Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau announced his starting lineup prior to Friday’s preseason opener against the Pistons, and there were few surprises, other than new signee Alec Burks getting the start at shooting guard.
Thibodeau said Elfrid Payton would start at point guard, RJ Barrett at small forward, Julius Randle at power forward and new signee Nerlens Noel at center.
During training camp, Thibodeau hinted Noel had the upper hand on Mitchell Robinson for starting center as the 26-year-old is coming off a strong season in Oklahoma City.
Knicks rookie Obi Toppin will come off the bench, as was expected because of limited time resulting from the fact there was no summer league. There was a thought Kevin Knox would start at small forward but Burks, a solid perimeter shooter, got the nod.
Thibodeau said the lineup remains in flux as the Knicks have four preseason games before their opener on Dec. 23 in Indiana.
“Nothing’s set in stone,’’ Thibodeau said. “We’ll get a look at different guys as we go forward. We’re in evaluation mode on seeing which groups play best together. We’ll be mixing and matching as the night goes on also.”
Before the game, Detroit coach Dwane Casey compared Toppin with former Knicks draft bust Kenny “Sky’’ Walker, but said he meant it as a compliment because both are “pogo sticks.’’ Walker was selected No. 5 in 1986, but never lived up to his draft position.
The Pistons passed on Toppin at No. 7 to take point guard Killian Hayes. Casey said Knicks fans should be excited.
“He’s going to have a long future in the NBA,’’ Casey said of Toppin. “He’s athletic and he’ll be exciting for the New York fans the way he plays.’’
Michael Kidd-Gilchrist did not travel to Detroit due to an illness, the team said.
The Knicks didn’t shoot around at the arena — instead doing a walk-through at the team hotel.
Thibodeau denied it was based on the game-day COVID-19 protocols, but the Knicks decided to play it safe.
“There’s an adjustment to going through it,’’ Thibodeau said of the game-day rules. “We felt that, as we mentioned to the team, you have to be good in all areas. So you have to be good at shootaround at an arena, you have to be good at a shootaround at a ballroom, and we have to be ready to adapt quickly.’’
Casey said the game-day testing and other protocols are “draining’’ and “a second opponent.’’