With Thursday night's 94-82 win over the Nets, the Knicks are now 8-24 on the season, and though their record isn't much to write home about, the team has shown improvement of late, winning four of their last eight games.
One of the main reasons for the Knicks' recent stretch of more consistent play has been the performance of Elfrid Payton, who has helped solidify the team's point guard situation.
In the Knicks' previous seven games heading into Thursday, Payton averaged 8.6 points, 7.9 assists, and 4.3 rebounds per contest. He replaced Frank Ntilikina in the Knicks' starting lineup on Saturday against Milwaukee.
Getting the start again on Thursday, Payton scored 13 points to go along with seven rebounds and four assists in 31 minutes.
"He's been a coach on the floor," interim head coach Mike Miller said after Thursday's win. "I keep using the same phrase, but he's helping all of the players on the floor. He's finding ways to put them in good situations and he's got a great command of the ball and of our offense."
Payton has never been score-first point guard, but his unselfish play has greatly benefited his teammates. On Thursday, Julius Randle and Marcus Morris combined for 55 points, and there's no doubt that Payton's play has gone a long way towards getting his teammates good shots.
"He brings that veteran leadership, gets us in spots, and he runs this team," said Morris. "To be a good point guard in this league, you have to have some type of dog in you. Guys gotta listen to you. I think he commands respect and he's been playing really well since he came back."
"He's playing amazing, pushing the pace, playing with confidence. That's the big thing I see," said Randle. "He's playing with confidence, getting into the paint, making shots, making plays for others, shooting the ball well, he's being the EP that I know, that I played with last year. He's the head of the snake and this team really feeds off his energy so he's doing a great job."
On the defensive end, Payton recorded one steal, but he played smothering defense most of the night, holding Spencer Dinwiddie, who had scored a combined 80 points in his last two games, to just 5-of-15 shooting.
"I thought he and Frank did an outstanding job early on Dinwiddie," said Miller. "You don't shut him down, but I thought they did a good job of making him work for what he got."
"That's what he hangs his hat on. … He's been doing that since he's been in the league so we're not surprised," added Morris. "We're just happy to have him back and he's playing well for us."
While Ntilikina and Dennis Smith Jr. have both struggled to find that consistency in their play, Payton has begun to emerge as the top point guard on the roster, something that the Knicks were hoping would be the case when the team singed him this past offseason.
Payton's calming presence has gone hand-in-hand with the Knicks improved play over the past couple of weeks.