David Fizdale likes to say that none of his players ever should feel as if they are in the “dungeon” or the “doghouse,” and he did that again Sunday in reference to Frank Ntilikina’s benching for the entirety of the Knicks’ overtime win over Milwaukee one night earlier.
Fizdale cited another second-year guard, Damyean Dotson, as one example Ntilikina should look to concerning the need to stay ready for whenever he’s called upon to return to the rotation.
“I would just say every day that we were coming back in here, [Dotson] never changed the way he went about his business. And that’s to be said about all of them,” Fizdale said after practice in preparation for Monday’s home game against the Wizards. “Frank came in here today and got to work and had a good day of practice. That’s what I’m stressing to them. There’s gonna be waves in this thing, but it’s how you approach and work every day and respond to that stuff.”
To wit, Dotson has not played in six games already this season, including four straight from Nov. 20-25. But the second-year guard netted 21 points in 33 minutes off the bench Saturday; he’s averaging 18.0 points and shooting 67.9 percent (19-for-28) from the floor over his past three appearances.
“I would say if it wasn’t being communicated then it would be tough,” Dotson said about sitting out games. “For the most part, coach is telling us he has a reason behind everything. So just as far as when I wasn’t playing, the four games he was steady talking to me, telling me we’ve got to get this rotation going right now, win a couple games.
“So I kind of understood it. Now, as far as Frank right now, stay with it. Nobody is never in the doghouse. It’s nothing that Frank did. [Fizdale] called a different name. Frank knows to stay ready. I’m sure he’ll be ready.”
Fizdale noted that Ntilikina, the team’s 2017 first-round pick and a starter in 16 of the team’s first 23 games, stay engaged with his teammates throughout Saturday’s victory, despite not getting off the bench for the first time this season.
“Yeah, I think my actions speak for themselves. … No guy has gotten buried here,” Fizdale said. “If you’re available for me, I’ll use you. Just be ready to get out there and play well. Like Dot, there were a few ups and downs for him there, but he never let it bother him. He just came back and kept going.
“I would even say that about Enes [Kanter]. I moved Enes to the bench and he wasn’t happy about it necessarily because he’s a competitor. … But he never let it affect him, and that’s what a professional is. It doesn’t mean you have to be excited or happy about not playing, but it’s how you handle it and the way you go about competing.”
Point guard Emmanuel Mudiay similarly had trouble securing steady minutes early this season, but in 10 games since moving into the starting lineup on Nov. 14 against Oklahoma City, the former lottery pick (seventh overall by Denver in 2015) has averaged 14.3 points and 2.9 assists, including seven of his season-high 28 in OT against the Bucks.
“I think the team has a really good mindset of next-man-up mentality,” Mudiay said. “Like I said, there’s no real egos in this locker room. Everybody wants to see everybody succeed, so it’s been pretty good.
“Of course, the coaches are believing in you, believing in the whole team really, and they’re just instilling confidence in everybody, so it’s pretty fun.”
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