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Elfrid Payton’s Knicks rebirth includes David Fizdale ‘what if’

Elfrid Payton’s Knicks rebirth includes David Fizdale ‘what if’

Part 10 of a series analyzing the New York Knicks

Knicks point guard Elfrid Payton is back in his hometown of New Orleans, doing lots of running to keep in shape during the coronavirus pandemic.

Payton is running the flat terrain of the Big Easy every morning, running as well as he ran the Knicks in his 45 games in orange-and-blue this season.

When the 6-foot-3 Payton wasn’t injured, he was the Knicks’ starting point guard, posting some real strong performances in victories with his penetration, dishes and steals.

With his deceivingly solid season, Payton became general manager Scott Perry’s best free-agent signing — a one-year, $8 million deal with a team option for 2021-22. Perry was instrumental in bringing Payton to Orlando in a draft-night trade after the 76ers made Payton a lottery pick in 2014.

“I just feel the team has been a noticeably better basketball team with him healthy,’’ one NBA source connected to the Knicks said. “He was out during that awful stretch. He just brings us defensive tenacity, a pace to the offense and a veteran craftiness to the team.’’

Former coach David Fizdale will always wonder “what if” Payton had not strained his hamstring in the season’s fourth game. Payton missed the next 17 games and made a rusty return in a Denver rout on Dec. 5.

Elfrid Payton
Elfrid PaytonRobert Sabo

Fizdale got whacked the next day with the Knicks at 4-18. Knicks owner James Dolan completely discounted Payton’s absence.

Interim coach Mike Miller reaped the Payton benefits. The Knicks’ offensive rating with Payton on the floor is 110.7 (15th in the league). Without Payton, the rating is 103.4 — which would make them dead last.

The Payton Effect only grew stronger as the season wore on. Since February, Payton averaged 12.3 points, 8.8 assists and 5.4 rebounds in 14 games in which the Knicks were 7-7. He even posted a triple-double.

And yet there is no assurance new president Leon Rose will exercise an $8 million team option. That Payton is a Creative Artists Agency client, whose primary agent is Aaron Mintz, doesn’t hurt. Rose ran CAA’s basketball department until joining the Knicks last month. Payton’s only 26.

Even with youngsters Frank Ntilikina and Dennis Smith Jr. locked up for next season, the Knicks have their sights set on adding a point guard in the draft or free agency. One of the top candidates in free agency is Toronto’s grinder Fred VanVleet, an NBA champion out of Wichita State.

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While Payton may be among the game’s most underrated point guards, his glaring weakness — 3–point shooting — can’t be ignored. Payton shot a miserable 20.3 percent this season and is 28 percent for his career.

“I like Payton, but I didn’t like his reluctance to better his shot at the start of his career,’’ said ex-Knick and longtime Raptors broadcaster Leo Rautins. “That set him back. The big difference between him and Fred came into a winning environment and had to fight.

“Payton entered the league a high pick, was not held accountable, and to some degree, felt entitled. Plus, playing on struggling teams and for several coaches stunted his growth. I still feel if he wants it bad enough, in the right environment, he can be a solid point off the bench for a good team.’’

Payton’s ability to penetrate at will had Miller steadfast about starting him. Miller cherishes point guards who can touch the paint and Payton continued his solid chemistry with former Pelicans teammate Julius Randle.

With Payton on the court, 55.6 percent of the Knicks shots came in the paint. That’s highest ratio in the league. With Payton on the sidelines, just 43.7 percent of their points came in the paint.

If Payton didn’t get hurt, Fizdale may still be employed.

Source : Marc Berman Link

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