Point Guard Intrigue Dominates before Knicks Face Grizzlies

Jonathan Macri

With the trade deadline now less than eight days away and the Knicks about to play their final home game before we cross the threshold on February 6, perhaps tonight is the beginning of the end.

Well, the beginning of the end of the current starting lineup, that is.

The Knicks sit with a record of 13-35 and the fourth lowest winning percentage in the NBA. Despite that fact, ever since RJ Barrett went down with an ankle injury two weeks ago, New York has trotted out a starting five featuring not a single player on a rookie contract. This is despite the fact that they have (counting two-way contracts) nine such players on the roster.

This has had the fanbase either in a tizzy or a state of apathy, depending on who you ask.

Regardless of the outside interest level, it is a choice that's been widely scrutinized by those still paying attention, especially when a team like the Hawks (12-36) currently has a starting five comprised entirely of first, second or third-year kiddos.

The Knicks have chosen a different path for their rebuild thus far, especially since Mike Miller took over, opting instead to keep their young players together in the bench unit rather than to begin the game. The results have actually been quite good.

The quintet that has received the most time of late has featured Frank Ntilikina running point for Mitchell Robinson, Kevin Knox, Damyean Dotson and lone vet Bobby Portis. That grouping has a positive 16.3 net rating in 64 minutes.

Despite that lofty figure, Miller switched it up last night in Charlotte, going instead with Dennis Smith Jr. in Ntilikina's place. That grouping has been a less than exciting minus 1.9 in 50 minutes.

When asked before the game about the switch, Miller defaulted to coach-speak about matchups and the like:

In reality, perhaps it was a sign that on a roster full of vets, it's Smith Jr. who is the most likely to get moved before next Thursday's deadline. Whether he gets more time tonight - and what he does with that time - may help answer that question (Miller was noncommittal when asked who his backup point guard would be).

There's no question about the engine of the opposing team, however, and the Knicks coach stated it would take a team effort to slow down Ja Morant. Specifically, the Knicks would need to get in his driving lanes to avoid the type of downhill attack he thrives on.

That would seem to scream Frank Ntilikina's name. Whether anyone is listening is a different story.

One thing is for certain. If nothing else, the Knicks would be well-served to use these last 35 games to avoid going into next season with the same question that's been hanging over this franchise for the better part of the last 15 years: is the point guard of the future on this roster, and if not, where can we get him?

Memphis found there answer. It's time for New York to follow suit.