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Knicks, NBA playoffs

This one move could help the Knicks take the Eastern Conference

The New York Knicks are officially back in the playoffs for the first time in eight years. Tom Thibodeau’s club clinched the outright spot and avoided the play-in tournament altogether after the Cleveland Cavaliers defeated the rapidly fading Boston Celtics on Wednesday. With the playoffs quickly approaching, there’s one move the Knicks could make to further enhance their shot at winning the Eastern Conference.

The Knicks usual starting five consists of Elfrid Payton, RJ Barrett, Reggie Bullock, Julius Randle and Nerlens Noel. While it’s worked to this point, come postseason time, Thibodeau needs to heavily consider and weigh his options at point guard.

Elfrid Payton has lost any zest to his game and he’s been playing with a sense of hesitancy the last couple of months. He doesn’t add much at all to the offensive side and in fact, when he and Barrett are on the floor together, Barrett’s production takes a dip. Payton is averaging a career low in assists per game (3.4) while shooting 28% from three-point range. He’s not playing any major minutes as of late but still, being in the starting lineup could hinder the Knicks in the playoffs.

Defensively, Payton’s stopping power is nothing to hang your hat on. This isn’t meant to all out bash the point guard, but the reality check indicates the Knicks need to upgrade the starting point guard position for the postseason. And they have the guys on the roster to do so.

New York is dealing with their fair share of injuries at the moment. Mitchell Robinson has missed the majority of the year but recent injuries have also sidelined Alec Burks and Immanuel Quickley from the last two Knicks games. Add Derrick Rose to the injury report, after he sprained his ankle against the Lakers in New York’s last game. Despite all of this, they are (outside of Mitchell Robinson) expected to be a full go once the postseason starts.

Julius Randle has taken his game to incredible new heights this year while RJ Barrett has unraveled new layers to his game. The additions of Derrick Rose and Alec Burks and the paint protection of Nerlens Noel have been huge for the Knicks, too. While optimism is swirling around a franchise that has far exceeded any external preseason expectations, there’s clearly still work left to be done.

Derrick Rose being inserted as the starting point guard would make the most sense. Rose has been sensational for New York this year and especially as of late. The move would definitely take away a lot of the depth off the bench but there’s already a glaring hole at starting point guard on this roster. A combination of Alec Burks and Immanuel Quickley off the bench, perhaps sprinkled in with some Frank Ntilikina should be more than enough in Rose’s absence off the bench, should he be in the starting five.

This Knicks season has been one filled with one surprise after another. Not many expect them to make a deep playoff run in 2021, this team is ahead of schedule and the likes of the Nets, Bucks and 76ers seem a tier or two above everyone else in the East. But, if the Knicks want to give themselves the best shot possible, they will take Elfrid Payton out of the starting five.