The New York Knicks once knew how to draft and develop a star point guard — a long, long time ago.
Walt “Clyde” Frazier was drafted by the Knicks with the fifth overall pick in 1967. He might be the only great selection at the point guard position the Knicks have ever made. He was the unquestioned leader for the team’s only two championships in franchise history, during the 1969-70 and 1972-73 seasons. He orchestrated the offense, scored with ease, and played great defense as proven by his seven career NBA All-defensive First Team selections.
Clyde also knew what it took to win. He had one of the greatest Game 7 performances in NBA Finals history.
In Game 7 of the 1969-70 NBA Finals against Wilt Chamberlain and the Los Angeles Lakers, Clyde led the Knicks with 36 points, seven rebounds, and 19 assists as their starting point guard. His co-star, Willis Reed, left the game due to injury after just two minutes of action — forcing Clyde to carry the New York Knicks to their first championship in an all-or-nothing game.
Clyde averaged 17.6 points, 7.7 rebounds, and 10.4 assists per game for the series.
The Knicks also won a championship in 1973, where he averaged 16.6 points, 6.8 rebounds, and 5.2 assists per game.
One of the Knicks’ most glaring problems this season is that they have three different point guards with three different skill-sets, rather than one all-star caliber guard that does it all — like Clyde did. This is why the Knicks need to prioritize drafting a point guard in the 2020 draft and use Clyde as the framework for the selection.
Elfrid Payton, who’s signed to a two year, $16 million dollar deal with a team option after one year, is primarily known as a facilitating guard. He struggles to score consistently and has never shot well from the three-point line. Payton’s currently shooting 30% from three this season and 14.3% from three in his last ten games.
Frank Ntilikina has solidified himself as a strong, and potentially elite, defender. Like Payton, however, Frank lacks the offensive consistency to separate himself as the lead guard. He has to improve his offensive game significantly before the Knicks can commit to him as the starting point guard of the future.
Then there’s Dennis Smith Jr. He has undeniable athletic talent, and upside, but hasn’t seen enough minutes this season to get in any sort of rhythm. His performances when on the floor has not necessarily warranted increased usage, either. He’s averaging 5.2 points, 2.7 assists, and 2.1 rebounds on 32.5% from the field and 29.3% from the three-point line this season.
The Knicks may find themselves in the market for a top-tier point guard heading into the 2020 draft, especially if a roster shakeup is on the horizon.
According to SNY’s Ian Begley, “a few” Knicks have expressed their desire to be dealt elsewhere by the February 6th trade deadline. It’s unclear exactly which players prefer to be traded, but it doesn’t seem far-fetched to suspect that DSJ might be one of them.
When asked about the recent trade rumors by The New York Post, Dennis Smith Jr. stated that he likes playing for the Knicks and wants to remain in New York, but suggested that he’s unhappy with his current role.
“I’m not really a wait around type guy,” Smith said, per Marc Berman of the NYPost, when asked about his recent playing time. After receiving multiple “DNP’s” (Did Not Play) under Interim Coach Mike Miller, one can understand DSJ’s frustration. Especially considering he was, arguably, the centerpiece of the blockbuster trade last off-season that sent Kristaps Porzingis to the Dallas Mavericks (one could argue the centerpiece of the KP trade was cap space for KD and Kyrie).
Regardless, you would expect the Knicks to be all-in DSJ’s development.
This doesn’t appear to be the case. The Knicks signed Elfrid Payton after trading for Smith Jr., and DSJ seems to be taking a back-seat to Payton in Coach Miller’s rotations. DSJ wants to play, he made that clear to The Post as well. He hinted that it can be difficult to reconcile one’s desire to play significant minutes alongside the desire to see his teammates succeed when they play the same position.
“The way I look at it, of course, you come in and you want to play,” Smith said, per Marc Berman of The Post. “You want to see him do well. You want to do well yourself. That’s really what it’s about.”
Dennis Smith Jr. is confused about his role, as anyone would be given the circumstances. His role has been inconsistent and his future with the team remains unclear. The Knicks need to address this dilemma. They need to establish their point guard of the future and fully commit to him.
Is Elfrid Payton the future for the Knicks at the point guard position? The team option in his contract after one year suggests he might not be. If not, then he is hindering the development of both Frank Ntilikina and Dennis Smith Jr., one of which you traded your Latvian superstar for.
If the Knicks don’t feel comfortable committing to any of their current point guards as the starter for the remainder of this season and beyond, then they should prioritize drafting a point guard in the upcoming 2020 draft. The Knicks don’t need to look far when searching for traits to emphasize in a lead guard heading into the draft this summer. Fortunately, Clyde still sits front row almost every home game for his commentary on MSG Networks.
Clyde had it all — the attitude, the broad skill-set, the defense, and the leadership on-and-off the court the Knicks needed to be champions in New York.
Maybe the answer is North Carolina Tar Heel Cole Anthony, who is known for his scoring and defensive prowess.
Most importantly, however, the Knicks need to fully commit to whoever they select in the upcoming draft. Don’t sign another player to compete with his minutes like they did with the Elfrid Payton contract after trading for Dennis Smith Jr.
In the 2020 NBA draft, the Knicks should use the New York legend and champion Walt “Clyde” Frazier as the framework for drafting the point guard of the next decade, and once they do, roll with him.