Dennis Smith Jr.

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RJ Barrett at point guard? Knicks are experimenting

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Opening night, Dennis Smith Jr. is expected to be the starting point guard for the New York Knicks (although veterans Elfrid Payton and Frank Ntilikina are officially still in the mix).

However, why not let rookie RJ Barrett run the point at times? The Knicks want to put the ball in the wing shot creator’s hands’ anyway, so why not just call him the point guard at times? Knicks’ coach David Fizdale is experimenting with that a little, he told Ian Begley of SNY.tv.

“I’ve thrown him at that position a couple times already,” David Fizdale said Tuesday. “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…

“He’s really poised. He looks comfortable,” Fizdale said. “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.”

This is what training camp and preseason games are for, just try some things. That should carry over into the start of the regular season.

The Knicks didn’t draft Barrett No. 3 to have him work off-the-ball most of the time, he was drafted to be a difference maker on offense. Call him a point guard, a wing, whatever, just get the ball in his hands and let him work.

Through two preseason games — so take a lot of salt with this — he has averaged 16 points a game, shot 36.4 percent from three, and averaged seven rebounds a game.

This season, as a rookie, having all that offensive responsibility will mean some hard lessons to go with his successes — we saw him struggle at Summer League, and that is only going to continue against better defenders in the NBA. There’s a steep learning curve. Barrett has the skills and mindset to grow from all that.

And he’d make a pretty good point guard in certain lineups.

Knicks’ Julius Randle’s goals this season: First All-Stars, then playoffs

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Two seasons ago, Julius Randle broke out as a scorer with the Lakers when he stopped trying to be what everyone else wanted him to be and started just playing bully ball getting to the rim. Last season he took that to another level in New Orleans, while the Pelicans’ team fell apart around him he averaged 21.4 points and 8.7 rebounds a game.

Now he’s got a three-year, $63 million contract in New York — and the Knicks are counting on him to be a leading scorer for them. While R.J. Barrett develops, the Knicks are banking on Randle and Dennis Smith Jr. to go get buckets.

Randle wants to get them and more — he wants to be an All-Star (the Knicks’ first since Carmelo Anthony), then lead the Knicks to the playoffs. That’s what he told Stephan Bondy of the New York Daily News.

I just feel like situation and opportunity. Everything I’ve been through in the past, all the work I’ve put in in the past has prepared me for this opportunity now, Randle said. So [All-Stars] just a goal of mine. Eventually you feel like you have an opportunity. I feel like I do.

(The playoffs are) extremely important. I’m not going to sit here and talk about every day but it’s extremely important, he said. That’s what you work hard for. You talk about opportunity, this is my opportunity to be a real leader.

So I just want to make sure everybody’s connected and we get better every day. I like our team compared to a lot of other teams. We do what we need to do every day to get better, that mental focus, lock in, stay connected, I like our team.

Making the All-Star team could happen. Randle is going to put up numbers and get plenty of exposure in Madison Square Garden, and there’s space on the roster. Guys such as Giannis Antetokounmpo and Joel Embiid are All-Star locks, but the second tier of East frontcourt players — Blake Griffin, Khris Middleton, Nikola Vucevic — is one it feels like Randle could crack.

To do that, the Knicks need to find a way to win enough to make Randle look good compared to other guys trying to get in the All-Star club (Lauri Markkanen, for example).

Will that be enough wins to make the playoffs? Well… maybe just focus on the All-Star part first. To be fair, I wouldn’t want a player on my team who went into the season thinking his team had no shot at the postseason. Reality will hit Randle and the Knicks soon enough.

Before it does, at least Randle has set his goals high.

 

Knicks try to sell they built the team they wanted in free agency

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GREENBURGH, N.Y. — Free agency was only a few hours old when the New York Knicks acknowledged their fans’ disappointment.

Three months later, the Knicks have changed their tune.

Not only was free agency a success, they said at media day to tip-off training camp, but fans are going to forget about who the Knicks didn’t get because they’re going to love who they did.

“These are guys that our fans are going to like, the toughness that they bring every day when they come to the court to play for the Knicks,” team President Steve Mills said Monday.

The Knicks signed seven new players in free agency, adding Julius Randle, Bobby Portis, Taj Gibson, Marcus Morris, Elfrid Payton, Wayne Ellington and Reggie Bullock. But by that time, Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving had already committed to Brooklyn in the early hours of free agency, and Mills released a statement that night saying he understood that fans could be disappointed but that the team remained confident in its plans.

