Even after his worst performance in a New York uniform, Dennis Smith Jr. has still exhibited everything the Knicks need from a point guard.
It’s a memory that often visits me in nightmares. Adam Silver’s voice ringing with an echo as deep as a bell in modern-day cathedrals.
“With the 8th overall pick in the 2017 NBA Draft, the New York Knicks select Frank Ntilikina.”
New York’s seen one playoff series this decade. They’ve been among the bottom of the league for even longer. Dramatics have surrounded the team, and still; the frustration felt when the New York Knicks drafted Ntilikina was unrivaled by comparison.
A European prospect? Over someone we’ve been watching play the entire collegiate season?
Even two seasons later, the discord over Ntilikina’s stunted growth can be felt among Knicks fans everywhere. While he’s surely won their hearts behind ahead-of-his-time defensive prowess, nothing compares to a guard that can score.
One guard in particular. The very same guard that was on many a fans’ wish list in that fateful draft, Dennis Smith Jr.
In exchange for a Knicks package centered around Kristaps Porzingis, New York received a package centered around 21-year-old Smith—a point guard the Knicks were expected to draft in 2017.
It’s been years since fans welcomed a point guard to Madison Square Garden with the expectation that they’d endure a career in New York. Now in the aftermath of trading the face of their franchise, fans are falling in love with the idea of a basketball lifetime with the North Carolina State product.
A look at New York’s never-ending point guard dilemma, where they stand, and the path ahead for Dennis Smith Jr.
Point Guards of the Past
These are all players who’ve suited up for the New York Knicks at point guard over the last five seasons. Be prepared to scroll.
- Brandon Jennings
- Chasson Randle
- Derrick Rose
- Jose Calderon
- Langston Galloway
- Shane Larkin
- Pablo Prigioni
- Jerian Grant
- Ron Baker
- Trey Burke
- Jarrett Jack
- Emmanuel Mudiay
- Frank Ntilikina
- Ramon Sessions
That’s 14 names that have seemingly wandered in and out of the Knicks point guard rotation. Only two of the listed names are on the team’s roster today. And both of them have lost the starting job to newcomer Smith.
Regarding the Knicks front office, it’s not for lack of trying. New York has been linked to names like Jeff Teague, Goran Dragic, and Rajon Rondo to name a few.
All are considerable upgrades over any of the previously listed names, but no deal/trade ever came to fruition.
A Solid Start
Dennis Smith Jr. has made quite the impression on New York fans. Their affection for him ahead of the draft and their undeniable love for him after only five games are both evidence of their feelings.
A solid start is putting what Smith has done mildly. In five games with the Knicks, he’s already had multiple career games. Behind a recent loss to the Detroit Pistons, Smith scored a career-high 31 points on only 15 shots.
That’s a stat line unheard of long-before Smith’s arrival to the Mecca. His averages over the five-game span also provide an optimistic outlook.
New York’s newest youngster has averaged 17.4 points, six assists, and 1.8 steals per game. The Knicks knew when acquiring Smith that his three-point shot is a work in progress. He’s made just five since arriving, on a .217 shooting clip.
It’s nothing the Knicks are a stranger to, however, with neither of the Mudiay-Ntilikina duo shooting above 30 percent. Yet, Smith’s game is much more promising than anyone they’ve started at point guard this decade. It’s worth the risk.
He’s a special talent on a special path and depending on how the summer shakes out, a special career with the New York Knicks.
To Be Frank, Regarding Frank
Smith is, in a lot of ways, an improvement over the timid shooter New York has in Ntilikina. It’s starting to look less and less likely the French guard will develop into a future cornerstone.
Ian Begley of ESPN reported once the deadline had passed that talks had been had with the Orlando Magic regarding the guard.
Orlando expressed interest in Frank Ntilikina prior to the trade deadline but was told that New York was not trading the second-year guard, per league sources.
— Ian Begley (@IanBegley) February 7, 2019
It’s likely the Knicks will revisit the idea of trading Ntilikina once again in the summer should a team meet their asking price. Memphis comes to mind as a team that may hold interest.
Set to return after the All-Star break, the rest of Ntilikina’s sophomore season will likely be viewed as an audition around the league. For whichever teams have reached or will reach out on a potential deal.
It’s only to Ntilikina’s detriment that Smith Jr. has been acquired. While he’s not as sound defensively, he’s everything Frank isn’t on the offensive end. Smith has all the athleticism of a young Derrick Rose and isn’t shy to show it off, even mid-game.
Check out this 360 dunk he absolutely nailed Friday against the Detroit Pistons:
"360 jam for Dennis Smith Jr.!"
— Dime (@DimeUPROXX) February 9, 2019
And defensively? Well, Smith isn’t looking as bad as advertised. He’s had three straight games with two or more steals. Frank hasn’t done that once in his two-year tenure with New York.
One guard is throwing down dunks fit for the Slam Dunk Contest, and the other guard can’t be convinced to shoot beyond the foul line. Smith’s gear when attacking downhill is tantalizing. The way he changes direction and shifts his body to get the ball to the basket is Russell Westbrook-esque.
While that often reckless mindset can lead to sloppy turnovers, it’s a lot easier to develop, as opposed to forcing Ntilikina to shoot. You can teach a young guy how to not turn the ball over, but it’s a lot more work to fix his jump shot (see Fultz, Markelle).
Though this is arguably the best dilemma New York could find themselves in, it is still at its core, just that. The Knicks will try to play a Ntilikina-Smith pairing for the rest of the year, and those results will play a major role in thFrenchch guard’s future.
The New York Knicks have got (at a minimum) a temporary solution to their long-ridden point guard quandary. That’s more than you can say for the last decade-plus.
Credit to general manager Scott Perry and team president Steve Mills, the first chapter of your regime is rounding out nicely. Now get these boys to the playoffs, and you may finally earn some good faith from your fans.