New York Knicks' Most Intriguing Summer League Prospects
In Las Vegas, the young guns on the New York Knicks' summer league team are putting the franchise's exciting future on display.
The Summer Knicks have swept their slate of games thus far, entering the summer league's tournament portion as the second seed behind only the Chicago Bulls' Vegas outfit, which also sports a 3-0 record.
Not only have the incumbent Knick prospects shown their improvement across the board, but the newly acquired ones are producing already. Playing under Derek Fisher in his first experience coaching basketball games, the neophytes are already showing some grasp of triangle offense techniques and playing with impressive cohesion for a hastily assembled roster of NBA hopefuls.
Before we focus on these guys individually, that formula for success is important to note: Knicks players are showcasing their individual abilities by executing their roles and playing team basketball.
Some familiar faces from last season are providing relative experience to the Summer Knicks, plus markedly improved games over what they showed just a few short months ago.
Chief among the young old guard is Tim Hardaway Jr., essentially a star in Sin City.
Hardaway has a permanent green light with this inexperienced supporting cast backing him, and he has still managed to drop 20.7 points per game and hit 39 percent of his threes as the first, and often only, scoring option on the floor.
In addition to his smooth-as-ever stroke, Hardaway has clearly added muscle over the offseason; he'll be even more dangerous attacking the rim with his greater strength and more prepared to weather the long NBA season.
New York will definitely need frontcourt depth to survive an 82-game schedule, and Cole Aldrich and Jeremy Tyler both look capable of providing it.
Though Aldrich has played just one Vegas game, he dominated the glass with 15 rebounds and appeared extra springy as a rim protector, doling out three emphatic blocks. He and Tyler also showed nice instincts as high-post passers, a role they did not get to play at all in Mike Woodson's offense.
Tyler looks shakier than Aldrich defensively and has been too prone to foul, but he has been knocking down 18-footers and playing energetically inside. That will certainly be enough for Fisher to give him some run back in New York.
After the Knicks entered the offseason with no 2014 draft picks, eventually nabbing two second-rounders from the Dallas Mavericks, No. 34 overall selection Cleanthony Early is New York's de facto marquee rookie.
He has looked the part in Vegas, flashing shooting skill and athleticism as a complementary offensive player.
Early isn't enough of a ball-handler to do much creating himself, but he's quick enough to beat his man with off-ball cuts, especially since his opponent can't hedge toward the rim without giving him room to rain threes. He hasn't shown much of the post-up game he had at Wichita State, and he'll need a few more pounds to use it against pros. For now, he can face up in mid-range territory just fine.
His physical gifts will put the most pressure on opponents in the transition attack, where he's a long strider streaking up the wing and an explosive leaper as he cuts to the basket.
Some unnecessary fouls have mucked up his defensive game, only a few of which can be attributed to drawing power forward assignments on occasion. Even so, by summer league standards, Early hasn't been excessively aggressive on that end, and he shouldn't struggle too much with fouling against small forwards.
On the other hand, Thanasis Antetokounmpo's zealousness may be too perfect for the league right now.
Whether he's leaping to contest dunkers from behind or rushing madly out at and into three-point shooters, Antetokounmpo's tenacity has caused him to commit six fouls per game in an average of 17.7 minutes. Because summer league rules allow each player 10, Antetokounmpo hasn't fouled out yet, but his current rate is not at all sustainable.
Even so, asking him to restrain himself would be wrong. Antetokounmpo provides something more than intensity; he imbues every facet of his game with pure, unadulterated exuberance.
His enthusiasm is really something special, particularly on the defensive end. Against the Portland Trail Blazers, he forced an eight-second violation basically single-handedly and clapped joyously at the whistle. It was otherwise a humdrum stretch of the second quarter, but Antetokounmpo gave New York the kind of energy that seeps into his teammates like osmosis.
Someday he'll become a beloved Knick with that play, but next season is not yet that time.
Perhaps if his offensive game wasn't such a project, his fouling could be tolerated for short bursts. Considering his flaws and New York's surplus of wings, Europe seems the most likely destination for Antetokounmpo, as Marc Berman of the New York Post reported.
Early and Antetokounmpo weren't the only prospects acquired in the Dallas trade. Shane Larkin may be entering his sophomore campaign, but at age 21, he's two years younger than Early and a few months Antetokounmpo's junior.
Larkin has made his greatest impact with his quickness, overcoming his 5'11" frame on the defensive end by generating 2.3 steals a game. Summer league foes are more susceptible to turnovers than true NBA squads are, but Larkin's skill at patrolling the passing lanes and kick-starting the transition attack should be repeatable against veterans.
Unfortunately, his jump-shooting struggles should translate to the regular season as well. He has hit just two of nine attempts from beyond the arc, and he has mostly clanged his long two-pointers as well. A diminutive point guard with a faulty jumper is not an ideal triangle fit.
Yet Larkin has shown he can penetrate and score closer to the rim despite his size, helping to salvage his offensive game. He could stand to be more decisive in attacking off the bounce, but when he does drive without hesitation, he can get his shot or find the open man effectively.
His passing is solid and the defensive effort is there, which will get him some of Pablo Prigioni's backup minutes. As Prigs imparts some of his tricks to the new guy, Larkin has the potential to take over that job entirely and thrive in it.
There wasn't much hope that the Knicks' undrafted summer invitees would earn a place with New York.
Not including Antetokounmpo (or, for that matter, heretofore unseen third draftee Louis Labeyrie, who is currently the stuff of myth), the Knicks have 17 players under contract who won't be stashed in Europe for the year. A Summer Knick without a contract would have to explode to snag a roster spot that doesn't currently exist.
Langston Galloway hasn't quite done that, but he's the most likely to play his way to the Knicks' new eponymous D-League affiliate in Westchester.
Though he has shown no ability to stroke the three-ball in Vegas, the Saint Joseph's product has excelled as a cutter, serving as the beneficiary of dishes from Larkin, Tyler and others to sneak through the defense and finish at the rim, often prettily.
He has also shown enough defensive gumption to bother opponents with his on-ball play, if not much thieving ability to take the rock away or to deflect passes.
There's no chance he could make it to the Garden this season, but Galloway could be a worthwhile project for New York to stick in the suburbs and watch as he develops. If he works on his spot-up shooting from deep, he might someday join the rest of these young Knicks to contribute to a budding winner.