Elfrid Payton's Knicks role seemingly shrinking with Derrick Rose earning more minutes

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Ian Begley
·3 min read
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Elfrid Payton 5/2
Elfrid Payton 5/2

From opening night until the end of March, Elfrid Payton was playing 25 minutes per game. In April, he averaged 19 minutes per game. In the Knicks' first game of May, Payton played just 14 minutes.

Payton's 14 minutes came during a blowout win over the Rockets. But it still seems like his role is being reduced as New York approaches the playoffs.

When asked about Payton's minutes Sunday, Tom Thibodeau didn't explicitly say that his role is decreasing.

"It's how the game unfolds. It's what you need," Thibodeau said. "Someone else has got it going -- that's the beauty of this team. They all support each other, they put winning first. Someone else is going good, you ride with them.

"There's not a big difference between our starters and our bench -- they're all interchangeable. I see our bench guys as actually being starters. We're fortunate to be in that position. So just bring the things that you bring. As I've said all season long, Elfrid's an important part of our team."

Payton's reduced role has coincided with more minutes for Derrick Rose. He's averaging 27 minutes per game in April. And he played 31 minutes in New York's win over Houston.

It will be interesting to see if Thibodeau continues to start Payton or if Rose supplants him in the starting lineup. Payton -- a regular target among Knick fans on Twitter -- has helped New York establish one of the top defenses in the NBA. But Rose is a superior offensive player.

So Payton's minutes -- and his role -- are something worth watching as the Knicks close out the regular season.

May 2, 2021; Houston, Texas, USA; New York Knicks forward Julius Randle (30) celebrates after a play during the third quarter against the Houston Rockets at Toyota Center. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports
May 2, 2021; Houston, Texas, USA; New York Knicks forward Julius Randle (30) celebrates after a play during the third quarter against the Houston Rockets at Toyota Center. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Randle rolls again

Behind 31 points from Julius Randle, the Knicks crushed the Rockets on Sunday to kick off their six-game road trip. Randle also had seven rebounds and six assists for New York, which is guaranteed to at least play in the NBA's play-in tournament. The Knicks are alone in fourth place, 2.5 games ahead of the seventh-place Celtics.

If the Knicks finish in the top six in the Eastern Conference, they will get an automatic bid to the playoffs. If they finish between seventh and 10th place, they will have to win to win at least one game in the play-in tournament to get a playoff berth.

The Knicks' success this season is a combination of many factors, including Thibodeau's coaching and Randle's outstanding play. Thibodeau said after the game that Randle has exceeded even his highest expectations.

"I didn't see this (All-NBA) level," Thibodeau said.

Thibodeau regularly says "the magic is in the work" when talking about the Knicks -- or basketball in general. And he sees the work Randle has put in to his perimeter shooting as one of the keys to his success.

Randle worked diligently on his shot in the offseason and has continued to work regularly on the shot during the season.

"When you put the time into it, usually you’ll get a good result," Thibodeau said of Randle, who is shooting a career--high 42 percent behind the three-point arc.

Randle scored 31 against Houston in just three quarters, going 4-for-9 from long range