Dennis Smith Jr.
ESNY Graphic, Getty Images

Dennis Smith Jr. is still trying to work his way into the rotation in his first full season with the New York Knicks.

Danny Small

TARRYTOWN, NY—Dennis Smith Jr. is having a down year. There’s no other way to describe his first full season with the New York Knicks. The most recent bump in the road was an oblique injury that sidelined the point guard for 13 games.

He returned to the court on Wednesday for fewer than four minutes of action against the Los Angeles Lakers. He’s averaging 5.0 points, 2.0 rebounds, and 2.3 assists per game, which are all career-lows for the bouncy point guard.

Smith spoke to the media after practice on Thursday, but he didn’t have much to say.

Smith is fighting for minutes with Elfrid Payton and Frank Ntilikina. Interim head coach Mike Miller has given little indication that he will play multiple point guards at the same time. That means one of the three will be the odd man out of the rotation for the time being.

“The answer is we have confidence in all the guys and we see the positives in all of the guys,” Miller said in the team’s training facility in Tarrytown. “The minutes and the game dictate what we will do because they all have different talents and play the same position. We try to utilize their talents to what we need at that point in the game.”

Against the Lakers, Ntilikina missed all eight of his shots and Miller tried to insert Smith as a sparkplug for the second unit. For what it’s worth, the Knicks were outscored by nine points in Smith’s limited time on the court.

With Ntilikina mired in a 4-for-28 shooting slump over the past four games, it’s possible that Smith takes the Frenchman’s minutes on Friday. The steady veteran—Payton—is locked into his role as a starter, but there will be some jostling on that second unit.

Trade possibility?

When Smith was asked about the upcoming trade deadline, he referred to the “b” word—business. The third-year point guard came to New York in the blockbuster Kristaps Porzingis deal in January of 2019 so he understands how the NBA works.

“It’s a business, but I’m here, playing for the New York Knicks,” Smith told reporters. “That’s my job right now so that’s what I’m focused on.”

“Yeah, you realize anything can happen so you’ve always gotta be the best version of yourself,” Smith added when asked if his prior experience with being traded can benefit him as the deadline approaches.

News & Notes

  • Mitchell Robinson was working on his free throw shooting with Taj Gibson, Miller, and assistant coach Pat Sullivan. The second-year center is shooting 61.2% from the free-throw line this season. There’s definitely some room for improvement, but he hasn’t been a complete liability in that area this season.

  • Kevin Knox and Ignas Brazdeikis went through a shooting drill together during one part of the open practice. Knox hit nine of his 10 attempts from the corner three spot. The second-year forward’s smooth shooting stroke is obvious, but it hasn’t translated to consistency on the court. He’s shooting 33.8% from beyond the arc and 37.7% from the floor.
  • There’s no major injury news on any front. RJ Barrett is set to be re-evaluated on Friday after suffering a sprained right ankle in a game against the Phoenix Suns last week.
  • The Knicks will host the Toronto Raptors on Friday night at Madison Square Garden (7:30 p.m. ET). The Raptors (30-14) are riding a five-game winning streak and have surged to third in the Eastern Conference.

Danny Small is on Twitter @dwsmall8.

NY/NJ hoops reporter (NBA/NCAA) & sports betting writer for XL Media. Never had the makings of a varsity athlete.