WASHINGTON — Knicks coach David Fizdale announced his starting lineup for the preseason opener against the Wizards on Monday, and the lone surprise was last year’s captain, Lance Thomas, securing the power-forward position over newly signed Mario Hezonja.
A bulkier Thomas has wowed Fizdale with his defense and leadership. Trey Burke will start at point guard alongside Tim Hardaway Jr. in the backcourt. As expected, rookie Kevin Knox will begin the game at small forward and Enes Kanter at center. Fizdale had thrown the starting-lineup jobs up for grabs.
“He’s had a fantastic camp,’’ Fizdale said about Thomas at Monday’s shootaround at Capital One Center. “This is not set in stone by any means. I really have enjoyed the way Lance has led, really held guys to a higher standard of practice habits. I think it will be a good way to start off with guys who have played here.”
Thomas, the longest-tenured Knick, has taken his leadership role to a new level.
“I try to set the example and tone for the young guys, we need to turn this around,” Thomas said. “That’s the way it’s unfolded. It might not happen that way through the season, but to set the tone in the preseason, I’m ready to do it. We’re a really, really young team, but we have guys who can actually play. We have a lot of talent on this team and I want to make sure we use all of it.”
During Saturday’s open Garden scrimmage, Hezonja shined offensively, but Fizdale is concerned about the defense — Thomas’ specialty. Of course, the power-forward job is Kristaps Porzingis’ whenever he comes back.
Asked what Thomas brings, Fizdale added: “Toughness, a defensive mentality and versatility to us. For a guy who’s not a point guard, he brings incredible versatility to us. He really keeps our group — whether young guys or older guys — he has a way to keeping the group focused on the next play. Having a guy like that is a real asset.”
Fizdale said Hezonja, signed as a free agent in July to a one-year, $6.5 million deal, “still has a chance to start.
“This is just to check it out,” Fizdale said. “Whatever role I put him in, he’s going to fit. He’ll be fine either way. He’s had a really good camp as well. He’s been so competitive. His motor has been second to none.”
The players will vote on captains later in the preseason, and Thomas figures to inherit the role again.
“I’m strong, I got stronger,” Thomas said. “You can ask Enes. He thinks he’s moving me. He’s not moving me.”
Meanwhile, Knox, the Knicks’ hyped lottery pick who could figure in the Rookie of the Year conversation, will begin his Knicks career in style.
“Hard work is paying off,” Knox said. “This is just preseason. Nothing permanent, just a trial.”
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