruiting.

Q: Does Fizdale’s firing benefit any player?
A: Maybe the new coach will find a better use of Knox and Allonzo Trier. Knox has been underutilized in the offense and Trier is just buried.

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Knicks forward Bobby Portis isn’t coming to the United Center on Tuesday to play bingo.

Since the Bulls traded him to the Wizards in February, Portis’ agenda has been very simple whenever he faces them: Make them regret the trade every second he’s on the court.

In three games against the Bulls last season, Portis averaged 15 points, nine rebounds and 1.7 blocks — all higher than his averages. In the first game he played against the Bulls after signing with the Knicks during the offseason, he scored a season-high 28 points, grabbed 11 rebounds and shot 4-for-4 from three-point range.

Portis even let it be known before that beatdown of the Bulls last month at Madison Square Garden that it was coming.

‘‘He was juiced about this game as soon as he came to New York,’’ Bulls center Wendell Carter Jr. said of Portis after that game. ‘‘He put it out on social media, looking forward to playing the Chicago Bulls.’’

Now it’s the Bulls’ turn. Or at least it should be. For a team searching for toughness, this rematch against the Knicks should be the ideal fuel for that.

‘‘Should be’’ are two key words for the Bulls. They should be better than 3-7 with the schedule they’ve played. They should be ready for Portis whenever they face him because they all know how personal he can make a game. And they should be taking some pride in playing better in front of a home crowd that has seen only 10 victories since the start of last season.

Carter gets it.

‘‘Oh, yeah, for sure, he did a lot of [trash-talking],’’ Carter said Monday. ‘‘Yeah, no words need to be said. We’re not letting that happen. Bobby, he wants to put on a show. I’m not going to have it. I hope he’s watching this, so he knows I ain’t having it.’’

Carter knows Portis well and considers him a friend. The two hit it off before Portis was traded to the Wizards, but Carter also is starting to get fed up with the losing. He said he and Portis can be cool with each other again after the game.

This is about someone on the Bulls matching Portis’ energy and anger levels.

‘‘He’s always juiced whenever,’’ Carter said. ‘‘For him and for Jabari [Parker, who was traded with Portis], every time we play against those two players, they’re very juiced. They play some of their best basketball. Those are some of my closest friends in this league, so I’m happy for them. They’re doing their thing. But we can’t have no All-Stars when it’s go time. . . . [We] can definitely play better.’’

Carter thinks he and his teammates are closer to playing better — with or without manufactured anger. Beating the Knicks would be a step in a positive direction.

‘‘I feel like we’re definitely one of the most talented young teams in this league,’’ Carter said. ‘‘We just have to play for 48 minutes. I feel like we have great spurts where we’re playing beautiful basketball, and sometimes we lose focus and show our immaturity.’’

Portis will be hoping for that — and letting his former teammates hear about it the entire time.

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PORTLAND, Ore. — David Fizdale will never know whether anything would have changed had point guard Elfrid Payton not sustained a freak hamstring strain in the season’s fourth game, forcing him to miss 17 straight contests.

Maybe, maybe not. But those close to Fizdale believe he needs a playmaking point guard for the way he wants to play and for his offense to click best.

Payton may have reemerged as a potential starter down the road after dazzling in his second game back from injury Saturday in interim coach Mike Miller’s NBA coaching debut.

For now, Miller said Payton is on a minutes restriction.

“He’s still returning and not total go yet,’’ Miller said after Sunday’s practice here. “He gave us a great lift with that group, started with the second unit, finished with the first unit. Games will dictate those things.”

Payton said his wind is there, but the team is holding him back this early.

“I don’t get tired,’’ Payton said. “It’s precaution.”

Enlarge ImageElfrid Payton
Elfrid PaytonPaul J. Bereswill
With Miller rolling him out for the entire fourth quarter, Payton looked a little like he did in the season opener in San Antonio as he racked up nine points, seven assists, three steals, one block and just one turnover in 17 minutes of court time in the 104-103 loss to the Pacers.

Looking so much better than his two point-guard compatriots, current starter Frank Ntilikina and Dennis Smith Jr., it wouldn’t be shocking if Miller makes the move soon to start Payton.

“I did a decent job — played well in the fourth,’’ Payton said. “Just playing the game the right way. Taking what the game gives me.’’

