Miles McBride didn’t get much burn in year one. What are the steps he can take to earn more time in year two?

Coming into the 2022 Summer League, it was clear that Quentin Grimes was to be the team’s focal point and offensive hub. Grimes was coming off an injury-shortened but still very promising rookie year, and was hoping to build on it. He was rewarded with a spot on the All-NBA Summer League First Team for his efforts and was unquestionably one of the top performers in Las Vegas.

Less discussed was the Robin to Grimes’ Summer League Batman: second-year point guard Miles McBride. After being taken 36th in the 2021 Draft, McBride played just 372 minutes as a rookie, fewer than anyone else who was on the roster from the start to the end of the year. His stats when he did play weren’t what you might call eye-popping: 2.2 points, 1.1 rebounds and one assist a night while shooting 25% from three in 9.3 minutes a night aren’t exactly All-Rookie numbers.

However, there were still plenty of reasons to be hopeful. The defensive intensity Deuce played with was palpable even when his shot wasn’t falling. There was the oft-cited game against the Rockets, one of two games McBride started, where he put up 15 points, nine assists, and no turnovers.

And then there was his time in the G-League. In six games for Westchester, McBride averaged 27.8 points (6th in the league), 11.2 assists (1st), and 2.7 steals (4th) while shooting 50% from three (7th) on 8.7 attempts a night. In short: he was dominant.

Because of that, there were real expectations for the 21-year-old guard coming into Summer League. In his time with the young Vegas Knicks, we saw a lot of good and some areas that still need work. So let’s take a look.

The Good

McBride’s stats were solid, despite the fact that he might not have been the offensive juggernaut fans were hoping for. 16.8 points, 5.0 assists, 2.2 steals, and 50/35.7/94.7 splits on 5.6 three attempts a game shows how he was able to impact the game in a variety of ways while scoring with pretty remarkable efficiency for such a sloppy setting.

His tough shot-making was on display all week, and his ability to get shots off at a variety of angles is genuinely impressive.

His high release point and quick trigger allow him to get to his pull-up at will, even against good contests. Though barely above 6-foot-2 in shoes, he’s great at using his broad frame and linebacker strength to get into his defenders and push them off him, allowing him the brief window he needs to get his shot up.

Of course, the main appeal of Deuce when he was drafted was the defense, and we saw more of his trademark doggedness this summer. McBride is great at getting into passing lanes without gambling himself out of position – a distinction that was in stark contrast to someone like Feron Hunt, who was often so eager for the steal he compromised the team’s defense trying to jump the lane.

But as good as he is off-ball, McBride’s at his best playing the point of attack. The main reason for this is his ability to fight over screens. Even in his limited minutes with the Knicks last season, it was evident that both he and Grimes were exceptional at staying with their marks while navigating screens, a breath of fresh air for a team that often got lost and broke down trying to handle other teams’ simple offensive actions.

The other positive we saw from McBride was his passing. While not a playmaking savant á la Trae Young or Luka Doncic, he’s rock-steady with the ball, rarely making mistakes and consistently making the right play to find open teammates.

He plays with poise and stays within himself, not forcing the action or letting himself get sped up as a distributor. But the thing is, as paradoxical as it may sound, that sometimes is actually a negative thing for a young playmaker. Let’s get into why.

Improvement Areas

The best playmakers are willing to take risks, to try passes that might, to some players, seem insane. Think of LaMelo Ball or Nikola Jokic, and the sheer audacity required to pull off some of their dimes. That’s not to say McBride never gets fancy, but it’s more the exception than the norm.

Now, no one would expect Deuce to be a LaMelo-level passer and it’s unfair to put such a burden on him when it’s clearly not his game. But his “play it safe” approach to running an offense comes with inherent limitations, which we saw in the Summer League championship game against Portland. He has trouble creating something out of nothing, and works better playmaking off a moving ball, rather than attacking one-on-one and creating a play out of thin air.

In a way, this actually makes him a pretty good fit on a team where the initiation comes from somewhere other than the point guard position. Playing off of someone like Julius Randle, RJ Barrett, or (let’s not get ahead of ourselves here) Donovan Mitchell for stretches would allow him to play a supercharged Mario Chalmers-type role, which may actually be his best and most realistic path towards being a starter. Lucky for him he came into the league at a time when the number of jumbo initiators is skyrocketing.

Another clear place for improvement, and one that has been a point of emphasis for him since entering the league, is finding a better balance between attacking the basket and getting to his pull-up. Because he’s such an effective shooter, he’s able to survive on a diet of tough jumpers, but given his strength and quickness, he should be doing this more.

The physicality he plays with on the defensive end doesn’t always show up when he’s attacking the basket. What’s more, he rarely looks to get downhill, preferring to hunt for stepbacks. For him to take the next step and become a positive rotation player, he’s going to have to become a more dangerous driver. He’s got great change-of-pace when it comes to self-created jumpers, so adding some of that into his forays to the rim, along with his patent lower-the-shoulder physicality, should allow him to be an effective finisher. It would also be nice to see him try to cut more off-ball, as he tends to drift around the three-point line while away from the possession.

The last thing that Summer League exposed was that he’s still uncomfortable taking over games. Where Grimes was in heat check mode from the second he stepped off the team plane to the moment the championship game ended, Deuce at times struggled to put his imprint on the game. In that championship game, where Portland focused the whole of their impressive defensive squad on slowing down Grimes, McBride was unable to take over and give Grimes the space he needed to heat up.

Now, this isn’t something to overreact to. There were plenty of G-League games against similar competition where McBride absolutely dominated. And, as mentioned, his skillset works very well as a complementary guard who’s closer to three-and-D than heliocentric. But for a guy who was, at times last season, timid and visibly overthinking when he got into NBA games, it would’ve been nice to see him try to bend the game to his will more.

Moving Forward

The good thing is that the Knicks don’t need Miles McBride to be anything more than a solid role player right now. They have their starting point guard of the next few years in Jalen Brunson, who, coincidentally, is a great mentor for McBride to continue to hone his midrange craftiness and work on his defense in practice. It’s unclear right now who will be left on the Knicks bench when the dust settles, but if one of Derrick Rose, Immanuel Quickley, or Grimes are still there, McBride will have a backcourt partner who can help take some of the burden off his shoulders while playing to his strengths. The only shame is that Deuce is probably too small to play alongside Brunson for more than brief stretches unless his defense jumps from “very good” to “Davion Mitchell-level point of attack insanity.”

The outlines of a very productive player are clearly visible when watching Deuce’s game, as are the places he needs to keep getting stronger. With time and continued development, the Knicks or another team (the Jazz, he says for no particular reason?) should have a strong rotation guard on their hands for years to come.

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