Does Elfrid Payton already have a case to be the starting point guard for the New York Knicks?
With the New York Knicks making plenty of moves this summer, the starting lineup is something that will take some time to work through, as only Mitchell Robinson and Julius Randle are guaranteed starters.
Point guard will be an interesting battle between Elfrid Payton, the newcomer, or Dennis Smith Jr., the player the Knicks traded for in January. Most fans will obvious shout for Smith to be the starter because of his age and the potential that he has, but Payton should be the starter, and it’s not really a debate.
Payton is the obvious starter because he is the Knicks best passer. Smith may be a more committed scored than Payton, but he has not been much of a playmaker early on his career, never averaging over 5.2 assists, while Payton has never averaged under 6.2 assists in any of his five seasons in the NBA.
Smith may end up as the better player, but with the way the roster is built, Payton is more needed as a starter. The roster lacks a traditional isolation scorer, more reliant on ball movement and players being able to create shots for others. Payton will be the most suited to play the role of distributor.
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The Knicks’ projected starting lineup has Robinson, Julius Randle and some combination of Kevin Knox, RJ Barrett, Marcus Morris. Outside of maybe Barrett and Randle, the Knicks do not have many options for guys who can create shots for themselves or set up a teammate, this reason alone makes Payton the more obvious choice as the starter. A
Add that Payton, last year, was actually an impactful player on offense. The Pelicans had an offensive rating of 112.8 with him and it dropped by 1.6 without him. In comparison, Smith never topped a 105.8 rating with either Dallas or the Knicks and both teams were actually better offensively with him on the bench.
This is no knock on Smith, he still is only 21 years old, with plenty of time to grow, but the game he has shown so far is more suited to come off the bench with the way the roster has been built.
It does not also hurt that Payton has a connection with the general manager Scott Perry, who drafted him as an assistant general manager in Orlando. Perry wanted him here, which will give home some edge in the starting point guard battle.
Neither Payton or Smith has shown enough to be the future point guard of the Knicks, but for next season, the former fits better with all the stationary scorers the Knicks have. They need a traditional point guard that can set up teammates. It also helps that with guys like Knox, Randle, Barrett and Robinson a pass-first point guard would help them get better looks and more opportunities to score.