Who should the Knicks start against the Atlanta Hawks in round 1?

derrick rose, knicks
May 9, 2021; Los Angeles, California, USA; New York Knicks guard Derrick Rose (4) reacts to a referee's call going his way during the section quarter as LA Clippers guard Patrick Beverley (21) looks on at Staples Center. Mandatory Credit: Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports

The New York Knicks officially locked in the 4th seed in the Eastern Conference with a close victory over the Boston Celtics on Sunday afternoon. Ultimately, the win was a bit more strenuous than they would’ve hoped for, but they got the job done and will now take on the Atlanta Hawks in the first round of the playoffs next weekend.

The biggest question for head coach Tom Thibodeau and his team is, who should be the starting five against Atlanta and why should point guard Elfrid Payton not be involved?

Payton has hit rock bottom just before the postseason, playing 14 minutes against Boston, failing to score a single point for the second time in three games. He missed all four of his shots and turned the ball over twice, putting Thibodeau in a position where he must make a change.

The Knicks have been using Derrick Rose as a bench spark-plug, putting him in to change the momentum of a game and spark offense. However, the team cannot wait any longer to start him in the postseason, as Payton simply represents a net negative every time he steps on the court.

Payton is averaging 10.1 points per game, 3.2 assists, and shooting .286 from downtown. Ultimately, he is an awful perimeter shooter and has recorded half the amount of assists he normally does in a regular season. For example, last year, Payton averaged 7.2 assists, cutting that number by more than half this year.

Ultimately, Thibodeau will have to make a change, whether it be Derrick Rose, Alec Burks, or even Frank Ntilikina, who has been playing far better as of late.

The Knicks’ starting lineup against Atlanta should be:

1.) PF: Julius Randle

2.) SF: Reggie Bullock

3.) C: Nerlens Noel

4.) PG: Derrick Rose

5.) SG: RJ Barrett

Honestly, I would rather see Frank start over Payton, who has been utilized situationally as a primary defender. Elfrid has been staring the entire season but only averaging about 12-15 minutes per game, while Rose is on the floor for 25+ minutes. It is an interesting strategy that Thibodeau deploys, but it has worked well, considering the Knicks have reached the 40 game win mark for the first time since 2013.

This contest against Atlanta will be no joke, especially after coming off a dominant victory over the Houston Rockets, showcasing their depth and consistency across the board. The Hawks have won seven of their last eight games, so they’re peeking at the right time, but most of their opponents have been below average teams.

The Knicks are more than capable of overcoming Atlanta, especially starting at home, but they must play aggressive defense and hit shots from beyond the arc.