While the Knicks contemplate potentially drafting another point guard in June, and while they wait for former lottery picks Frank Ntilikina and Dennis Smith Jr. to be more productive, Elfrid Payton continues to effectively run the team on the floor.
The six-year NBA veteran is playing his best basketball of the season, helping the Knicks to three wins in their past five games entering the start of three-game road trip Tuesday night in Washington.
“Great. Amazing,” Julius Randle said when asked about Payton following Sunday’s 96-84 win over Detroit at the Garden. “Very good. He’s getting everybody in the right position, setting the tone, pushing the ball, getting to the ball on defense. He’s been really good.
“He’s a really good point guard and understands this game and how to help others.”
The 26-year-old Payton played an efficient offensive game against the Pistons, netting 16 points with six assists and five rebounds. In his past three games, he is averaging 18.0, 8.0 and 7.8 in those categories.
Payton, who missed five weeks early in the season with a hamstring injury, also helped the Knicks hold the Pistons to 36 percent shooting, with interim coach Mike Miller calling him the “head of the snake” on the defensive end.
“Just trying to be aggressive, trying to play to my strengths, get in the paint, make plays for others and attack when I can,” Payton said after the game.
Payton, the 10th overall pick by Orlando in the 2014 draft, signed a two-year contract worth $16 million as a free agent in July. Only $1 million of next season’s $8 million salary is guaranteed, but new team president Leon Rose could decide to pick up his option as a veteran complement at the position.
The most recent CBS Sports mock draft last week had the Knicks selecting 18-year-old point guard LaMelo Ball with the third-overall selection, although the Knicks (20-44) now own the sixth-worst record in the league after moving ahead of Detroit, Minnesota and Cleveland in the standings with Sunday’s win over the Pistons.
“We’ve still got a job to do. Still got to get better every day,” Payton said. “Ain’t nobody over here mailing it in, trying to tank or nothing like that. Everybody is trying to get better. Everybody is trying to work on their craft, because it’s not just about today, tomorrow.”
North Carolina’s Cole Anthony, the son of former Knick Greg Anthony, Iowa State’s Tyrese Haliburton and France’s Killian Hayes are other point guards projected to be picked in the top 10 of this year’s draft.
With barely one month remaining in the regular season, Golden State (15-49) owns the worst record in the league, but the teams with the next five worst records were within 2 ½ games of each other for draft lottery purposes.
Due to Rose’s past ties with Creative Artists Agency, the Knicks also already have been tied to his former client Chris Paul, although the 10-time All-Star point guard is owed $85.5 million over the final two years on his contract beyond this season with Oklahoma City.
The 34-year-old Paul joked last week at the Garden that those trade rumors were just people “trying to take some of that attention away from that Spike Lee stuff,” referring to the controversy over the Oscar-winning director getting into a beef with the organization and owner James Dolan over which entrance he should be using at MSG.