First-round selection Kevin Knox led the Summer League version of the ‘Bockers to their first win in Vegas over Trae Young and the Atlanta Hawks on Saturday.
The New York Knicks’ youngest talents took to the court for the first time in the team’s Summer League opener against the Atlanta Hawks. The SummerKnicks were able to give fans still reeling from last season’s 6–21 post-Kristaps run a fleeting a taste of victory—a low-stakes victory, no doubt, but at this point most of us will take what we can get. It almost feels strange celebrating a win without any lingering tank-related guilt, but here we are. SummerKnicks win, 91–89!
Despite the relative inexperience of their squad, the young S-Knicks were still able to stay focused, especially on the defensive end. On offense, it was the youngest Knick, Kevin Knox, who was able to shine the brightest. Knox showcased his athleticism, well-developed shooting form, and ability to absolutely jam the basketball on his way to an impressive 22-point performance. Mitchell Robinson also put in good work for the class of 2018, contributing four blocks and establishing himself as a versatile defensive presence. Strong individual performances allowed the whole squad to stay involved and close out their first game.
The SummerKnicks established their solid defensive focus on the very first possession of the game, using their length to force the Hawks to run the shot clock down and settle for a contested shot. Robinson showcased his knack for staying active on D early and often, pestering attackers and eating up space with his wide frame. Frank Ntilikina took three and a half quarters to warm up offensively but hit the ground running on the defensive end, as is his M.O. Tasked with guarding the explosive Trae Young, Ntilikina showed flashes of his elite defensive skill set—most memorably when he stripped Trae in the backcourt and immediately drew a foul.
Aggressive Frank flustering Trae Young: pic.twitter.com/HfZr2wDSIu
— The Knicks Wall (@TheKnicksWall) July 7, 2018
The SummerHawks never quite found their shooting touch in the first quarter, posting an abysmal 20 field-goal percentage as a team. The SummerKnicks didn’t fare too much better from the floor, shooting 36 percent as a team, per NBA Stats. Perhaps that’s why Kevin Knox decided to mark his entrance with a very high percentage and very emphatic shot. Not just a flush, not just a jam, but a slam freakin’ dunk. Knox took it to Atlanta early on, showcasing a talent for destroying the rim and drawing fouls. With Ntilikina taking a passive approach to creating offense for himself, Knox took the reigns and went to work.
Thankfully, Knox wasn’t the only source of buckets in the opening quarters. Damyean Dotson, given the “ultra-greenlight” by David Fizdale, proceeded to fire away from deep, and Troy Williams out-hustled everyone else on the court to get his. Dotson would end the game with 13 points, shooting 3-for-8 from beyond the arc. Williams kept hustling his way to an impressive 17 points off the pine, shooting 58 percent from the floor. Despite overall positive play from the S-Knicks during the second quarter, the Hawks were able to stay in it, setting themselves up for a 12-2 run to end the half.
The SummerKnicks started the second half with more of the same excellent defensive focus, which helped assuage my fears of a typical Knicks third-quarter collapse. Towards the end of the second quarter, Damyean Dotson was recorded on the sidelines leading a timeout talk about anticipation and alertness on the defensive end, which was music to my ears. All the while, Robinson was seemingly blocking shots left and right. It seems like these young ‘Bockers really believe in the value of D, which is perfectly in line with the defense-first culture that Fizdale, Mills, and Perry are trying to instill.
?GET THAT WEAK STUFF OUTTA HERE
Mitchell Robinson's third block! pic.twitter.com/Nf7J2aozK0
— The Knicks Wall (@TheKnicksWall) July 7, 2018
While I’m fully on board with a defense-first vision for the Knicks, TKW’s Ty Jordan has raised very apt concerns that such an approach is ultimately limiting. For Frank Ntilikina, this was absolutely the case. Frank finished the night an anemic 2-for-7 from the floor and seemed startlingly passive for a sophomore player playing in (and against) a team lacking in NBA experience. Frank hardly put the ball on the floor and often deferred to two-way signee Allonzo Trier, who contributed 15 points and took nearly twice as many shots as Frank. Hopefully Frank takes Fizdale’s words to heart and ratchets up the offensive intensity.
Down the stretch in the fourth quarter it was Kevin Knox and Mitchell Robinson leading the way. Knox showcased some of his offensive arsenal, shimmying and shaking to lose a defender. Robinson continued to rack up blocks and displayed a surprisingly nice touch on offense—making some great catches in traffic. Frank Ntilikina upped the intensity somewhat, and the SummerKnicks were able to close out the game even as the Hawks continued to threaten.
There was a lot to take in during the course of this first summer league clash. Frank didn’t quite embarrass Trae like I was hoping for, but Kevin Knox and Mitchell Robinson were seriously impressive. If Knox already looks too good for Summer League at 18 years young, I cannot wait to see what kind of player we have on our hands by the end of this season. It can be easy to read too deeply into summer seague play, but the young Knicks made a statement of intent tonight. They want to play with grit and intensity on the defensive end, and they want to yam the dang basketball. I’m for it.