After two solid games with the Westchester Knicks, the well-traveled James Akinjo could be on the road to being a successful pro.
While the NBA is abuzz with early season murmurs, it’s not the only place where basketball is getting started. International play is well on its way, college basketball returned and the G-League is underway. With basketball back in full swing across the globe, it is my job to keep you up on all things going on in regard to the development of the young Knickerbockers.
While others on The Knicks Wall will offer updates on Obi Toppin’s continued improvement or what to expect from Jericho Sims, I will provide information on all things development, ranging from recent Knicks draft picks like Rokas Jokubaitis and Trevor Keels, to undrafted talents like Feron Hunt and Jean Montero. Today we are going to be talking about a player that you may not be familiar with just yet, but one that is off to a roaring start in Westchester: James Akinjo.
If you followed the NBA Draft process, or, are just a big fan of college basketball, The Westchester Knicks, New York’s G-League affiliate, has some “big names” on the roster. Some players were active on the Summer League roster and even got some runs with the big boys during the 2021-2022 season. One name that you may be less familiar with however is Akinjo, who had a unique pathway through college basketball – playing for three top high-major programs in his career.
After a successful stint at Georgetown, where he earned “Big East Freshman of the Year”, Akinjo entered the transfer portal and ended up in Tucson to play for the University of Arizona. The success continued, with Akinjo earning “First Team All-Pac 12” honors. After flirting with the NBA Draft, Akinjo entered the transfer portal one more time, ending up at Baylor where he earned “First Team All-Big 12” honors.
Over those four seasons, Akinjo finished with career averages of 14.0 points, 5.4 assists, and 1.6 steals. The Oakland, California native was more impactful than his stats suggested no matter where he played. However, standing at 6-foot-1, Akinjo would receive the undersized guard label and be never given much of a chance as far as draft prospects go, resulting in an uphill climb to make it to the NBA.
Even though Akinjo’s college stats could not look more consistent across his per-game averages, there were wild inconsistencies in exactly one area – his shooting efficiency. Finishing as an 82 percent free throw shooter for his career, it would be everywhere else where Akinjo would struggle. Akinjo shot under 40 percent from the field in all four of his college seasons and his three-point shooting varied, with a 40 percent shooting season with Arizona, and a 29% shooting from three the following year at Baylor.
After being undrafted, Akinjo ended up with the Atlanta Hawks for Summer League, where he averaged just 3.7 points over his three games in Las Vegas. After his brief stint with Atlanta, Akinjo signed with the Westchester Knicks on October 14th. The results seem to be encouraging from the start.
Akinjo started off his G League career with a double-double, finishing with a modest 13 points on 6-14 from the field along with 10 assists. He only attempted 4 threes in that game and connected on one of them but made the most of his offense in the mid-range. Akinjo’s ability to get to his spots and create shot opportunities for himself and his teammates is something that jumps 0ff the tape when watching his G League performances.
If you think Akinjo had a noticeable performance with his opening-night double-double, you will be impressed by his absolute explosion in game two. In the second game against the Maine Celtics, the Baylor/Arizona/Georgetown prospect had another impressive playmaking performance assisting his teammates 9 times. The main story, however… is the 40 points that Akinjo contributed on an efficient 15-23 from the field.
40 PTS 🔥 9 AST 🔥 5 3PT
— NBA G League (@nbagleague) November 6, 2022
The word “shifty” is what will most often be used to describe Akinjo’s game. With an elite first step, Akinjo has the ability to get into the lane and probe defenses, allowing him to contribute as both a scorer and passer when he is able to get beyond the first layer of the defense and rely on his IQ and decision-making at the moment. His playmaking ability is good if not great, with impressive facilitation and passing chops.
The offensive-friendly style of the NBA’s developmental affiliate should allow Akinjo to create offense for himself and others and he will be less limited by his size at this level. Akinjo’s offensive firepower may hinge on his ability to shoot consistently from beyond the arc, but a quick first step and his ability to attack the basket give him a chance to be effective.
— Westchester Knicks (@wcknicks) November 6, 2022
Akinjo pushed the tempo and led the G League Knicks in transition with outlet passes as well as dribbling ahead to take advantage of opportunities before defenses are set. That is one of the many ways he was able to probe the defenses and get deep inside to create shots for himself or others. He was able to manipulate pick-and-roll defenses with that quick first step in order to create space for himself. When defenses attached to him because of that space, he showed the ability to hit the roll man for easy baskets.
Along with the repertoire of three-pointers and mid-range shooting, Akinjo showed extremely tough finishing. Smaller guards will have to show their ability to “score amongst the trees,” but Akinjo’s nifty footwork and agility allow him to get to those shots and complete them over the post defenders in magnificent fashion.
Just two games into his Westchester Knicks career and James Akinjo is a play to monitor, thanks to his offensive production. With his playmaking and ability to get into the paint, the former Baylor Bear is making his mark on Westchester’s offense. Still, his shooting remains. If Akinjo can get back to the 40 percent shooting he was at Arizona, that changes his ability to contribute at the next level.
Regardless of his future as a New York Knicks, Akinjo’s hard work and consistent effort level are worthy of acknowledgment. He is an exciting player to watch, and one that is easy to root for. If he ever gets an opportunity in the big leagues, there is no doubt that he would instantly become a fan favorite. Until that time, I will keep you updated on how he is performing in Westchester and we can all keep rooting for him together.