Knicks’ Immanuel Quickley hesitation makes for enticing Lonzo Ball scenario
Starting point guard Elfrid Payton is likely out after aggravating a right hamstring strain. Backup point guard Derrick Rose is still missing because of COVID-19 protocol issues.
Combo guard Austin Rivers is home in Manhattan with a newborn baby.
The Knicks will be decimated at point guard as they play the Thunder in a Saturday matinee at Oklahoma City’s Chesapeake Arena, the lone soft spot of a rough four-game road trip.
That means either Frank Ntilikina will start — as he did in San Antonio 10 days ago — or Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau will thrill the fan base and roll with rookie Immanuel Quickley at the point. Quickley, however, has a sore groin and was listed as questionable late Friday night
The 21-year-old Quickley has yet to start this season. Thibodeau has been hesitant because he likes his point guards to be traditional organizers and top defenders. But Thibodeau may be desperate after Ntilikina’s regression Thursday in Milwaukee, where he went scoreless (0-for-3) in 15 minutes.
The Frenchman played mostly off the ball alongside Quickley, who showed a lack of quarterbacking skill. The Knicks’ suspect point-guard play — along with Julius Randle’s 3-for-12, seven points dud — crushed the Knicks in a 134-101 loss, which dropped them to .500 (19-19).
“We need everyone to play well — we’re shorthanded,’’ Thibodeau said.
Rose, who will sit out for a fourth straight game, was dearly missed against the Bucks. Quickley, Payton and Ntilikina combined to shoot 7-for-27. Payton’s poor night might have been due to reinjuring a hamstring that cost him 18 games last season and four games late last month.
While Quickley put up 15 points, he was 3-for-10 from the field, showed poor shot selection and didn’t run the offense in a cohesive manner.
The Post has reported the club doesn’t know if Quickley is a bona fide starting point guard because of his lack of playmaking prowess. The Knicks have their eyes open for more of a pass-first point guard. As reported here, they are monitoring the Lonzo Ball situation in New Orleans.
Ball, 23, will be a restricted free agent this summer and there’s been speculation he will be made available ahead of the March 25 deadline if the Pelicans think he wants out of the Big Easy. Remember, LaVar Ball wanted his youngest son, LaMelo, to play in the Big Apple.
Thibodeau said Quickley still has to develop other parts of his point guard repertoire.
“There’s different type of point guards,’’ Thibodeau said. “When you look at our league, you see that. The more traditional point guard of a pass-first guy, you don’t see as many of those guys. You see more scoring point guards, power point guards, downhill point guards. Whatever his strengths are — which we think is shooting the floater, pick-and-roll game — it puts a lot of pressure on people. We can play off that. You want to play to their strengths.
“The game tells you when to shoot the ball and when not to. Just read the game. You’re in the paint, second defender comes, hit the open man.”
That bring us to Lonzo Ball, who is averaging 14.4 points and 5.1 assists, while continually improving. The Post reported the Knicks had Ball No. 1 on their board before the 2017 draft, when current team president Leon Rose was his agent. The Knicks had the No. 8 pick and took Ntilikina.
Ball was picked second after Markelle Fultz, who was starting to emerge from bust status with the Magic before a season-ending torn ACL.
“He’s got good size, good playmaker in the lane and is thinking pass-first,’’ one NBA scout said of Ball. “He likes to push the ball hard in transition on makes or misses. He’s more a driver/slasher than shooter, but his form is improving on his shot.’’
In fact, Ball’s 3-point percentage is up to 37.2 percent. Rose still does a lot of those things at age 32.
Rose could return by next week, based on NBA COVID-19 rules. The former MVP’s COVID-19 test was inconclusive 10 days ago in San Antonio. If he subsequently tested positive — the Knicks won’t confirm — he would have to wait 10 days from March 3, plus two additional days of precautionary workouts.
Against the Thunder (16-21), Thibodeau said he’d also consider Alec Burks at point guard and stressed Randle’s point-forward activities. The Knicks also have two-way point guard, Jared Harper, back from the G-League bubble.
“We have enough on our team to win and it’s just next man up,’’ RJ Barrett said.