The Great Knicks PG Debate: Who Should Start?


New York is entering a season that looks to establish a path to the future.  The goal was to be closer to contending and landing a top flight point guard at the beginning of the summer.  Instead, the Knicks are entering into the season trying to determine which of their three young options should start.   The PG Debate could define the early part of the Knicks’ season as well as any moves they make looking toward the future.

Pay(ton) It Forward

Starting with their free agent acquisition at the position this summer, Elfrid Payton is still looking to find his legs in the league.  He is entering his 6th season and will be on his fourth team.  He averaged only 10.6 points per game last year in New Orleans, his lowest output since his rookie season.  That being said, he posted career highs in rebounds (5.2) and assists (7.6).  He has been the starter in two of the four preseason games due to Dennis Smith nursing an injury.  His stats have left a lot to be desired so far and he did not appear in the third preseason game, but Coach Fizdale explained this away as indicating he needed to see Dennis Smith more now that he had returned from injury.

While Payton has not been impressive statistically, he brings an edge defensively that Smith does not match.  If he can match his production from last season, he would allow the other young starters to play off the ball more and help them pick their spots.  However, this could be the vote of no confidence in the youth of Smith and Ntilikina that stunts the future of the Knicks.  Prioritizing the future should be the Knicks’ goal, so allowing Payton to anchor the bench unit is likely the better choice.

Let’s Be Frank

Prior to the move last season that sent Kristaps Porzingis to Dallas for Dennis Smith, Jr., Frank Ntilikina was the point guard prospect of the future.  He was part of the same draft of his teammate and since Smith joined the team, Ntilikina’s opportunities have dwindled.  While superior on the defensive end, Ntilikina has struggled offensively in the NBA.  FIBA Basketball has shown some flashes of his potential offensively; it simply has not translated in his short NBA career.

From a statistical perspective, Ntilikina has been unimpressive so far.  His career marks of 5.9 points, 3.1 assists and 2.2 rebounds on 40% effective field goal percentage are the worst among the group.  While he is still quite young, the team may be losing confidence in his progression.  This was made clearer with the move to acquire Smith last season.  It is reported that the Detroit Pistons are interested in Ntilikina.  Given this, he may not be an option for long.

Dennis the Menace

Dennis Smith Jr. is the incumbent starter for the team and looks to be the correct decision.  Entering his third season and getting a full offseason under Coach Fizdale should help him take the next step in his career.  Scoring will not be a problem for the former Maverick.  He has posted a career average of 14.5 points per game on 45.9 eFG%.  Alongside new teammates RJ Barrett and Julius Randle, Smith will have more options on offense than ever before.  He should become a better distributor while having more space to work on his own offensive game.  Furthermore, playing alongside Barrett will allow him to split play-making duties.  If Smith can expand his off-the-ball game he began in Dallas, it’ll benefit him in the long run.

Moving Forward

Given the options currently available, Dennis Smith, Jr. should be the starter for this team.  He is the most effective offensive player of the group and experience is essential to his growth.  Payton is a solid back up option and Ntilikina looks to be on the move sooner rather than later.  Depending on what it brought back in any sort of trade could change the directive here.

It would not be beyond Knicks management to bring someone like Reggie Jackson back in move from Ntilikina.  Obviously, this would be ill-advised.  Smith has shown that he can be dynamic on offense in the right situation.  Building a foundation around him, Randle, Barrett, Robinson and Knox bodes well for the future.  Worst case scenario, next year’s draft is full of potential point guards at the top.  If it does not work out with Smith they can look to add that way.  For once, the future looks to be brighter in New York.

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About Corey Rausch

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