Payton began the season coming off the bench before earning the starting nod following his gem against the Spurs.

“He played really well,’’ said Miller. “You could see the things that he was doing in terms of directing people and putting people in positions. The pace of getting downhill. I thought some of the defensive plays, like the steal he had for the layup [in the fourth quarter] was a big play at the time. He showed what a heady player he is.”

Politically, Payton is not high on the charts. Ntilikina is the franchise’s 2017 lottery pick and the Knicks picked up his fourth-year option for $6.2 million. Smith, selected one spot later in the same draft at No. 9 by Dallas, was the cornerstone piece of the Kristaps Porzingis trade.


Knicks’ final farewell to David Fizdale has telling omission
But if you judged their work in the loss to Indiana, it was evident who the most accomplished of the trio is. Ntilikina, who has started for nearly a month, was 1 of 5 from the field, missing both his 3-pointers and finishing with two points in 19 minutes.

Smith, whose outside shooting has not improved this season, was 0-for-5, missing his lone 3-pointer, in 11:39. He totaled one point with one assist and two turnovers. Smith is shooting 32 percent for the season.

Though he was rusty in his first game back against Denver, his second possession was noteworthy. Payton dribbled at the top of the key and tossed up a beautiful alley-oop lob for center Mitchell Robinson for the dunk. It is doubtful either Ntilikina or Smith could have threaded the needle on such a difficult play.

Like Fizdale at the season’s outset, Miller is juggling three point guards. The organization still is unclear about the future of the position. In fact, when the trade season heats up beginning Dec. 15, when players who signed as free agents this past offseason can be dealt, it will be a position of intrigue for the Knicks. Payton could be traded after signing a one-year guarantee for $8 million.

If anything, this is a chance to boost Payton’s trade stock by starting him or finding out if he’s part of the future. Payton, 25, was traded on draft day in 2014 to Scott Perry and the Magic and, The Post reported, was all but promised the starting nod when he signed.

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The New York Knicks could be without their best defensive player on Monday as Frank Ntilikina deals with a sore back.
According to the NBA injury report, Frank Ntilikina is questionable with a sore upper back. The third-year guard left the New York Knicks‘ game against the Boston Celtics on Sunday after playing about seven minutes.

The French point guard has yet to miss a game due to injury this season, but he’s had issues with his back of late. Injuries stunted his growth in year two and it’s possible that the Knicks want to give him Monday off to rest up. New York plays again on Thursday night against the Denver Nuggets.

Dennis Smith Jr. will likely make his first start of the season if Ntilikina can’t go. Additionally, Kadeem Allen will meet the team in Milwaukee. Allen is currently on a two-way contract and has only appeared in G League games up to this point in the season.

Marcus Morris Sr. has been ruled out for the second-straight game with cervical spasms. The veteran forward has been the Knicks’ best player this season and his absence was felt on Sunday night.

New York collapsed in the fourth quarter, yet again, and couldn’t convert on their free throws, yet again. Morris is currently the only consistent free-throw shooter on the roster and he’s been their most consistent offensive player in general.

The Milwaukee Bucks will be missing Sterling Brown (AC joint sprain) and Brook Lopez (back soreness) as well. The two Eastern Conference foes will tip-off at 8 p.m. ET.

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The dangers of life as a dad cost the Knicks their most consistent player for two games.

Marcus Morris is expected to return Thursday night against the Nuggets after missing back-to-back games because of cervical spasms. The culprit for his neck injury?

“You know, it’s funny. My son jumped on me early in the morning. And I tried to get up at the same time and it was just bad,” Morris said Wednesday after going through a full practice. “He just surprised me that morning and got me good, he got me real good.”

Then Morris played in the Knicks’ game Friday night against the 76ers, a physical battle that worsened his condition. He was held out of Sunday’s loss to the Celtics and Monday’s blowout loss to the Bucks as the Knicks’ losing streak slumped to seven games.

Morris said he has been getting two to three massages per day to get the knots out of neck, but now that he’s good, his one-year-old son, Marcus Morris Jr., can continue to jump on him in bed.

“I’ve just got to be ready,” Morris said.

Enlarge ImageMarcus Morris
Marcus MorrisRobert Sabo
For the first time since the third game of the season, the Knicks could be whole again Thursday night. In addition to Morris, they hope to get back point guards Frank Ntilikina and Elfrid Payton.

