Knicks head coach David Fizdale announced the starting lineup for the team's preseason opener, taking place Monday night against the Wizards in Washington, D.C.
Elfrid Payton, RJ Barrett, Marcus Morris, Julius Randle and Mitchell Robinson get first crack at starting, though Fizdale said that his preseason lineups with likely change and Kevin Knox could get inserted into the starting five before the preseason ends.
"Nothing is in stone yet, but he'll play a ton tonight," Fizdale said of Knox.
The coach added that Knox will share the floor at times with Morris and play some shooting guard. He will also back up Morris at small forward.
Also of note is that Payton gets the first shot at solidifying himself as the top option at point guard -- with Frank Ntilikina and Dennis Smith Jr. sidelined with a back injury.
Ntilikina looked fantastic and opened eyes while playing for Team France during the FIBA World Cup, but his future with the Knicks is still up in the air. He should get plenty of playing time against Washington.
Barrett will start in his first official NBA game. Fizdale said he has no specific expectations for the No. 3 overall pick, but he offered these observations of the 20-year-old and then weighed in on Knox.
"I know he'll compete. I know that much. I know that this is really important to him," he said. "I just feel like he's going to come out to compete to win every night. The thing I've been most impressed with is his defensive intensity. Everybody thinks he's a scorer, just a scorer, but the kid really competes defensively. He's always around the ball rebounding."
Then Fizdale added on Knox, the Knicks' 2018 first-round pick: "I just feel like he's more comfortable. Things aren't surprising him as much anymore. His shot has improved. I feel like he's shortened his stroke. He's really simplified it. With strength, that's really allowed him to do that. It's not as much of a heave for him. And defensively he's been better."
This will be the chance for Payton and Ntilikina to show coaches what they bring in a game setting. The two point guards will compete with Smith Jr. for minutes at the lead guard spot.
"He's just got a serious competitive gene," Fizdale said of Payton thus far. "He hates to lose. He's never out of a possession. Offensively and defensively he's always trying to figure out how to win a possession and it just stands out to you when you see him on the court."
Regarding Morris at small forward, it sounds like Fizdale will move him around a bit positionally but the Knicks want to use him at small forward often this season. Fizdale said he likes the idea of having size at the position and Morris is 6-9 and 238 pounds.
Overall, this is the first time we'll see a Knicks team with several new free agents and two draft picks. After striking out on their top targets in free agency, the Knicks added several players (Randle, Payton, Morris, Bobby Portis among them) on short deals with the idea of putting a team together that can compete internally and externally. Coming off of a 17-win season, the Knicks certainly need a significant win increase to show the fan base that they're progressing toward building a sustained winner. Another 17-win season will leave the fan base -- and possibly top decision-makers -- restless.
Smith Jr. says back injury isn't serious
Smith Jr. doesn't believe his back strain is a significant injury. It will keep him out of the Knicks' preseason opener on Monday, but he said the injury isn't related to the disc issue that sidelined him for 10 of the Knicks' final 14 games last season.
Smith Jr. said the injury is "nothing major, it's not really that serious. It's just being cautious." It's unclear if he'll be available for the Knicks' next preseason game on Friday against Washington. But it would be a bit of a surprise if he wasn't, since the injury isn't significant.
Fizdale has said the Knicks are being cautious and don't want to put Smith Jr. in position to reaggravate the injury. Smith Jr. described it as a 'small bump in the road' and said there wasn't a specific play last week that caused the back strain.
The point guard, obtained from Dallas in the Kristaps Porzingis trade last winter, shed about 15 pounds in the offseason. He will compete with Payton and Ntilikina for minutes at point guard.
High praise for Portis
Fizdale said Bobby Portis was the first player in the gym on Monday, working on his shot early in the morning ahead of the Knicks' AM workout.
Fizdale described Portis as "fantastic" and "such a pro" when asked about him on Monday.
"He picks up stuff extremely fast, is highly competitive and he's been a great teammate," the coach said.
Portis will likely be the first big off the bench for New York in its preseason opener. He has improved his 3-point shot over the past two seasons. He shot 36 percent from beyond the arc in 2017-18 and 39 percent in 2018-19. You can bet that the Knicks, who lacked perimeter shooting last season, hope that trend continues.
"He's truly added that as a weapon," Fizdale said. "You have to respect him from there."