New York Knicks: Frank Ntilikina’s starting run bound to continue

New York Knicks (Photo by Stephen Gosling/NBAE via Getty Images)
New York Knicks (Photo by Stephen Gosling/NBAE via Getty Images) /

Without Elfrid Payton for at least two more games and Dennis Smith Jr.’s unknown status, point guard is Frank Ntilikina’s to lose with the New York Knicks.

The New York Knicks have trekked through another point guard conundrum to open the 2019-20 NBA season. It landed on, for now, Frank Ntilikina, who only took the job with Elfrid Payton out due to injury and Dennis Smith Jr.’s stepmother passing away.

Well, Ntilikina’s time at point guard should continue moving forward. Per the Knicks, Payton’s rehab for a strained right hamstring “is progressing,” but he will not play in the team’s next two games, against the Detroit Pistons and Dallas Mavericks, respectively. No update was provided on Smith Jr.’s status.

By a process of elimination, Ntilikina may start for the third consecutive game at point guard. In the first two, he averaged 6.0 points, 2.5 rebounds, 2.5 assists and 2.0 steals on 41.7 percent shooting. Not otherworldly numbers, but he was lauded for defensive play.

The Frenchman’s work at the other end of the court will maintain his playing time, as the Knicks have few other pieces to handle perimeter defense. RJ Barrett, still a work in progress, has been more than effective on offense, while Wayne Ellington and Allonzo Trier also play for their scoring work.

The question surrounds Ntilikina’s long-term stance as the starter, though; is he the point guard to take the Knicks through the season? Can he successfully usurp Payton and Smith Jr. when both return? If so, it may create similar problems, with one of those two sitting at the end of the bench, especially on nights head coach David Fizdale crunches the rotation.

So these next two games are Ntilikina’s opportunity to shine, and he can do so against a rejuvenated Derrick Rose and Luka Doncic, one of the NBA’s young stars. Both are intriguing tests and will give the 21-year-old pro a chance to put on a defensive show. Any shots made are just a bonus, along with setting up teammates for some much-needed scoring.

If Ntilikina does not come through, it could be more of the same: he moves to the bench, Smith Jr. takes the backup role and Payton recovers the starting spot. Fizdale has not shied from making changes (six different starting lineups through eight games, including Wednesday vs. Detroit), and the 2017 No. 8 overall pick could find himself on the outside, again.

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These two games are critical, and Ntilikina needs his play, and the New York Knicks’, to result in better days.