One year to the day since he was acquired from Dallas in the Kristaps Porzingis blockbuster — and five days from the NBA trade deadline — Dennis Smith Jr. figures to be the starting point guard for the Knicks on Saturday in Indiana.
Of course, that would have more to do with starter Elfrid Payton’s one-game suspension for his role in a late-game fracas Wednesday night against Memphis at the Garden than it does with Smith’s play for the Knicks this season.
Interim coach Mike Miller didn’t divulge his lineup plans after practice Friday in Tarrytown, but 2017 first-round pick Frank Ntilikina also could be a candidate to start in Payton’s place. He is listed as probable for Saturday’s game after sitting out against the Grizzlies with what the Knicks said was a groin issue.
“We’re waiting. Update on Frank is he’s feeling better. And I believe we’re listing him as probable right now. So hopefully he feels even better tomorrow and he’ll be ready to go,” Miller said. “We also have the option with two-way player Kadeem [Allen], we have that option, as well.”
In a possible showcase situation ahead of the deadline, Smith averaged 14 minutes off the bench in the Knicks’ two previous games after logging a total of 3:36 of playing time — including two straight games he didn’t get off the bench at all — in the previous three since returning from a 13-game absence with an oblique injury.
Smith, selected one pick after Ntilikina with the ninth-overall pick in the 2017 draft, started 18 of the 21 games he played for the Knicks following the trade with Dallas late last season, averaging 14.7 points and 5.4 assists over 28.6 minutes per appearance.
But the former N.C. State star has been a disappointment this season with just one start in 24 games, while missing time due to multiple injuries and the death of his stepmother in October.
Until the past two games, Smith had fallen behind Ntilikina to third in the point guard rotation, posting just 5.2 points and 2.4 assists over 15.4 minutes per appearance.
Payton, who has just $1 million guaranteed on his $8 million deal for next season, has started 19 of the Knicks’ past 20 games. But he will sit out against the Pacers after pushing Grizzlies forward Jae Crowder to the hardwood for shooting a late three-pointer off a steal with Wednesday’s game out of reach in the final minute. The shove ignited a brief fight along the sideline as fans chanted for Knicks owner James Dolan to “Sell the team.”
“We have to move forward and that’s what we do,” Miller said. “I think a team is just like in our everyday life. Things happen and you have to deal with it and you have to move forward and you want to be better every day. That’s our goal every day. I’ve said that multiple occasions and that doesn’t change we’re trying to get better today and everything that we do.”
The Knicks didn’t make either Payton or Smith available to the media after practice, but Ntilikina said he’s “made improvements and got a lot of treatments the last two days, and I’m feeling better and hope to play [in Indiana].”
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