Kevin Knox will start Knicks preseason in bench role

WASHINGTON — If there was a surprise to Knicks coach David Fizdale’s starting-lineup announcement at Monday’s morning shootaround, it was a small one.

Marcus Morris, who signed a one-year, $15 million deal in July, will start over 2018 lottery pick Kevin Knox when the Knicks open the preseason Monday night against the Wizards at Capital One Arena.

Indications are this is the way it’s going to go when the season opens Oct. 23 in San Antonio.

Knox started in the preseason as a rookie, but came off the bench when the regular season began. With the Knicks in tank mode, Knox inherited the starting job for good in mid-December. Now, Fizdale needs to post victories.

“There’s a chance he can start in the preseason again,” Fizdale said. “Nothing is in stone. He’ll play a ton (Monday night).”

Fizdale said Knox will play the 3 and some shooting guard against the Wizards.

As a 19-year-old rookie, Knox averaged 12.8 points but shot 37 percent and struggled on defense. He’s come back with a bigger upper body.

“I feel he’s more comfortable,” Fizdale said. “Things aren’t surprising him as much anymore. His shot has improved. He shortened his stroke, simplified it. Defensively he’s been better.”

Morris had dabbled with power forward in recent seasons, but Fizdale has enough big men and the 30-year-old, known for his toughness, will be cemented at the 3.

“That’s what we’re going to play (him) more at this year,” Fizdale said. “We’re going to take him back to when he first came in the league. We like idea of size of that position.”

Morris crossed paths on the court at the shootaround with Washington’s Davis Bertans. The Spurs traded Bertans to make room for Morris’ contract, but he reneged on a verbal agreement.

With Dennis Smith Jr. out with a strained back, Fizdale went the obvious route with Elfrid Payton as starting point guard. Rookie RJ Barrett will start at shooting guard, Julius Randle at power forward and Mitchell Robinson at center. All those four slots went as expected.

Fizdale wouldn’t reveal Payton as starting point guard on Sunday, giving speculation brass wanted to see more of Frank Ntilikina because of the upcoming deadline to exercise his fourth-year contract option. But Ntilikina will come off the bench.

“His competitiveness, he’s got a serious competitive gene,” Fizdale said of Payton. “He’s never out of a possession offensively or defensively. It just stands out.”

Smith said he’s unsure when he will return. The Knicks play host to the Wizards on Friday. Smith missed 10 of the final 14 games last season with a disk issue. Smith said this injury is different because it’s not “dealing with the nerve.”

“It’s up to coach and whatever the training staff decides,” Smith said. “If they think I’m ready, I’ll play. It’s unfortunate — small bump in the road.”

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