Coach David Fizdale needed only five regular season games before getting into the lab and experimenting with lineups. Friday night’s home loss to the Golden State Warriors saw him make the first of what projects to be many starting lineup adjustments during this exploratory season. The shake up was hardly a surprise. After the Knicks’ loss to Milwaukee, Fizdale told Marc Berman of the New York Post:

“Maybe I’ll look at tweaking something if we can’t get that group going…I’ll get into the film after the Miami game and really evaluate the five games of basketball, assess it and make decisions from there.”

That assessment led to a complete overhaul. He removed Trey Burke, Lance Thomas and Enes Kanter from the starting lineup, replacing them with Daymean Dotson, Noah Vonleh and Mitchell Robinson. The front court changes may have been matchup specific to Golden State. Perhaps Fizdale preferred the combined athleticism and defensive versatility of Vonleh and Robinson to contend with the length and skill of Draymond Green, Kevin Durant, et al. We’ll see whether Kanter gets reinstated as a starter.

Regardless, the more intriguing move was swapping Dotson in place of Burke. The primary side effects were two-fold. It shifted Frank Ntilikina to point guard, a move for which I’ve already advocated twice during this young season. And, it also gave Dotson, a guy who began the season with consecutive DNP-CDs, an opportunity to start against the best team in the world.

The Past

The Knicks selected Dotson mid-way through the second round of the 2017 draft. New York had acquired the pick from the Chicago Bulls in a trade centering around Robin Lopez and Derrick Rose. Finding value in the second round is a staple of successful franchises, and the more we see of Dotson, the more it looks like he could be a solid rotation player.

He spent much of 2017-18 bouncing around between the G-League and earning fringe minutes on a bad Knicks squad. He finished last season having played in 44 games at just under 11 minutes per contest. Jeff Hornacek was coaching for his job, so giving young guys like Dotson a chance was not really his forte. Dotson’s performance was indicative of that inconsistent role. Here’s how he fared per BBall Index’s proprietary grading system. On the left is how he stacked up versus the league as a whole. On the right, you’ll see how he compared specifically to wings who played at least as many minutes as him:

Despite the limited burn, Dotson showed flashes of the shooting potential that helped get him drafted. During his senior season at University of Houston, Dotson shot 44.3% on almost eight three-point attempts per game. Now, we’re beginning to see his range consistently stretch to beyond the NBA three-point line.

The Present

Since cracking the rotation in the third game of the season, Dotson has played nearly 30 minutes per game, averaging 14 points and ~7 rebounds. He’s shooting an exceptional 40.7% on nearly seven three-point attempts per game, and his true shooting percentage is up from 53.2% to 58.5% through his first four games. With such a small sample, it’s important to look at factors beyond whether he’s making or missing shots. For example, Dotson’s shot diet has been much improved. Last year, about 27% of his shots came from the mid-range. Granted, he shot very well (48.8%) on those mid-range attempts, but that’s not typically a sustainable number (just ask Trey Burke). So far this year, only 17% of his shots are coming from midrange.

Dotson has turned those mid-rangers into threes. An impressive 57.4% of his shots are coming from three-point range this season, per Comparatively, Dotson took just 42.7% of his shots from three last season. The vast majority of those threes have been catch-and-shoot attempts, on which he’s connecting on a scorching 45%.

He’s shown some solid versatility in the types of catch-and-shoot threes he’s hitting, too. He isn’t just spotting up and waiting for others to make plays for him. He’s forcing defenses to account for him with his off-ball movement, an area in which he graded poorly last year. He’s been able to connect a lot in transition:

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And, catching on the run in the half-court:

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But, unlike a JJ Redick or Danny Green-type, Dotson is actually a threat to get to the hole and score. Watch his no-hesitation rip-through here, leading to a goal-tending violation:

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Defenders are trying to take away his three-pointer, and are leaving back door cutting lanes wide open. Also unlike Redick and Green, Dotson has the bounce to finish plays like this:

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Defensively, it’s hard to know exactly what the Knicks have in Dotson. This season, his primary defensive match-ups have been Jayson Tatum, Khris Middleton, washed up Dwyane Wade, and Kevin Durant. My general philosophy is not to judge someone’s defense based on how they guard Kevin Durant when he’s on fire. Last season, the prolific Knicks Film School did a breakdown of Dotson’s D that has stuck with me and jibes with the eye test so far this year. He’s a worker who has a good general sense of where to be. Watch below as he prepares to help on a Marcus Smart/ Al Horford pick-and-roll:

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He is constantly making sure he sees his man and the ball; his athleticism, quick reflexes and 6’9 wingspan allow him to force that turnover. It helps that he’s gotten in the weight room and added muscle, so he cannot be easily posted up on mismatches or bodied by bigger wings:

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At the very least, I’m comfortable saying he’s not a liability on the defensive end, which is more than I can say about most of the Knicks’ perimeter players.

The Future

Offensively, expect to see Fizdale have Dotson come off more screens and scramble defenses that way. This Knicks offense has a tendency to ball-watch and stagnate. Dotson can hopefully become the off-ball igniter that starts the engine. The next step for him will be developing as a secondary ball-handler and playmaker, but it’s possible that he never adds that skill set. He’ll need more opportunities with the ball in his hands before we can make a reasonable projection. Regardless, Dotson’s ability to stretch the defense and knock down open shots is a major boon for a Knicks team that needs the space.

More than likely, Dotson’s value will be determined by his ability to be a consistent two-way player. As it stands today, all of the Knicks’ non-bigs are one-way guys: Tim Hardaway Jr., Mario Hezonja, Allonzo Trier, and Trey Burke are all offense. Frank Ntilikina (for now), Ron Baker, and Lance Thomas are all defense. We haven’t seen enough of Kevin Knox to know. If Dotson can prove himself to be above average on both ends, he will be an extremely valuable piece going forward.

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