Despite falling to the second round of the draft, Deuce McBride has the skills and the motor to be impactful right out of the gate. 

When I heard Deuce McBride was recruited to play at West Virginia off word-of-mouth during a Summer League telecast, my ears perked up. What exactly did they mean by word-of-mouth? Was McBride from some small village in the middle of nowhere? A local playground boogeyman who never played organized sports? How cool could his origin story possibly be?

The reality was a little less dramatic than my imagination, but his journey to New York is cool nonetheless. 

“Way longer than I expected, everyone is going to pay for that.” Those were the first words to come out of Deuce McBride’s mouth after he got drafted. For those that know about McBride’s path to the NBA, that statement was far from empty words. McBride was passed over quite a bit on his rise up to the Association.

Deuce McBride was a two-sport star at Moeller High School in Cincinnati, playing football and basketball. He actually favored football, and had he not suffered a mid-foot fracture during his junior season, McBride may have gone on to play college football instead of basketball. The injury almost ended McBride’s big school aspiration in both sports, as big-name schools disappeared following his injury. 

That was until Bob Huggins took a leap of faithAt the time of his West Virginia visit, McBride was still injured and his return date was unknown. It is also important to point out that Huggins had never seen McBride play basketball, not even shoot around. His scholarship offer was essentially based on word-of-mouth. Huggins hadn’t seen any tape, yet he trusted the pedigree he came from.

McBride’s recruitment began when Bob Huggins showed interest in McBride’s teammate, Jaxson Hayes, now a center for the New Orleans Pelicans. Huggins had a good relationship with Moeller head coach Carl Kremer, who put Huggins on to McBride. Huggins valued Kremer’s basketball opinion and had known Walter McBride, Deuce’s father, and the strong sports roots in Deuce’s household.

McBride wasted little time making Huggins look like a genius. He returned from his foot fracture at the end of his junior season to help win a state title. As a senior, McBride helped Moeller make history by going 29-0 and becoming the first undefeated team in Ohio since 1995, and the first back-to-back champions since 2006.

Once he arrived at West Virginia, McBride fit into Huggins system like Jay-Z fits over a beat by Timbaland. And if you know college basketball, you know Huggins’ West Virginia teams are very similar to any Tom Thibodeau team: they will defend until the soles of their sneakers wear out and be in your face from the opening tip until the final buzzer.

He may have left football behind him, but McBride’s football mentality has never really left him. He covers the floor like a roaming safety and often finding himself in the right place at the right time. As other parts of his game developed, McBride’s defense has always been good enough to keep him on the floor. As a sophomore, McBride started 28 of 29 games and vastly improved his shooting numbers across the board. He went toe-to-toe with the top pick in his class, Cade Cunningham.

You can tell McBride couldn’t care less who he is facing. If you are his assignment for the night, gear up for a long one. This is the mentality that led TKW’s draft guru Nick Carannante to peg McBride as a Thibodeau guy early in the pre-draft season. Chances are if you are a “Huggins guy” you are also a “Thibodeau guy.” Deuce was certainly a Huggins guy and has all the characteristics of a Thibs guy. 

One thing McBride’s origin story did tell us is that he does not simply come along for the ride. He hit the ground running following his recovery in high school. He became an immediate cog at West Virginia. And the way his Summer League went, McBride is the leading candidate to be the Knicks’ breakout rookie this season. 

Big paws on a pup was the best description for McBride’s Summer League. The second-round pick looked every bit of the diamond heist it felt like on draft night. 

“I feel like I have a winning DNA,” McBride said in his introductory press conference. “Throughout high school and college, I’ve just always won. That’s the main thing I want to bring to the Knicks, is that winning DNA.”

Winning is exactly what the Knicks did in Vegas. The Knicks went 4-2 and McBride played a key role in each game. His defense was as good as draft buffs advertised.  His tenacity popped off the screen, as it had at West Virginia, relentlessly hounding opponents from three-quarters court, in the opponent’s face at the point-of-attack. 

Whoever McBride was guarding looked noticeably uncomfortable. The most noteworthy victim was Sharife Cooper. Cooper was a favorite among Knicks fans prior to the draft, and McBride played like he knew it.

As exciting as the defense was to watch—and it was very exciting to watch—it was McBride’s offense that has raised expectations for his rookie season. McBride can be everything Frank Ntilikina was unable to be for Thibodeau, a defensive terminator sent to corral the top perimeter scoring threats.

The Marcus Smart comparison feels lazy on its face, but the similar style is unmistakable. Like Smart, McBride takes immense pride in his defense. He guards his man for the full 24 seconds, from end to end. This sequence against the Lakers embodies everything he is about.

These are the type of plays that do not fit under the “it’s only Summer League” category, and instead the ones that will help the rookie carve out a role early in his Knick career. Effort is not taught. Neither is the level of tenacity McBride uses to fuel his seemingly limitless motor. Bringing that type of energy on a consistent basis makes it easier to call his number if a veteran looks sluggish or the team simply needs a stop.

Where McBride can really cement consistent playing time beyond specific defensive deployments is proving his ability to score. Deuce does the two things Thibodeau wants from his guards: get to the rim and shoot threes.

I should mention, he is also very confident in his skills.

The foundation for a deep offensive bag hides in plain sight. The oversight is due to the fact that anyone talking about McBride is usually too busy gushing over his defense to mention his offense. He looks just as comfortable shooting off-the-dribble as he did spotting up. He can drive the rim or hit from the midrange or beyond the arc.

In six summer-league games, McBride looked like an immediate two-way threat. He averaged 27.7 minutes and 15.2 points per game, shot 53.2% from the field and an impressive 50.0% from beyond the arc. Even when you take the small sample size into account, nothing about how he scored his points felt fluky.

The threat of creating his shot from anywhere frees McBride up to use his explosiveness to get to the rim.

Kevin Knox’s Summer League mirage will forever give fans reason to temper rookie excitement. McBride is not going to be Knox.

What we saw in Vegas was not much different from what he did at West Virginia. In his final season at Morgantown, McBride shot 41.4% from beyond the arc on 3.8 attempts per game and had looked comfortable scoring at all three levels. The floor time he and Immanuel Quickley logged could prove to be an energetic backcourt option Thibodeau can turn to. Both have the ability to be effective with or without the ball.

Although his development as a playmaker figures to be his biggest area of growth, McBride had his moments in Vegas. He did a good job moving the ball in transition. When he ran the point in Quickley’s absence, he made good reads and found guys in their sweet spots.

If McBride is able to replicate the success he enjoyed in his first official games as a Knick, it could allow the Knicks to keep their veteran guards fresh. Quickley’s development as a point guard is a major piece to that puzzle, as is finding someone to slide into Quickley’s spot at the 2. McBride can be that guy.

The usual rule of thumb is to bring rookies along slowly. That should not be the way McBride spends his rookie season. Just like Quickley proved last season, if the coaching staff likes what they see, you will get playing time. Tom Thibodeau’s Knicks are a meritocracy, an environment someone like McBride should thrive in from day one.