There’s currently energized discussions about whether or not the New York Knicks should continue starting Elfrid Payton against an explosive Trae Young and sharpshooting Atlanta Hawks team. Elfrid Payton’s regression as of late got Knick fans rightfully worried. Many want Derrick Rose to start over Elfrid. However, Tom Thibodeau is known to not make changes on the fly. Thibs stubborn approach has been effective this season. Will it pay off if the Knicks coach continues starting Elfrid Payton, potentially putting the Knicks in a bad position in terms of playing from behind early in the contest?

Brand New Territory for Elfrid Payton.

This is Elfrid Payton’s 7th season and it’s the first time he’s ever been in the NBA Playoffs. Tom Thibodeau most likely will continue starting Elfrid Payton. The New York Knicks coach always puts the emphasis on who finishes the game. Payton’s assignment most likely would be to pressure Trae Young defensively using his physical advantage including his length. Payton’s offensive assignment would most likely be to attack Trae Young on drives and manipulation to the rim, possibly landing Trae Young in foul trouble. Trae Young isn’t an elite defender and Tom Thibodeau will most likely put Elfrid Payton in favorable situations to take full advantage of Young’s weaknesses.

With all the possible successful scenarios on Elfrid Payton starting against Trae Young, one glaring weakness for Elfrid Payton has always been his inability to stretch the floor. The Hawks finished the season averaging 19.8-fouls per game, good for 9th most fouls in the NBA. However, the Hawks also finished the season third in opposing three point shooting percentage, allowing the opposition to only shoot 34.9% from downtown. Payton isn’t a shooter, therefore, can the Hawks play a disruptive style of zone defense, similar to what Erik Spoleostra has been able to do against the Knicks with the Miami Heat? Do the Hawks have the personnel to completely take the Knicks out of their offensive game-plan? It would be tough to do with Payton playing a limited amount of minutes. Once Quickley, Burks, and Rose come into the game, that zone defensive game-plan would get shredded immediately. The Hawks may have a bigger problem on their hands, that would be containing Julius Randle and RJ Barrett.

Elfrid Payton will be playing the most important minutes of his career and Tom Thibodeau loves how Payton sets the tone defensively in the beginning of the game. Therefore, an aggressive Elfrid Payton early in the game helps the Knicks. However, if Elfrid Payton’s struggles continues to get into his head, it would be best to have an even shorter rope for him in the beginning of the game. Every second counts in a playoff game, not just for the Knicks, same applies to the Hawks as well.

Frank Ntilikina’s First NBA Playoff Opportunity.

Associated Press-John Bazemore

Elfrid Payton’s struggles could spill over into the NBA Playoffs and Frank Ntilikina could earn extra minutes because of it. Ntilikina’s uncanny ability to disrupt Trae Young is a huge plus. Not only has Ntilikina shown it in the past, the lengthy 22-year old French combo guard can knock down an open corner three. FIBA Frank is needed in the war against the sharpshooting Hawks backcourt. Ntilikina is an ultra smart defensive minded guard who is relishing the opportunity to guard Trae Young when many probably would shy away from such a daunting task.

Alec Burks & Immanuel Quickley’s Firepower.

Alec Burks and Immanuel Quickley are two sharpshooters off the bench for the Knicks who’ll cause problems for the Hawks due to their abilities to also make plays for others. Hawks can run them off the three point line, however, Atlanta has only one true rim protector in Clint Capela. Burks could get the Hawks defense out of sorts by attacking Capela multiple times, possibly getting the leading rebounder into foul trouble. Burks and Quickley can pull up for the midrange floater as well when they’re ran off the three point line by an aggressive Hawks perimeter defense. Burks and Quickley are both phenomenal manipulators in terms of drawing fouls and finding cutting teammates, which would cause issues for the team who finished with the 9th most fouls during the regular season.

Derrick Rose is the Closer.

It’s very clear that Tom Thibodeau wants to save Derrick Rose for end of game situations. Derrick Rose is one of the closers and it’s important for the Knicks to have him play plenty minutes late in close games especially in the playoffs. Rose has been a thorn in the side of Trae Young offensively. Rose is able to get to his spots and find teammates including Julius Randle. Rose and Thibodeau have a long history of playoff battles and there is too much familiarity to not expect a phenomenal outcome during this first round series against a mostly inexperienced Atlanta Hawks roster.

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