The New York Knicks point guard situation isn’t perfect, but it doesn’t have to be. Jarrett Jack, Frank Ntilikina, and Trey Burke should all get their chances to succeed.
The point guard position has been in flux this season. Ramon Sessions was the opening night starter who was supposed to be the mentor for Frank Ntilikina. Jarrett Jack was an insurance policy on the bench in case someone got hurt. Trey Burke was an afterthought in Westchester.
Turns out, Ramon Sessions is still Ramon Sessions. After three losses to start the season, Jeff Hornacek made the switch to Jack as the starting point guard and never looked back. Ntilikina has been the guy off the bench, but both he and Jack have shared crunch time minutes.
All the while, Trey Burke was tearing up the G-League in Westchester. On January 14th the Knicks cut bait from Sessions and signed Burke.
Oh, and did we mention that the Charlotte Hornets are actively shopping New York native, Kemba Walker? Turns out they even think the Knicks are a good trading partner for Walker. This is still far away from happening so don’t get too excited.
So that begs the question, what is going on with the point guard position? Yes, the Knicks are still contending for a playoff spot, but there is no need to sacrifice the future.
Right now, Jarrett Jack should be the starter. He’s the veteran and a steady hand that knows how to facilitate in an NBA offense. He may not be the sole reason for the Knicks surprising 17-14 start to the season, but he was a major key to the team’s early success. And if you take out the first three games of the season where Sessions was still the starter, the Knicks were 17-11 in Jack’s first 28 games as the point guard. There’s a lot of good things to say about Jack.
That being said, he is in New York on a one-year deal and he’s 34 years old. He can help the Knicks win games in the short term, but he is certainly not the future. He can help through Ntilikina’s growing pains.
Frank Ntilikina is getting lost in the shuffle of this year’s draft class because there is so much talent in that class and so many of them are having really nice years. Donovan Mitchell, Kyle Kuzma, Jayson Tatum, Dennis Smith Jr., Lonzo Ball, and Lauri Markannen are just a few of the rookies that are garnering attention around the league. That’s not even counting the 76ers Ben Simmons who is still considered a rookie after sitting out the 2016-2017 season.
But the guy the Knicks took with the eighth pick in the draft has all the tools to become a top-flight point guard in the NBA. The 19-year old is long, athletic, and he’s already been showing signs that he can become an elite perimeter defender.
His offense still has a long way to go. He’s shooting 35 percent from the field and a mere 30 percent from deep. He’s hesitant when he drives to the basket and sometimes it looks like he’s unsure of himself. Right now, that’s ok though. The confidence on offense and the shot will come with enough experience.
The French Prince can contribute in a variety of ways. On January 15th against the Brooklyn Nets, he did just that. He tallied 10 points, 10 assists, seven rebounds, and two blocks. But he needs to become more consistent. On January 19th, the only stat he managed to rack up were two turnovers in fewer than five minutes of play.
It’s impossible to expect everything to click for the neophyte, but it’s also impossible to not get excited about what could be.
A Wildcard or a Bust?
A wildcard or a bust? Trey Burke could go either way. In his fifth year in the league, Burke has been nothing short of a disappointment. The former National college player of the year has yet to find a home in the NBA. After a rookie season worthy of All-Rookie honors, Burke never could take the next step in his development. After three years in Utah they gave up on him and after a disappointing season in Washington, he was relegated to the G-League Westchester Knicks.
But instead of giving up he got back on his feet. In 26 G-League games, Burke had per game totals of 26.2 points, 3.3 rebounds, and 5.3 assists. After being signed in favor of Ramon Sessions, he is already making his mark on the Knicks.
He played crucial minutes down the stretch against the Utah Jazz and looks like he’s still got some juice left. He’s the quickest of the three options at point guard and he’s the most dangerous coming off of the pick and roll. He’s by no means a sure thing, but he’s talented enough to get a long look from Hornacek.
Finding the right rotations is a constant job for NBA coaches. Hornacek needs to find a rotation that will allow for Ntilikina to develop, Burke to get a tryout for next season, and still win basketball games. It won’t be easy.
For the time being, Jack should remain the starter, but these three should be splitting minutes fairly evenly. Whoever has the hot hand should get the crunch time minutes. This worked against the Jazz and it’s the best way to balance development with winning.