The New York Knicks are back in the playoffs for the first time since 2013 when they get set to welcome the Atlanta Hawks to Madison Square Garden.
It’s been a season that many on the outside did not expect from the Knicks, as first year head coach Tom Thibodeau has completely flipped the script with a team that has struggled for eight straight years. Now, New York is back or as they put it, “We here.”
One glaring issue that has continually popped up for the Knicks is the starting point guard play. Elfrid Payton has been a disaster for over a month and hasn’t been producing on either side of the court. Yet, Thibodeau has time and again backed Payton and kept him in as the starting point guard. Many have clamored for the idea of Derrick Rose to be the starter and while on the surface it sounds good, Rose needs to continue to come off the bench.
That second unit for the Knicks that is featured by Derrick Rose, Immanuel Quickley and Alec Burks at the guard spots has been a model of consistency for New York.
Derrick Rose is still getting plenty of minutes even though he isn’t starting and moving him into the starting five could chop things up with a second unit that has had smooth sailing most of the last couple of months.
The frustrations with Elfrid Payton are noted and they are valid, but slotting Rose in his place takes away from the chemistry and the vibes of the group he’s used to working with on the floor. That’s why there may be another solution to this.
Start Frank Ntilikina.
It may sound crazy, given that Ntilikina hasn’t been a regular part of the rotation this year but, with Trae Young looming and waiting to attack in this series, the primary focus for the Knicks is finding a way to limit and slow him down.
One thing Ntilikina provides is consistent defense. The shooting is super streaky and leaves a lot to be desired but his defense certainly isn’t worse than what Payton displays on a nightly basis. Plus, starting Ntilikina won’t take away from the second unit because he hasn’t been a regular member of it this year.
Thibodeau knows this team best and perhaps he will gut it out by starting Elfrid Payton in the playoffs. It could prove to be the nail in the coffin for the Knicks though in a spot where there is little room for error.
Keeping Derrick Rose as the sixth man is the correct call and will continue to give the Knicks the best opportunity to win. Immanuel Quickley is remarkable but should continue to come off the bench in the playoffs as well. Maybe the Knicks consider starting Burks? It’s another option to consider. But if Elfrid Payton is going to continue to get ten to fifteen minutes a night, they need to be a lot better or else the plug needs to be pulled on that plan.
Playoff basketball is back in the Mecca and Knicks fans are ready to pump life into Madison Square Garden. The game before the game will come when the starting five is released later on Sunday for Game 1.