Ian Begley, SNY.tv | Twitter |
Wednesday's game didn't provide much clarity in the Knicks' starting point guard competition.
Dennis Smith Jr. was out of rhythm in his preseason debut, shooting 1-for-5 in 20 minutes. Elfrid Payton was a DNP, by design. And Frank Ntilikina defended well but didn't provide the offensive spark that David Fizdale said he's looking for in his starting point guard.
Let's start with Smith Jr. He felt some rust after playing for the first time in roughly 10 days due to a back ailment.
"No rhythm at all. But he's got to play through that stuff," Fizdale said afterward. "He had to get out there and go through it to start shaking it off."
Smith Jr. said his back was a non-issue against Atlanta, but his conditioning and timing felt off.
"That's why I think it's important for me to play these last two presaeason games and start building for the regular season when it really counts," he said.
Smith Jr.'s competing against Ntilikina and Payton for the Knicks' starting point guard role. The general feeling throughout camp has been that the starting point guard on opening night would be either Payton or Smith Jr., who was acquired in the Kristaps Porzingis trade last January.
Payton, who signed with the Knicks in free agency this summer, didn't play against Atlanta because Fizdale wanted to see more of Smith Jr. and Ntilikina.
Ntilikina had a few standout defensive moments in the fourth quarter, particularly when defending Trae Young. He finished with three assists, two blocks and two points in 21 minutes.
Fizdale has said that, ideally, his starting point guard will be a threat to score. While Ntilikina has improved his shot and seems more assertive, the points haven't come in the preseason.
It will be interesting to see how Fizdale and the Knicks value Ntilikina's defense compared to the desire to have an offensive threat at point guard.
This is how Fizdale assessed Ntilikina on Wednesday: "Competition. I just really thought he battled. He organized us. He ran the team. He stayed aggressive. He got a timely rebound down the stretch to give us another chance. He's had a solid training camp."
The Knicks have until Oct. 31 to decide on the 2020-21 option for Ntilikina's contract.
RJ Barrett had the ball in his hands in a playmaking role regularly on Wednesday. He finished with a team-high six assists to go along with 12 points on 4-for-14 shooting.
"He's a playmaker, just being himself, we've got that trust in RJ," Bobby Portis said. "He's going to be a big-time player in this league. Just having the ball in his hand at 19 years old, that's big for him and he's got a bright future ahead."
Barrett used his 215-pound frame to create for openings on drives. He scored all of his points in the paint and missed his three jump shots.
"The kid just, like I said, he's always engaged, he's always trying to win," Fizdale said. "These are good learning lessons for him right now to go through that. He still made some plays. He threw the lob to Mitch and got a great layup on the break. He's just going to keep getting better and better."
Fizdale started Smith Jr. at point guard and Portis at center. He said the move didn't have anything to do with Mitchell Robinson's foul trouble in the preseason. "I want to just look at different pieces and how they fit," Fizdale said. "I want to see how (Portis) looks next to Julius (Randle), maybe open up the floor a little bit more for RJ and Dennis."