Knicks’ point guards face a challenge covering Celtics' Kyrie Irving, Warriors' Stephen Curry
GREENBURGH, N.Y. — With the Knicks now firmly focused on seasons ahead, evaluating their young talent has become the priority. There are three point guards in that category — Frank Ntilikina, Emmanuel Mudiay and Trey Burke — and coach Jeff Hornacek wants to see each of them tested and get an idea of how well they might work in tandem.
To some extent, it means experimenting, but the problem for the next few days is the testing ground. The Knicks will face Boston on Saturday and Golden State on Monday. That means the young trio will be matched against Kyrie Irving and Stephen Curry, two of the NBA’s best point guards.
“We know that they’re offensively very talented so we’re going to have to step up and try to limit them,” Ntilikina, the best defender of the three, said Friday after practice. “As I always say, you cannot really stop a player of that talent, but you can limit him and not give him what he wants on each possession and it’s going to affect their whole team.
“So that’s the mindset we’ll have tomorrow, and with all the point guards we have, we’re going to have a lot of options. We’re going to exchange our types of defense and go compete.”
Hornacek said he was pleased with the play of all three in Orlando on Thursday night, when the team halted its eight-game losing skid with a 120-113 win. Mudiay got his first start as a Knick and finished with eight points, five rebounds and four assists in 23 minutes. Off the bench, Burke had a season-high 26 points and shot 12-for-22. Ntilikina had seven points, two assists, a steal and two blocked shots. Each played 30 minutes, including the final 15:47, when the Knicks won it with a heavy dose of defense and Burke’s scoring.
“Emmanuel made some great passes . . . and when Frank and Trey came in, those guys practiced really well together the last couple days, so I felt pretty comfortable with Frank and Trey in together,’’ Hornacek said. “I liked what I saw from those guys.”
Hornacek noted that getting all three adequate minutes could be challenging, but he believes the trio are all of the right mind to deal with the ebb and flow.
“Guys sometimes don’t have it certain nights and maybe other guys play more that night,” Hornacek said. “There will be times during the season where someone gets hurt or the matchup just isn’t right. So again, I think these three guys, if they approach it as ‘hey, let’s make each other better’ and not worry about that stuff, it will work out for all of them.”
Ntilikina could figure prominently in the next two games as the Knicks strive to contain Irving and Curry.
“He’s playing well. Defensively, he’s getting after it,” Kyle O’Quinn said. “We joke around and call him Inspector Gadget, but he’s showing his true length on some smaller guards. [He’s a] wonderful defender and I think the game is really growing on him.”
Hornacek wouldn’t commit to changes in the starting lineup or to going heavy with Ntilikina, saying, “Let’s see how the guards out there who are guarding [Irving] are handling him . . . They’ll probably all end up with a shot at him at some point.”
One concern with Ntilikina might be the right knee tendinitis that has bothered him at times this season. He said he felt good after the 30 minutes on Thursday, which matched a season high.
“Today I can move, so it gives me confidence,” he said while conceding he still feels it at times.
Irving is averaging 24.7 points and 49 percent shooting, including 40 percent on three-pointers. Curry is averaging 27.0 points and shooting 50 percent, including 42 percent on threes. Whether it’s Ntilikina, Mudiay or Burke on defense, that player will have his hands full.
“Frank, Mudiay and Trey; I think it’s going to be a really good challenge for them,” Enes Kanter said. “I’m really excited to watch it.”