Knicks starting point guard Elfrid Payton hadn’t talked to the media since he starred against the Lakers on April 12, outplaying impending free agent Dennis Schroder.
In scoring 20 points and finishing a plus-27, it marked Payton’s last stellar game. He’s now mired in a massive slump.
In the last seven games, Payton has looked lost, averaging 2.7 points and shooting 24.2 percent. His minutes per game in that span have dwindled to 14.6.
Speaking via Zoom on Thursday, Payton was asked by The Post how he’d assess his recent performances in light of Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau backing him up as a player who still brings defense and intangibles.
Payton didn’t give an inch.
“I assess how I’m playing by how my team is doing,’’ Payton said. “And we’ve been winning. So, we’re in the playoffs.”
Indeed they are, finishing off with a three-game winning streak, a 16-4 spree and 41-31 final record. Payton also needs to not give an inch to Atlanta point guard Trae Young when the first-round series commences Sunday at the Garden.
RJ Barrett gave his full endorsement to Payton.
“Great locker-room guy, everybody loves EP,” Barrett said. “He goes out there, even if he’s struggling offensively, and still plays great defense. Everybody struggles. We’re always there to pick him up, and he’s gonna pick us up. He’s picked me up when I’m struggling. He’s part of our team and we love having him.”
Payton was weaving a decent season entering the All-Star break but this final month he hasn’t responded well to Derrick Rose getting a bump in minutes while his have shrunk.
Often, Payton plays the first part of the first quarter but doesn’t play again the start of the second half. And he hasn’t been closing in a long while as he’s lost his attack-mode mentality.
When asked about his confidence level, Payton said, “I’m confident. I work on my game. I’m confident.’’
This will be Payton’s playoff debut. The 2014 lottery pick has seen dark days in Orlando, Phoenix and New Orleans. And last season, he was a starter for the 21-45 Knicks, who improved only after Payton returned from a hamstring injury that cost David Fizdale his job.
“It means a lot,” Payton said of qualifying for the playoffs. “We’ve been through a lot. We work hard, kept chipping at it, kept chipping at it. We’re finally seeing some fruits of our labor. We’re still hungry and feel we have a lot more to do.”
Thibodeau indicated he will stick with Payton as a starter but is mulling a role for out-of-the-rotation point guard Frank Ntilikina as a defensive stopper for Young. That could further affect Payton’s minutes.
“Everything just keeps going up,’’ Payton said of practices this week. “Coach is doing a good job of preparing us. All of the coaches, honestly. We know what’s at stake. Every day is getting more and more intense.’’