Ian Begley, SNY.tv | Twitter |
David Fizdale hasn't decided yet if Frank Ntilikina will start at point guard when Elfrid Payton is healthy. But it certainly sounds like Fizdale will keep Ntilikina in the starting lineup when Payton returns -- as long as he and the Knicks are playing well.
Here's what Fizdale said when asked on Sunday if Payton, who has missed the last six games with a hamstring injury, will start at point guard when he returns to the lineup:
"I'm going to base it on how things are going for us at the time when he gets back," Fizdale said. "If things are going well, we'll probably stay with what we're doing. If for some reason it's not, maybe we'll look at putting him back in there. But we won't make that decision until the time comes."
So it seems like if the Knicks and Ntilikina are playing well when Payton returns, Ntilikina will continue to start at point guard.
Ntilikina's play was a key factor in the Knicks' win over Dallas on Friday. The 21-year-old had 14 points, six rebounds, four assists, four steals and three blocks against the Mavs. He also had 11 points, four assists and three blocks in New York's blowout loss in Detroit last Wednesday.
What has Fizdale seen from Ntilikina, the No. 8 pick in the 2017 NBA Draft?
"Confidence. His confidence is really high on both ends of the floor. Just want him to just continue to stay aggressive without worrying about making mistakes," the coach said.
Ntilikina's playing time was inconsistent in his first two seasons in New York. The Knicks loved what Ntilikina brought on defense, but his offensive output was often hit or miss.
Fizdale was asked on Sunday what constituted success for Ntilikina this season.
"I think success for him is consistency. Continue to do the things that he's having success with," he said. "He's pushing the pace really well. He does a great job of organizing us. Obviously defensively, he's getting after it, guarding different guys and competing against different guys. All the while, staying aggressive for his own shots."
The Knicks signed Payton to a two-year deal over the summer with a player option. He, Ntilikina and Dennis Smith Jr. competed in the preseason for the starting point guard job. Payton seemed to have a steady hold on it before his hamstring injury.
But it sounds like Ntilikina will have a real opportunity to keep the job based on his performance. For those who like to read the tea leaves, it's worth noting that Smith Jr. was obtained via the Kristaps Porzingis trade and Payton, as mentioned above, signed as a free agent.
So it would be rational to assume that the Knicks might have more impetus to play Smith Jr. or Payton ahead of Ntilikina, who was drafted by ex-team president Phil Jackson. That's just an assumption though. It's unknown if any of that factors into the team's thinking regarding playing time for the point guards.
Regarding Smith Jr., he returned to the team on Friday following roughly two weeks away to mourn the loss of his stepmother. But he is not ready to get back on the court. The Knicks would like to give him some time to regain his conditioning, which was obviously impacted by his time away.
Smith Jr. said on Sunday that he appreciated the support of the organization during his bereavement.
"They supported me. They allowed me to spend that time and really take a step back and evaluate everything that's going on. So I appreciate that," he said. "…. They gave me that time to go home and they respected my space, things of that nature. So I'm thankful."
When asked what the time of bereavement was like for him, Smith Jr. said, "It's eye-opening. Just been very eye-opening."
Smith Jr. said his return to the court would be based on how he feels during workouts. He worked out during his time away but, as he noted, nothing can replace playing in NBA games or practices.
According to the Dallas Morning News, Smith Jr. visited the family of a teen from the Dallas area who was kidnapped and murdered in 2017. Smith Jr. had previously taken the family on a surprise holiday shopping spree, according to the newspaper.
"It was regular for me," Smith Jr. said. "It's a lot of stuff that I did - just really hanging with that family - that wasn't documented or anything. I'm not really sure how this one got out. What they dealt with, I really can't relate to. But I built a special relationship with them. So I just keep it up with them, I talk to them on the regular, they all got my number and call me whenever. They're extended family too."
Smith Jr. added: "That (visit) kind of brightened my mood up seeing them. That was major for me."
Smith Jr. said he spent time with the family at a community center and provided them tickets to Friday's Knicks-Mavs game in Dallas.