NEW YORK -- The New York Knicks have had a point guard problem for nearly 20 years.
Many lead guards have tried and failed to steer the Knicks in the right direction since Charlie Ward vacated the position in 2001: Derrick Rose, Stephon Marbury, Baron Davis, Jeremy Lin Raymond Felton -- the list goes on.
Will Frank Ntilikina end up as another name on that list? Or will he be different?
The Knicks hope, of course, that Ntilikina can give them the kind of stability that they've lacked for so many years. On Friday night, in his Madison Square Garden debut, Ntilikina provided evidence that he may one day do just that.
In 22 minutes against the Brooklyn Nets, Ntilikina defended well, distributed and made a few shots in the Knicks' surprising 21-point win. New York outscored Brooklyn by 10 points when Ntilikina was on the floor.
"I like how he came in the game and didn't force anything," Kristaps Porzingis said afterward. "He had a good pace and controlled the team. Being 19 years old, he's great at doing that. ... Going forward, he's going to be able to get triple-doubles. That's what type of player he is."
Ntilikina's shot comes alive in second half
Frank Ntilikina finds his rhythm in the third quarter with a crossover jumper then sets up for a 3-pointer in the fourth quarter.
Ntilikina's biggest impact came on the other end of the floor, where the Knicks limited a Nets team averaging 121 points per game to just 86. Jeff Hornacek said Ntilikina, back from a two-game absence due to an ankle injury, disrupted the ball handler in Nets' pick-and-rolls, forcing the player to give the ball up rather than tilt the defense.
"His pressure helped that quite a bit," Hornacek said.
Ntilikina's solid play was clearly the most important takeaway from Friday night. But it was the contribution of another point guard that changed the tenor of the game.
Hornacek inserted Jarrett Jack into the starting lineup in place of veteran Ramon Sessions, who didn't get off the bench Friday night. The hope was that Jack could help organize the Knicks on offense after players talked about their teammates being out of place in a 21-point loss to Boston earlier this week.
Turning to Jack, a 12-year veteran, turned out to be the right call from Hornacek.
Jack found Porzingis (30 points on 13-for-24 shooting) early and often in the post against the 6-foot-8 Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, allowing Porzingis to catch the ball deep enough to utilize his height advantage.
"Just trying to be a good teammate," Jack said after an eight-point, five-assist, seven-rebound night.
Teammates said Jack helped get them in the right places on the court, which seemed pivotal after Courtney Lee and Tim Hardaway Jr. said after the Boston game that disorganization on that end of the floor led to the embarrassing outcome. Hornacek said players were quicker to occupy the proper spaces on the floor Friday.
"We were assertive in our cuts, the screens we set," Jack said. "That allowed us to get to certain areas that we know our big guys, ball handlers and play makers can do some damage."
For one night, it was New York's playmakers doing damage and not the other way around, which was a welcome respite in the home locker room.
Friday's victory was the first of the season for the Knicks (1-3) -- and their first win as a group after an 0-5 preseason.
"We couldn't keep losing on our floor," Lance Thomas said. "We just needed a win."
A loss at home to the rival Nets certainly wouldn't have sat well with fans. It also might have led to an embarrassing start to the season; the Knicks face the Cleveland Cavaliers, Denver Nuggets and Houston Rockets in their next three games. So an 0-7 start wasn't out of the realm of possibility -- and might have impacted Hornacek's job security.
But the Knicks were able to avoid all of that thanks, in part, to a strong decision from Hornacek and strong play from Jack and Ntilikina.