Spend a few minutes within the trash heap that is Knicks fandom on the internet and you’ll find that veteran point guard Elfrid Payton has quickly become a scapegoat for a majority of the team’s struggles — even if the franchise itself is having its best season in nearly a decade.
It’s the unfortunate part that comes with the territory of running the point on this Knicks team.
At just 27 years old, Payton is an elder statesman who many see as the reason why rookie Immanuel Quickley — and to a lesser extent, fan-favorite and a guard even older than Payton, Derrick Rose — isn’t getting more playing time.
His outings have at times been inconsistent and his defense has lagged behind the strict standards of head coach Tom Thibodeau, but he’s continuously gotten the call; a performance like the one he had on Monday night against the Los Angeles Lakers further validating the team’s decision to keep starting him.
Payton posted 20 points on 9-of-12 shooting in 27 minutes of play in a 111-96 victory over an Anthony Davis and LeBron James-less Lakers side, stressing his ability to attack the basket to open up the offense.
“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.’’
“[Payton put] a lot of pressure on the rim,’’ Thibodeau added. “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.’’
His performance was also a sizable statement to Knicks management. His counterpart on Monday night, Lakers point guard Denis Schroder, is a free agent after this season and the Knicks have been linked to a potential pursuit.
On Wednesday (8 p.m. ET), he faces another soon-to-be free-agent point guard in New Orleans Pelican Lonzo Ball that the Knicks could check in on this summer as well.