Knicks must give young players more minutes the rest of the way

Knicks must give young players more minutes the rest of the way

Interim Knicks coach Mike Miller benched starting point guard Elfrid Payton for Frank Ntilikina on Friday night against the Pacers, but not in the name of a youth movement.

Payton was injured. He twisted his ankle in practice after the Knicks’ return from the All-Star break on Wednesday.

For better or worse, despite Friday’s 106-98 Garden loss to the Pacers, this alignment is the way it should stay, even when Payton is healthy enough to return.

Either Ntilikina or Dennis Smith Jr. should finish the season as a starter. With 26 games left, it’s time to go “Full Fizdale.”

After a week to reflect, Miller still appears ready to get Payton back in there and is still justifying his minutes distribution policy that hasn’t favored the young.

Nevertheless, there was an uptick in the right direction Friday. Miller even had Kevin Knox, their 2018 lottery pick, on the court for part of the stretch run in the fourth quarter and he played 17 minutes.

In one fantasy sequence, Knox blocked a shot and Ntilikina came down the court to drain a 3-pointer. Miller also used 2017 second-rounder Damyean Dotson to close while keeping Reggie Bullock and Maurice Harkless on the bench down the stretch and veteran Wayne Ellington out of the game entirely.

Frank Ntilikina shoots a jumper during the Knicks' 106-98 loss to the Pacers.
Frank Ntilikina shoots a jumper during the Knicks’ 106-98 loss to the Pacers.for the NY POST

Acting Knicks president Scott Perry is “in agreement’’ with Miller’s policies against a full-out tank. Miller declined to say if he’s spoken to incoming president Leon Rose, who has not been named officially.

“I talk to Scott every day,’’ Miller said. “We talk about personnel, we talk about player development, we talk about everything. Multiple times, sometimes. We are in agreement, as we go through this, that we are high level trying to develop players. And as we do that, the approach that we’re taking is that their minutes are quality minutes. They’re bringing value to the team when they’re out there. We think that’s helping them develop and moving them forward.”

Is it really though?

“We’re looking at development in a lot of different ways and not saying it’s you just need 25 minutes a game to develop,’’ Miller added. “ I think there’s more to it, there’s more ways that we can help these guys grow than doing that. They’re getting experience and they’re getting opportunities and they’re learning. We’re seeing growth.”

Last season, when David Fizdale was the Knicks’ first-year coach, it took him five games to go all-in on playing the younger guys no matter what. After the fifth game, Fizdale announced center Enes Kanter would no longer start and project rookie Mitchell Robinson would.

As such, Fizdale got a pass last season for the 17-65 record but got no leeway this year.

Miller’s case is different. Despite the damage control by public relations, the Knicks’ new branding consultant Steve Stoute essentially stated the interim coach was not returning as head coach.

Miller has supporters in the organization who want to see him back in some capacity — even if as returning to the G-League as head coach.

Coaches always ask for sacrifices from their players. Now it’s time for Miller to sacrifice by going against his nature and pumping up the minutes for Smith, Ntilikina, Knox, Dotson and Kadeem Allen, the two-way player the organization still values.

Surely, Ntilikina and Smith, 2017 lottery picks, need it. The offense looked stagnant in the first half against Indiana with the Frenchman running the show as he rarely is able to penetrate. But then he became a lively force in the second half and finished with 14 points and leading a comeback from 22 down.

Smith is the penetrator but still is too sloppy. On consecutive possessions in the third quarter as the Pacers pulled away, Smith drove the lane and blew the layup, then drove the lane the next time and lost control of the ball as he flew in the air. He was 1 of 6 in 16 minutes.

In the past month, “The Minutes Police’’ have attacked Miller’s refusal to deviate from rolling out the vets, Payton, Bullock, Ellington and even since-traded Marcus Morris at the expense of the young point guards, Dotson and Knox.

With Morris gone, it’s foolish for Bullock to be starting at small forward over Knox. Against Indiana, to begin the second half, Miller started newcomer Maurice Harkless, who likely won’t be here next season, over Knox.

I supported Miller’s minutes allotment before the break. The Knicks’ brass was still evaluating their free-agent talent. Mller was still fighting to show he deserves to return as head coach.

That ship probably has sailed with Steve Mills’ ousting as president. Rose was all-in on the Morris deal at the trade deadline 15 days ago.

The message could not be more clear — the season’s win-loss record is not as important as the future. The trade yielded the Clippers’ late first-round pick and a second-rounder.

In that vein, it is time for Miller to conform. The Knicks have now lost three straight, bereft of the momentum gained during the recent four-game winning streak.

It should begin with a new starting point guard and new starting small forward when the Knicks embark on a three-game road trip starting in Houston on Monday. Smith and Knox need a kick-start. Whatever the Knicks are doing with them has not worked.

Second-round rookie Ignas Brazdeikis and two-way player Kenny Wooten, stuck in the G-League, should get their NBA minutes next in mid-March, too.

A change in philosophy needs to start just about now.

Source : Marc Berman Link

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