The star of the Knicks’ preseason is already hurt. Two former lottery picks at the same position developed splinters on the first night. And their journeyman starter was unimpressive.
Point guard remains inarguably the Knicks’ No. 1 issue.
Immanuel Quickley, the first-round pick out of Kentucky who was already becoming a fan favorite after his strong performance in the final two exhibition games, suffered a hip pointer in the season-opening loss to the Pacers on Wednesday night and is listed as day-to-day. He was held out of a light workout Thursday after he felt tightness in his hip upon waking up.
“Hopefully, it won’t be long,” coach Tom Thibodeau said after Thursday’s practice.
Frank Ntilikina and Dennis Smith Jr., 2017 lottery picks (Smith was chosen by the Mavericks) who are still trying to establish themselves, didn’t do enough to impress Thibodeau during the preseason to warrant being part of his 10-man rotation. Even without Quickley in the second half Wednesday, Thibodeau opted to use Alec Burks at the point over Ntilikina and Smith, neither of whom got their rookie contract extensions by Monday’s deadline.
“Everything is based on performance,” said Thibodeau, who eventually turned to Ntilikina in the closing minutes Wednesday night. “You have to make tough decisions, and we have. But I never write anyone off, so long as they continue to work, and when their opportunity comes, just be ready.”
Then there is Elfrid Payton, the veteran who got the nod over Quickley in the starting lineup and was a minus-15 against Indiana, committing more turnovers (five) than he had assists (three) or made field goals (three).
It is uncertain if Quickley will be able to play in the home opener against the 76ers on Saturday at the fan-less Garden. Before he got hurt, Quickley scored five points and had an assist and a steal, continuing his quality play. Thursday was just a walk-through and the Knicks are off Friday, so he will be using the time to get treatment. Quickley suffered the injury in the second quarter after getting hip-checked by Pacers forward Myles Turner.
“I felt OK at first, then I tried to run and it just didn’t feel right,” Quickley said. “Hopefully it gets better.”
If he can’t go, Ntilikina or Smith could get a chance, unless Thibodeau again opts for Burks, who can play either on or off the ball.
Burks had a strong debut, scoring 22 points on 6-of-12 shooting, added three assists and just one turnover in 32 minutes. But the argument can be made the Knicks are better off using him as a starter at shooting guard or making sure he’s focused on scoring rather than running the offense.
At least Nitilikina got a shot, playing five fourth-quarter minutes in which he missed both of his shot attempts and was a minus-5. Smith didn’t get off the bench.
“We’re going to need everyone over the course of the season. We’re seeing that now,” Thibodeau said. “It’s something we talked about from day one, whether it be injury, sickness or whatever you might have. And so you settle on a rotation and then there will be opportunities as we go forward.”
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