The first trimester of the 2019-20 NBA season has passed and the New York Knicks are still looking for answers. They are tied for the third worst record in the NBA at 6-23. The point guard position battle has been a wash, and the trio of Frank Ntilikina, Dennis Smith Jr. and Elfrid Payton has been inconsistent with very few flashes of exceptional play.
None of the point guards have pulled away from the pack, which has caused inconsistent rotations and sporadic playing time for all three players. With only 48 minutes to be divvied up, interim head coach Mike Miller has his hands full attempting to split up playing time. Ntilikina was a starter for 23 of the past 24 games before Payton opened up Saturday night's 123-102 loss to the Milwaukee Bucks.
As SNY's Ian Begley reported, teams are under the impression that the Knicks are open to moving a point guard. The position has been a major weakness for New York this season, and based off of the small sample size, New York's starting point guard of the future is not on the roster currently.
Here's a look at how the Knicks' three point guards have performed through the early part of the season:
1) Frank Ntilikina
Ntilikina remains a fan favorite for his strong defensive approach and his unselfish style of play on a Knicks roster full of gunners. With a bevy of shot creators and isolation players on the team, Ntilikina at point guard seems like a possible fit. Ntilikina's passivity is still a major hindrance to his future prospects as a quality starter.
The third year point guard is last on the team in usage rate (13.1 percent). Only three other point guards in the NBA (Alex Caruso, Patrick Beverley and Cory Joseph) have a lower usage rate. Two of those players are reserve guards, and the third plays with three ball dominant players in Paul George, Kawhi Leonard and Lou Williams.
Ntilikina's outside shot has been an issue throughout his career. He's shown some improvement, shooting a career-high 33.3 percent from three. Also, Ntilikina is shooting better on catch and shoot threes (36.4 percent). Still, he needs to be more aggressive on offense to solidify his place as a starter. If not, then his ceiling would be limited to a defensive specialist coming off of the bench.
2) Dennis Smith, Jr.
A significant piece in the Kristaps Porzingis blockbuster trade, Smith has fallen on hard times this season. The third-year guard is having the worst season of his young career, posting career-lows in every significant category across the board. Back issues in training camp and the death of his stepmother played a factor in Smith missing games in both the preseason and regular season.
After Payton returned from injury, Smith received a couple of DNP-Coach's Decisions. Opportunity is missing for Smith, who has logged 20 minutes or more just five times this season.
It's hard to blame him with the lack of spacing on offense and inconsistent playing time contributing to his offensive struggles. On the other hand, Smith has not done himself any favors. An athletic phenom in his first two seasons, Smith has lacked explosion, shooting a career-worst 54.5 percent around the rim, according to Basketball Reference.
A two-time participant in the NBA's Slam Dunk Contest, he has just one dunk this season. Smith's athleticism makes him a very intriguing prospect, and at age 22, a change of scenery might be best for the young guard.
3) Elfrid Payton
The most experienced of the point guard brigade, the 25-year old Payton has had his moments in limited action. Out for 17 games with a strained hamstring, Payton has done the best job of setting up the offense and creating shots for teammates. He leads the team with 5.5 assists.
Payton has made the most of his time, showcasing an ability to get into the paint and make plays off the dribble. Still, just like Ntilikina and Smith, Payton has failed to cause opposing defenses damage from the perimeter.
A career 30.3 percent three-point shooter, Payton has converted 33.3 percent from three on 19 attempts. All of Payton's three-point attempts are open since defenders are going under screens and daring him to shoot.
With a small partial guarantee for next season, Payton is not a long-term investment for the Knicks. Though he is productive, his lack of shooting combined with New York's paint bound bigs such as Julius Randle and Mitchell Robinson is problematic.