Through the past two games, Knicks head coach David Fizdale has given Frank Ntilikina the start at point guard. And it doesn't look like he has a choice yet again against the Pistons on Wednedsay night.
Elfrid Payton has been dealing with a hamstring injury, and he has already been ruled out during this two-game road trip in Detroit and Dallas. Also, Dennis Smith Jr. has yet to return as he continues to be with his family following the passing of his stepmother.
So Ntilikina should get the start against the Pistons. But, no matter the loss of the other point guards in the system, how long should Fizdale keep him in that role?
Of course, the development of Ntilikina -- along with other Knicks youngsters -- is crucial. And the team did pick up his club option for next season, so he's here to stay (for now). But he still hasn't contributed much despite his added minutes.
Fizdale noted that the team's pace on offense hasn't been what he's wanted to see, and a lot of that falls on Ntilikina. Fizdale, though, did defend the 21-year-old Frenchman.
"Our pace has really suffered," Fizdale said, according to the NY Post's Zach Braziller. "Obviously having that second ball-handler [Payton] that can get us organized and can defend the position. Frank's done a heckuva job holding it down with RJ [Barrett] and [Allonzo Trier] patching it up, but it would definitely be nice to get him back."
Payton had been playing well before his injury, averaging eight points and 3.8 assists per game while playing solid on defense as well. He was the one in that starting role between the three floor generals before going down.
Fizdale said something interesting above when noting that Ntilikina has been "holding it down."
The Knicks drafted Ntilikina eighth overall three years ago with the expectation that he wouldn't simply hold it down, but set the tone on offense and be the team's franchise point guard. His development to this point has still been with that goal in mind.
But saying a player is holding it down is something usually uttered about a backup before the starter returns.
Many believed Ntilikina would be taking a big leap forward after a solid summer playing with the French national team during the FIBA World Cup. His offensive game looked polished, and that natural defensive ability was on full display against Team USA when he locked down Kemba Walker during the quarterfinal of the tournament.
Ntilikina's first start came against the Celtics in a heartbreaking loss that ended with Jayson Tatum burying a long two just before the buzzer. Ntilikina wasn't too shabby with 10 points on 4-of-9 shooting as well as two assists and three rebounds. But that was done over 38 minutes of work.
Then, in the last contest against the Kings, Ntilikina was only on the floor 15 minutes after getting the start, scoring two points on 1-of-3 shooting with three assists and two boards.
Ntilikina wasn't getting involved to start the season, but this is the time where he needs to step up with added minutes in a crucial role. He hasn't lived up to the challenge yet, but that could doing that on Wednesday night.
And the Knicks will sure hope so, as there is no indication when Payton or Smith will be returning. Ntilikina needs to take advantage of this opportunity, or Fizdale may have to start Barrett -- who's averaging 17.7 points and 3.2 assists to kick off his rookie campaign -- at point guard.