Payton has missed the last 17 games because of a hamstring strain. After coming off the bench in the season opener, he started three straight games at point guard before the injury knocked him out. Now, the veteran will be eased back in.

“He looked good in practice,” coach David Fizdale said. “Obviously it gives us another floor general. He gives us speed, something we really obviously need. He gives us a guy that can make plays for others and get us some easy shots. Defensively, he gives us a guy that can pressure the ball.”

Ntilikina has played well since taking over as the starting point guard, but he missed Monday’s loss to the Bucks because of a sore upper back. He was the only one who did not practice fully on Wednesday and is listed as questionable (as is Payton), so Fizdale declined to name his starting point guard. But he has a rotation to figure out with Ntilikina, Payton and Dennis Smith Jr.

“I’ll probably play some of them together,” Fizdale said.

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Kevin Knox doesn’t have to look very far to learn from another recent top-10 draft pick of the Knicks who spent entire games on the bench during his first two NBA seasons.

Frank Ntilikina went through what Knox experienced for the first time in his career Friday night, having a “DNP-CD” (Did Not Play — Coach’s Decision) attached to his name in the box score of the Knicks’ 101-95 loss to Philadelphia at the Garden.

Ntilikina, the eighth-overall pick in the 2017 draft, has started the past 14 games after spending several glued to the bench during his first two years in the league.

“Sometimes they’ve got to go through some tough love to find themselves and watch the game from 25,000 feet, see it, and see the things that I’m emphasizing,” Knicks coach David Fizdale said when asked about Knox after practice Saturday in Tarrytown. “I was tough on Frank last year and I just feel like Frank has come back with a whole different mindset about how he’s going to go about this season.

“I’ve been so happy with the way he’s played and produced. But I do think a little bit of tough love on some of these young guys isn’t necessarily a bad thing.”


Knicks sink to new depths as Kevin Knox doesn’t play
The 20-year-old Knox, the ninth-overall selection in the 2018 draft, averaged 12.8 points and 28.8 minutes per game as a rookie, but those numbers have decreased to 7.8 points and 19.8 minutes through 19 appearances this season — all off the bench.

Asked what he learned from a similar experience earlier in his career, Ntilikina responded: “To stay with it and control what you can control. And see how I can affect the team even when I’m not playing, talk to teammates, give advice, be a great teammate and keep working in practice, keep working on your game, and the opportunity will come. Obviously it’s a long season. An opportunity will come. Most of it is how can I be a good teammate and still be part of the team.”

Fizdale added that Knox “will be a consideration, for sure,” to return to the rotation in Sunday’s home matinee against Boston, with leading scorer Marcus Morris listed as questionable with cervical spasms in his neck.

Even if Knox doesn’t play, he can learn from Ntilikina, who took Fizdale’s “tough love” to heart and tuned out any outside criticism from fans and media to find his way back into the rotation — and more recently, the starting lineup.

Enlarge ImageKevin Knox; David Fizdale
Kevin Knox; David FizdaleAnthony J. Causi
“Both of us were under scrutiny from you guys. We lived it together and we talked about it a lot together, that despite what people are saying, we’re going to constantly keep working to try to make him the best pro that he can possibly be,” Fizdale said. “Through all that, you find a bond and you build a stronger relationship.

“Now where we’re at, our connection now is really strong. Like I said, I’m so proud of the way the kid has grown up and the way he’s attacking the NBA now.”

Ntilikina, who did not play at all in the Knicks’ game Oct. 25 against the Nets, is averaging 8.1 points, 4.2 assists and 1.9 steals with just 1.1 turnovers per game over his 14 consecutive starts. The 21-year-old point guard credited a meeting with Fizdale in the offseason for helping him “grow up” and return this year with a different mindset.

“There’s a lot of noise with this team, a lot of expectations. Around this city, a lot of expectations,” Ntilikina said. “Obviously, those expectations are for us to get better. But what we have to understand, too, is we have expectations, and [Fizdale] wants us to get better, and he wants us to be the best team possible. He wants us to be the best possible, that’s the same for every player.

“So I just gotta stay locked in, stay focused on us. It’s not really selfish, it’s just learning with the right mind and being able to perform at the best.”