On Monday, Knicks starting point guard Elfrid Payton faced Denis Schroder, the Lakers point guard who will be a free agent this summer. Wednesday, Payton will face Pelicans playmaker Lonzo Ball, also a free agent this summer.
The Knicks are expected to have interest in both point guards in August.
But when Payton plays like he did against the Lakers on Monday, who’s to say he won’t be back with the club next season? Especially with Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau’s constant praise for Payton, lauding him Monday for his “terrific’’ outing.
Payton finished with 20 points in 27 minutes, making 9 of 12 from the field without a 3-pointer in a 111-96 win at the Garden. He snaked into the lane for his runners and floaters and was a plus-27, even if he had just two assists.
“[He put] a lot of pressure on the rim,’’ Thibodeau said. “Downhill, in the paint, ball pressure, making tough plays, he gives us a physicality, allows us to do more switching than we normally would because of the size and toughness that he has. He’s an important part of this team.’’
Payton never seems to win over enough Knicks fans, but the only fan that matters is Thibodeau, who continues to start him — all season long.
Despite a pelvic injury, a hobbled Schroder still had a good game, notching 21 points, but that came mostly in the first half (16) before the Knicks pulled away.
With Julius Randle in the point forward role, Payton has less ballhandling duties and admits it’s “an adjustment.’’
“I’m just rolling with it,’’ Payton said.
But he’s still attacking the rim.
“Just trying to look for different seams and cracks,’’ Payton said. “That’s something I’ve been doing my whole career. Just trying to get into the paint, trying to make plays for others and make them for myself.’’
Following the trade deadline when they dispatched Austin Rivers and Ignas Brazdeikis, the Knicks had two open roster spots. They filled them with 10-day contracts for big men Norvel Pelle and John Henson.
Pelle officially signed his second 10-day contract on Monday. Henson hurt his calf on his second day, and it’s hard to imagine he will be renewed when his contract comes up this week since he’s been unable to suit up.
“Injuries are an unfortunate part of the business but that will be a question for Leon [Rose], Wes [Wesley] and Scott [Perry],’’ Thibodeau said.
Rose hasn’t talked to the media in more than eight months.
One player the Knicks had internal talks about signing last week was Anthony Tolliver, who inked a 10-day deal with the Sixers on Monday. He’s more of a 3-4 and the Knicks were looking for a power forward-center.
Still, he’s an a solid 3-point shooter, and Thibodeau coached him in Minnesota.
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