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At least for one game, Knicks found solution to PG dilemma

2018-01-31

BOSTON — The sensible solution to an overblown issue became more of a reality against the Nets.

Rather than alternating the limited minutes at backup point guard between Frank Ntilikina and Trey Burke, Jeff Hornacek played them together for extended time in the backcourt — with Burke as the primary ballhandler and Ntilikina as the offguard.

It was a successful strategy in the 111-95 victory Tuesday, with Ntilikina completing his best game in over two weeks.

“It felt better (than the last time we played together), actually," Ntilikina told the Daily News about pairing with Burke. "It might give us a lot of options, many more options during the game because we're now two guards who can really handle the pick-and-roll and the ball. It's a good idea. Playing together for me is good and I think we can be great in the backcourt together."

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The downside, of course, is that the Knicks drafted Ntilikina as their point guard of the future. Having him operate without the ball is a blow to those plans. But as the Daily News has been writing for the last month, scouts believe the 19-year-old is better suited as the offguard — at least at this stage of his career — because he's not quick enough to get by defenders. Regardless, Ntilikina needs to get adjusted to the pace of the NBA after developing exclusively in Europe.

The other reason Ntilikina might often play the 2 is more complimentary — he's versatile defensively.

Frank Ntilikina needs to up the pace if he wants to play as the Knicks No. 1 guard.

Frank Ntilikina needs to up the pace if he wants to play as the Knicks No. 1 guard.

(Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE/Getty Images)

"Like I showed (Tuesday) and even during the season, I can guard multiple positions," Ntilikina told the News. "Whether it's the point guard, the 2 or even the 3, I can do it."

Jeff Hornacek called the Burke-Ntilikina backcourt "another option."

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"Trey kind of handled it and did his thing," the coach added. "And Frank did a nice job of playing off the ball."

Whether or not it's a sustained option, New York's guard rotation will shift because Ron Baker suffered what appeared to be a dislocated shoulder Tuesday. An MRI is pending.

If he's out of the mix for an extended period, that leaves Hornacek with three potential primary ballhandlers in Jarrett Jack, Burke and Ntilikina.

The emergence of Burke — a Scott Perry (re)discovery — complicated Ntilikina's development because it added another young point guard to a crowded backcourt. There were even some silly suggestions in the media about sending Ntilikina to the G-League, which is something neither the Knicks nor the rookie's camp wants.

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Trey Burke.

(Julie Jacobson/AP)

Trying Burke and Ntilikina together makes a lot more sense. Burke also likes the arrangement, for both ends of the floor.

"We play off each other," Burke said. "I don't have to bring the ball up every single time. Obviously he gives me rest. I can play the 2 and vice versa so I like it a lot. At the same time on the defensive end, a lot of times you can't switch if you have a big and a small together. But me and him — we can switch if my man sets one for him. So it's convenient and I look forward to playing with him more.”