And though the Knicks had enough money to afford two top free agents, Mills said the team they ended up assembling was exactly the type of roster the front office targeted all along.

“So we’re excited about the group of guys that we have,” Mills said. “Obviously based on the timeline and how we signed those guys it was clear they were on our radar and they were part of what we thought the future of the Knicks could be and what it should look like.”

It’s certainly good enough, combined with No. 3 draft pick RJ Barrett, to improve on what was an NBA-low 17 wins last season. The physicality in the frontcourt and the shooting just about everywhere should exceed anything the 2018-19 Knicks could offer.

“I can tell you this: First and foremost, it’s not going to be like last year,” said Morris, who said the Knicks have a lot of “dogs” on the roster who won’t back down from competition.

The Knicks seem content to view themselves as a hard-working group of underdogs who together can overcome a lack of individual talent.

“The fact that none of them has been heralded as superstars, they understand that they’re going to need each other to win games,” coach David Fizdale said.

Other things of note from Knicks media day:

OWNER ON BOARD

Madison Square Garden chairman James Dolan predicted the Knicks were going to have a successful summer during a radio interview last season, which seemed to hint that the Knicks believed they would get some of the top talent that was available. But Mills said Dolan was aware of what the Knicks were planning and satisfied with the results.

“Jim knew we were going to have a successful free agency period and we feel like we did that,” Mills said. “He was on board with what we were doing.”

GETTING THE POINT

The Knicks’ most interesting roster situation in training camp could be at point guard, where Payton will compete with former lottery picks Dennis Smith Jr. and Frank Ntilikina. Smith came from Dallas last season in the trade for Kristaps Porzingis, and Ntilikina hopes to jump-start what’s been a largely disappointing Knicks career after playing well for France when it beat the U.S. at the Basketball World Cup.

“I think it’s going to be a great battle,” Fizdale said. “I think they’re all going to push each other. I think they’re going to compete their butts off.”

INJURY UPDATES

The Knicks said Bullock is making progress from a cervical disk herniation and will be re-evaluated in early November. They added that swingman Damyean Dotson likely won’t play in the preseason because of a right shoulder injury but could be ready for the start of the season.

ROOKIE’S ROLE

Barrett was the Knicks’ highest draft pick since taking Hall of Famer Patrick Ewing with the No. 1 selection in 1985, but he won’t walk right into a starting spot. Fizdale said the swingman from Duke will be treated like Kevin Knox, last season’s first-round pick who had to earn his minutes.

“It’ll be the same but probably tougher on RJ because I think, again, this team is more talented,” Fizdale said. “I think we have more guys that he has to fight with to get those minutes, but I think the kid is up for it.”

Aaron Gordon, Dennis Smith Jr. have mini dunk contest at Jamal Crawford’s pro-am

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Aaron Gordon and Dennis Smith Jr. are two of the best dunkers in the NBA.

So when both of them showed up for Jamal Crawford‘s pro-am event, fans had to hope for a dunk contest showdown. They got it — those two put on a show.

In the game itself, Smith Jr. dropped 50. He’s going to be a fantasy hoops steal this year — he’s going to have the ball in his hands a lot and put up big numbers on a bad team.

Also, some team needs to sign Jamal Crawford. That guy can still get buckets.

Knicks signing Elfrid Payton to two-year, $16M contract

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Last summer, the Pelicans signed Julius Randle and Elfrid Payton and insisted the team improved.

Now, the Knicks can try making the same case.

Shams Charania of The Athletic:

Bobby Marks of ESPN:

Presumably, Payton will also have a team option for next season. The Knicks maintain plenty of flexibility.

They just lack good players.

New York will likely stink again next season.

Payton will join Dennis Smith Jr. and Frank Ntilikina as young point guards who are falling behind the curve of desired development as they age. It’s not too late for any of them, but the progress so far hasn’t been encouraging.

The 25-year-old Payton has already fallen out of favor with the Magic, Suns and Pelicans. He has skills as a driver, distributor and rebounder (triple-doubles!). But he’s a minus as a 3-point shooter and defender, making him a tough fit on both ends.

He should be happy with this payday, even if it includes a likely-to-be declined team option.

As for the Knicks… nobody tell them how it went in New Orleans.