GREENBURGH, N.Y. — As the Knicks get ready for their final two preseason games, coach David Fizdale is expected to have all three of his potential point guards available to try to decide on who could be the starter this season.
But even with Dennis Smith Jr. taking the floor for his first game action Wednesday night at Madison Square Garden, Frank Ntilikina expected back from a day off of practice with a sore groin and newcomer Elfrid Payton, Fizdale threw in the possibility of a wild card taking the job this season.
Asked about the possibility of putting the ball in the hands of his 6-7 rookie RJ Barrett, Fizdale was happy to add him to the mix.
“Absolutely. I’ve thrown him at that position a couple times already,” Fizdale said. “He played some of that in college. I think it adds another layer to how dynamic he can be. Especially having somebody that big that can switch things, do some different things defensively. So yeah, I’ll sprinkle that in.
“Yeah, I do [like what I’ve seen from him as a lead guard]. He’s really poised. He looks comfortable. The kid likes having the ball in his hands. He’s unselfish. He finds people. He understands – he knows our plays from that position. I feel very comfortable if I have to throw him there.”
It likely won’t be as a starter to begin the season, though, so Fizdale must still choose from a group that has not quite measured up to the many star point guards in the NBA. Smith has been more of a scorer than anything else with his rare athletic ability. Payton has yet to prove himself an offensive threat in three previous stops around the league. Ntilikina has the defensive skill set but has lacked aggressiveness offensively.
Fizdale is seeking someone with all of the skill sets but is left with an incomplete set. Add into the equation that Payton is a free-agent pickup with just one guaranteed year on his deal, while Smith and Ntilikina are still waiting for the Knicks to make a decision on their rookie contract fourth-year options.
“More than anything it’s got to be a guy that’s a threat, that could put pressure on the defense, I feel like,” Fizdale said. “The biggest thing is, is he guarding his position? Is he pushing the pace? Is he getting us organized? Those are the most important areas for me. But at the same time I feel like you still have to be a threat out there from that position.”
Now, adding Barrett into the group of potential ball-handlers opens up intriguing new possibilities.
“I have done that in the past and if that happens, I’m up to the challenge,” Barrett said. “If not, I’m just going to keep doing what I do. I would definitely say that playmaking is one of my strengths and I’m going to try to keep picking my spots and try to continue doing what I do.
“I like it. I loved it, obviously. That’s the good thing about our team is anybody that can get it, can go. Even our bigs can handle the ball. So it’s really anybody out there that gets it, let’s go. I just like it. I can make plays for others while making plays for myself.”
As a 19-year-old rookie, does he feel ready for the challenge?
“If I couldn’t,” he said, “I wouldn’t be here.”
Notes & quotes: Kevin Knox is expected to play after sitting out Friday with a right calf strain. Damyean Dotson could make his preseason debut after having right shoulder surgery in the offseason.