New York Knicks continue never-ending musical chairs at point guard

Point guard remains an ever-changing position for the New York Knicks, with Elfrid Payton the latest to take over the starting role.

The point guard position for the New York Knicks changed again, or it reverted to its expected form from the start of the season. That happened with Elfrid Payton, who rejoined the starting lineup for Saturday’s loss to the Milwaukee Bucks. He was the favorite to start the year at point guard, before suffering a hamstring injury that sidelined him for over a month.

Payton’s return to the starting lineup was highlighted by 10 assists and four steals in 27 minutes, pushing the offense as he did for the previous eight games since coming back. He also has 7.8 points, 3.3 rebounds and 6.2 assists in that time.

The change was inevitable. Payton had played over 20 minutes in four of the previous five games and was the Knicks’ most effective point guard in that stretch. He jumped Frank Ntilikina, who has just 4.4 points, 1.9 rebounds, and 1.8 assists, in production, despite the Frenchman being a terrific defender. The offense flowed better with the minutes tipping towards the veteran.

After four consecutive games of declining minutes, Ntilikina returned to a reserve role against the Bucks. He only played nine minutes, while Payton had 27, and Dennis Smith Jr. had 11. Interim coach Mike Miller worked all three point guards into the rotation, but it came at the expense of the player who started the most games of this trio.

Despite the loss, Payton’s 10 assists bode well for his starting future. Miller, per Zach Braziller of the New York Post, heaped praise on the ex-New Orleans Pelican after the game:

“The one thing we’ve seen him do consistently here since he’s come back from his injury, he’s helping other people,” Miller said. “And you have to have that facilitator and that guy who does it. He’s taken that role and he’s done a very good job with it.”

That sounds positive enough for Payton to keep his role.

Perhaps this leads to something more down the road. SNY’s Ian Begley previously reported that several teams are “under the impression” that New York is open to moving one of their point guards.

Payton has a partial guarantee for 2020-21, essentially making him an expiring contract. If he’s a potential candidate to move, especially with the Knicks far away from the playoff picture, starting him could increase value. However, Begley noted the outside interest in Smith Jr., who has seen his role and production diminish greatly from last season. Ntilikina was also the subject of trade rumors this past summer.

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This change at point guard has potential implications for the New York Knicks. It may improve the team’s look now, but if it’s an audition for prospective buyers, that will mean an interesting winter is ahead.

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