Knicks guard Miles McBride defends against Detroit Pistons guard Jules Bernard...

Knicks guard Miles McBride defends against Detroit Pistons guard Jules Bernard in a preseason game on Oct. 4, 2022, at MSG. Credit: AP/Julia Nikhinson

The math for Miles McBride presents a tough equation, the second-year point guard stacked behind some of the Knicks' most important players in his search for opportunities. So when they do present themselves, McBride hopes to take advantage.

And it took him just 21 seconds after entering the Knicks' preseason opener Tuesday to make an impact — his first defensive set resulting in a steal in the lane. He then grabbed a defensive rebound 25 seconds later and passed the length of the court to Obi Toppin for a windmill dunk that brought the Madison Square Garden crowd to its feet. It continued 11 seconds later when McBride swiped a pass and went the length of the court for a breakaway layup.

When his night was done, he had piled up six steals in less than 23 minutes of action.

“I always want to bring a defensive presence first,” McBride said. “I feel like that gets my offense going. Obviously, I was able to get some steals and turn it into buckets. So I feel like me bringing energy is going to help everybody else, bringing energy to the defensive side. I wanted to run my game in a mature way, a lot of pace, adding that to my game and being smarter on the court with making better decisions.”

RJ Barrett had a simpler explanation.

“He’s a pest,” Barrett said after the game. “You saw it out there today. I don’t know how many steals he had today. Six? That’s what he does, man.”

But as impressive as the six steals may be, and as much as his defense is what warms the heart of Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau, the math is still difficult for him once the season begins. The Knicks gave Jalen Brunson a four-year, $104 million contract to provide them with the starting point guard the franchise has craved, and in this first test Tuesday he did little to dissuade the notion that he is a difference-maker for a team in need of one. Derrick Rose has returned healthy and light after an injury riddled season last year. Immanuel Quickley can take minutes at the point, too.

“I mean, Thibs controls the minutes,” McBride said. “And I’m obviously going to do anything I can to get on the floor and make a great impression."

McBride played in 40 games as a rookie, the high point coming on Dec. 16 in Houston when Rose suffered an ankle injury and McBride stepped in, playing nearly 36 minutes and contributing 15 points and four steals. But he tested positive for COVID-19 before the next game and had to sit out the following five games.

He played with the Knicks summer league squad and spent much of his summer studying and refining his skill set.

“The more experience you get, you know your opponent a lot better, you know the guys you’re going against,” Thibodeau said. “But his gift is his defense, physicality, competitiveness, anticipation, seeing things early. I thought the ball pressure from [Quickley] and Deuce really got us into the open floor, and that gave us a big spark. The beauty of those guys is they can play together, and it speeds up the game.”

“Just being around the game for a year it feels like you learn so much so quickly,” McBride said. “Sometimes it can be a little bit too fast. But over the summer I was really able to watch a lot of games and watch a lot of guys and what they did defensively and really just pick up those little tendencies.

“[The difference is] just understanding how Thibs wants us to play. Obviously, I have a year in, and you know the things he likes and doesn’t like. I just wanted to make sure going into my workouts I was obviously doing the things he wants to see. Just getting that plan from him at the beginning of the summer I think I went to work on it really hard and I’m going to benefit from it.”