Preseason games expected to provide clues to Knicks backcourt riddle

New York Knicks, Austin Rivers
Aug 12, 2020; Lake Buena Vista, Florida, USA; Houston Rockets guard Austin Rivers (25) dribbles the ball against Indiana Pacers guard Victor Oladipo (4) in the second quarter of a NBA basketball game at AdventHealth Arena. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Exactly nine months since they played their last game, the New York Knicks will finally be back on the court on Dec. 11.

The Knicks, who last saw action last March 11 — an overtime win against the Atlanta Hawks — will have four preseason games before the new season tips off on Dec. 22.

The four-game schedule includes back-to-back road games against the Detroit Pistons (Dec. 11 and Dec. 13) and a pair of home games against the Cleveland Cavaliers at the Madison Square Garden Dec. 16 and Dec. 18. Fans will not be permitted to watch the games at the venue.

New head coach Tom Thibodeau will finally have the chance to size up his young Knicks roster.

All eyes will be on the Knicks’ slam-dunking lottery pick Obi Toppin, who will have the early opportunity to show up the Pistons and the Cavaliers, two teams who passed up on him in the draft.

Battle of the Point Guards

But on top of that, fans will be anxious to see how Thibodeau will try to answer the Knicks’ backcourt riddle with at least five point guards competing for the starter job.


Expected to top that list is veteran guard Austin Rivers.

The Knicks officially announced Friday that Rivers, 28, was acquired in a sign-and-trade with the Houston Rockets that also netted the Knicks the draft rights to former Euroleague MVP Sergio Gull, former Adriatic League MVP Tadija Dragicevic, and Belgian player Axel Hervelle in exchange for the draft rights to Issuf Sanon.

Rivers will come to New York 29 years since his father, Doc, became a fan favorite at The Garden during a span of two-plus seasons from 1992-94.

Thibodeau would later work under Doc Rivers in Boston, winning a championship in 2008. The two coaches have remained friends. Thibodeau is said to be a fan of Austin’s basketball IQ even when he was still playing for Duke.

Rivers, a former lottery pick in 2012 who turned into a journeyman, will have a chance to star in a young Knicks team looking for stability and leadership at the backcourt.

Rivers agreed to a three-year, $10 million deal with the last two years non-guaranteed. He averaged 8.8 points on a 42.1 percent shooting clip and 35.6 percent beyond the arc, 2.6 rebounds, and 1.7 assists in 23.4 minutes as a backup guard in Houston last season.

Expected to crowd him are holdovers Dennis Smith, Jr., who worked on his jump shot during the long lull with former NBA gunner Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf, Frank Ntilikina, last year’s starter Elfrid Payton, and rookie Immanuel Quickley.

Follow this writer on Twitter: @alderalmo

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