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Well, it only took one game into the season and we are already reminded just how little preseason means.

Elfrid Payton – Starting PG?

After struggling mightily during the preseason, Elfrid Payton seemingly ran away with the starting point guard job after putting together an impressive performance in the Knicks loss at San Antonio. Posting 11 points, 8 assists and 5 steals (+14 overall), Payton ran the offense well and was active all night on the defensive end.

Thankfully he did produce a game like that because the other two point guards on the roster were less than impressive, to put it nicely. Dennis Smith Jr’s new jump shot somehow looks worse than Markelle Fultz’s jumper. It also doesn’t look like he’s 100% healthy yet, which is a little bit concerning that a young player has this many back issues already. Frank Ntilikina was so awful in his limited minutes, that he was quickly yanked out after just 3 minutes on the court. He essentially handed the Spurs the ball twice while on the court, mistakes that shouldn’t happen 3 years into the league.

A Point Guard That Knows How to Run an Offense

The most important position on any basketball team is the point guard spot. And let me say this before diving into anything. The Knicks point guard of the future is not on this roster. So this is specific to what we can offer this year. Elfrid Payton at this point is the best point guard on this roster, assuming RJ Barrett stays at shooting guard. He knows how to run the offense and the ball moves much better when he’s on the floor. He creates easy chances for many players and looked great getting Randle some open looks in the first game.

The Knicks have been hurting at the point guard position for years and while Payton isn’t the long term answer, he will help this team for now with his passing ability. His familiarity playing with Randle before should bode well and create a formidable pick and roll option on the floor.

For now, DSJ and Ntilikina will have to earn themselves minutes as a backup guard, with DSJ likely to serve as the backup. Frank will probably experience some DNPs and until he can play aggressively and not be timid, that’s probably the best place for him.

Marcus Morris + Julius Randle

We all knew Randle was an absolute beast and already a fringe all-star caliber player in the league. However, many people didn’t expect Marcus Morris to be this good. Buried on a roster of what seemed like 6 wings last year in Boston, he didn’t really get the opportunity to break out. On this Knicks roster, he’s going to be afforded any shot he wants.

While their games immediately improve the talent the Knicks put on their court, their best value will be as leaders. Morris has been in the league for many years and knows what it takes to win and be competitive. He has that ‘dog’ mentality that the young players would be wise to adopt, to bring some toughness to this team.

Randle, while only 24 years old, is now on his 3rd team oddly. For such a talented player, the Knicks did well to snag him for 3 years this summer. He can be an important piece for this franchise moving forward. And if he continues to make an effort on the defensive end, his pairing next to Mitchell Robinson will be a handful for opponents.

We saw throughout the preseason and in the first game that Randle is surprisingly a great passer, making his game so much more well rounded. Expect to continue to see him push the ball off of rebounds and get the Knicks some easy buckets in transition.

Depth

This Knicks roster has a lot of capable NBA bodies to the point where some guys are going to be unhappy and inactive for stretches. That’s a good problem to have for a young team that is trying to take steps forward. Assuming a starting lineup of Payton, Barrett, Morris, Randle, and Robinson, the Knicks have plenty of depth on the bench. DSJ, Knox, Portis, Gibson, and Ellington are all capable players. This doesn’t even include Trier or Dotson.

With that many capable bodies in the rotation, the Knicks should be able to play fast for much of the game and play tough defense, knowing the guys off the bench can get the job done too.

The roster is vastly improved from last year and while it may not lead to a playoff berth, it can get close.

Defense

This was the one area that Coach Fizdale kept harping about last year, but got no results. To be fair, the roster wasn’t exactly equipped with good defensive players so it’s tough to get a system down with a barren roster. However, there are some good defenders on this year’s team and we saw the defense look much better in the first game. With Payton presumably playing the point, we have a pretty good defender on the ball. Mitchell Robinson, who didn’t play the first game but is expected to play tonight, is an elite rim protector in the middle. RJ Barrett can improve defensively, but he’s actually much better than we actually thought. Marcus Morris can hold his own on that end. That leaves Randle as the weakest defender most likely, although he recognizes he needs to improve on that end and has been putting in the work. Robinson will also be able to cover for him in many situations.

Those 5 starters can be disruptive defensively. DSJ is making strides on defense off the bench and having Taj Gibson come in isn’t bad either. If Frank Ntilikina can figure out how to not be a net negative on offense, his defense will be a welcome sight off the bench against some of the elite guards the Knicks will face this year. While many of the bench guys aren’t known for defense, this team should guard much better than last year’s team did at any point.

RJ Barrett

It almost feels like people forgot he was drafted 3rd overall, doesn’t it? Considered the consolation prize by many, RJ has shown the ability to be an impact player from day one. Rookie of the Year anyone? His ability to use his frame to be efficient in the paint at this point is really impressive. He’s also deceptively quick and gets the rim seemingly when he feels like it. His shot will continue to improve but he’s still able to hit some 3s and outside shots. While he is going to be a stud offensively for many years, it might not be the most impressive part of his game. His rebounding and passing ability are excellent already at 19 years old. At 6’7″ he can grab a rebound over anyone and start the fast break. With his vision, he is able to keep his head up and find open teammates or attack the basket himself.

He is a star in the making for the Knicks and the franchise should feel fortunate that he dons the blue and orange. The next step for the front office is to find him a backcourt running mate for the foreseeable future. In the meantime, RJ is going to help the Knicks win some games with his well-rounded play and should be a joy to watch this season.

The Knicks will put up a fight this year with the infusion of talent and veterans and it’ll be nice to see. It’s time for Fizdale to put up some wins and show that the franchise is making strides in the right direction. With so many players added to the roster, it may take a few games to mesh, especially in crunch time when you need to know your teammates’ tendencies.


Overall, it’ll be nice to watch a team that knows how to play. The impact the veterans will have on the young guys will pay big dividends in their maturation.

Photo Credit: SNY
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