Before the start of the preseason, the consensus was that New York Knicks’ point guard Dennis Smith Jr. would earn the starting job. However, he picked up a lower back injury that has kept him out for the last week and forced him to miss the first preseason game against the Washington Wizards. That certainly won’t help his development and aid in his quest to earn a starting role.
Who did the New York Knicks trot out onto the court against Washington?
Veteran point guard Elfrid Payton started against the Wizards, earning five points, five assists, and two rebounds over 25.1 minutes. He was not a force on the offensive side of the ball, but the Knicks and head coach David Fizdale seem to be focusing on players like Marcus Morris, RJ Barrett, and Julius Randle.
“He set the tone for the game on the ball and with his pace. He got a lot of people involved, kept us organized,” Fizdale said. “Steady and tough.”
Payton’s primary purpose was to feed them the ball and play solid defense, two things that he is more than capable of doing. Fizdale will likely use several different lineups throughout the preseason to test combinations and get player’s live-action minutes.
We may see a different lineup at the start of the regular season than we did against the Wizards on Monday night. For the first game, though, Fiz went with Payton at point guard, RJ Barrett at shooting guard, Julius Randle at power forward, Marcus Morris at small forward, and Mitchell Robinson at center.
Despite Smith Jr.’s absence, Payton earned the start because of his training camp performance. That is not to say that Smith wouldn’t have been the starter as he likely would’ve been, but Elfrid is showing something different and potentially more valuable.
While the veteran free-agent signing had a solid game, backup Frank Ntilikina finished with nine points, five rebounds, and three assists in 23 minutes. Both seemed capable in their ways, but the veteran in Payton spread the floor and set the tone for the game in the Knicks victory.