New faces will emerge in the desert for the New York Knicks as the youngins take the Las Vegas Summer League—expect RJ Barrett and more.
Vegas, baby! Vegas!
Forget about free agency. Forget about Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving and that little team across the East River. Forget about Kawhi Leonard. All of that is irrelevant. The only thing that matters is who is here now.
While Knicks jokes have been fired off like an endless Fourth of July fireworks display, the Baby ‘Bockers have been somewhat forgotten outside of the fanbase. The Las Vegas Summer League is an opportunity for some revenge on all these Knicks wisecracks.
Last year Kevin Knox and Mitchell Robinson gave Knick fans hope. This year the duo is back, along with Allonzo Trier, and top pick R.J. Barrett. It’s not championship or bust per se, but a poor showing in Vegas would be one final groin shot to cap off the summer.
Thankfully this group seems to carry just as much pride as talent. Let’s take a look at what to look out for.
Late-season additions from last year Kadeem Allen and Henry Ellenson will play, as well as second-round pick Ignas Brazdeikis and undrafted signings Amir Hinton and V.J. King. Two-way signee Kris Wilkes will not play due to an illness.
What we want to see from the core four (Barrett, Robinson, Kevin Knox, and Allonzo Trier) is chemistry. Which, from the limited footage, seems to be working out just fine.
Unlike most teams in this tournament, a large portion of the Knicks’ roster will be playing major minutes in the regular season. Barrett, Knox and Robinson will likely start from day one. Ironing out the wrinkles in lower stakes games could be a godsend.
New Faces of the Franchise
R.J. Barrett said he loves when the pressure is on and loves the big stage. His word will be put to the test from the jump. With the team whiffing on Durant, Barrett and Mitchell Robinson are now elevated to the two faces of the franchise.
Barrett will debut against his brother-in-arms (and the guy most Knick fans wanted) Zion Williamson. A strong debut will set the fanbase ablaze with excitement, similar to what Kevin Knox did in his debut.
With reduced pressure, it would be nice to see the team to utilize Barrett in a variety of ways. Start him out at the 2, where he figures to play a large share of his minutes this season, but experiment with him at the point. His playmaking is an underrated part of his game. If he shows promise as a lead guard, it could unlock versatility for the team to go after names like Bradley Beal in the trade market.
Barrett has the strength and confidence to take on any challenge, as his time at Duke showed. Beyond playing him in the backcourt, seeing how he handles larger assignments at the 3 or 4 would give David Fizdale plenty of intel for training camp.
The experimentation extends beyond Barrett to Mitchell Robinson. Mitch has already begun his evolution by switching his number from 26 to 23. He will be asked to take on a larger role this season—the main reason he is reportedly playing two games in Vegas.
When he is on the floor, Mitch should be given free rein on offense. When talking with reporters, Robinson mentioned he was working on his shooting this offseason.
Mitch:— The Knicks Wall (@TheKnicksWall) July 4, 2019
“Been getting a lot of shots up, so hopefully I get to break out the jumpshot”
He then gets asked “from behind the arc?”
Breaking out the jump shot should be at the top of Robinson’s list in his brief summer league stint. Last season he was mostly Mitchell Lobinson.
Which, by the way, he still is:
Adding a jumper to his game will open up the floor considerably. Julius Randle likes to set up shop in the paint. If Mitch can bring his guy out and give Randle more room to operate, the offense could kick into another gear. Seeing some pick-and-pops versus pick-and-rolls might crash Twitter, in addition to putting a Kodak smile on Fizdale, Perry, and Mills.
Taking a Step Forward
Summer League Kevin Knox is the best Kevin Knox. Watching him tear up the strip like was a beautiful thing to watch.
Throwing it back to Kevin Knox’s first points in last year’s Summer League ? pic.twitter.com/9KY884mJ4I— The Knicks Wall (@TheKnicksWall) July 3, 2019
That Kevin Knox did not play nearly as much in the regular season. Facing stronger and wiser opponents played a role, but there were moments where Summer League Knox made a cameo.
KEVIN KNOX ? ON SIMMONS pic.twitter.com/HfGTHhcdqF— The Knicks Wall (@TheKnicksWall) February 14, 2019
Consistency is the area to focus on with Knox. He said he is much stronger, which is a good thing if he plans to bang in the frontcourt. Beyond building up his strength, it’s his shooting that is must take a significant leap. If Barrett is going to succeed as a rookie, spacing with reliable shooting is crucial.
Knox shot a horrific 37% from the floor as a rookie, but did have a respectable percentage from deep at 34.3. That percentage holds more importance with Barrett and Dennis Smith Jr. in the backcourt. Watching how Knox spaces the floor in Vegas will give us a clue as to how ready he is to be a floor spacer.
Allonzo Trier showed the world he should have had his name called on draft night last year. He also proved himself to be viable scoring threat. Trier’s exact role has yet to be determined. He has the scoring prowess to be a sixth man. Improving his playmaking, an area that drew ire from former teammate Tim Hardaway Jr. at times, could help him see more floor time.
One constant in the R.J. and Robinson lob clips early is the person throwing them–Trier. If Fizdale’s lineups have Trier running the show, he could claim the sixth man role as his own. His shooting (39.3% from three last season) will allow him to gel with Barrett from the start, and has already proved to be a good match with Kadeem Allen.
He ran some point last summer league to mixed results. With a year under his belt and job security solid, a step forward for Trier will be a welcome sight to a fan favorite.
Landry Fields Award Race
One of the more exciting parts of the Summer League is someone coming from the clouds to steal the show—and a roster spot. Landry Fields is the most notable player in recent memory to parlay a strong Vegas into a full-time job, so he gets the honor of having the award named after him.
Kris Wilkes could have been the favorite had an illness not sidelined him. Without Wilkes the field is wide open for someone to snatch the spotlight. Here are the contenders.
Kenny Wooten Jr.
The clubhouse leader should be Oregon big man Kenny Wooten Jr., who comes with virtually no expectations and plenty of opportunity. Robinson is reportedly playing in just two games, leaving a ton of open minutes at the 5.
Adding @kennywootenjr to the Knicks SL roster is a fun move. Plays role well.— Spencer (@SKPearlman) June 26, 2019
Defensively: energy big who protects the rim w/great timing and vertical pop
Offensively: energy big who finishes everything in paint (and tries to finish everything w/a dunk)
*not a scouting report pic.twitter.com/6uaHQIOq3K
Wooten is not Mitchell Robinson by any stretch of the imagination, yet his playing style mirrors what we saw from Mitch last year. Wooten is a high-energy player who likes to block shots and dunk everything. Highlight reel plays are the quickest way to any fan’s heart, and Wooten’s style puts him in prime position to do just that.
Barrett is not the only draft pick making his debut. Ignas Brazdeikis will not see much playing time during the regular season if things go right. That leaves Vegas as the time for Iggy to properly introduce himself.
Big fan of the Ignas Brazdeikis pick for the @nyknicks . 6'7, strong (plays bigger than size), smart cutter, really soft touch around rim w/either hand, and a good shooter w/ability to shoot off motion + smart read & replace action. @boxand21 & co. did an awesome job last night pic.twitter.com/9LSp8YLlel— Spencer (@SKPearlman) June 21, 2019
His chemistry with R.J. will help him hit the ground running. His trash talking could incite some fireworks, just as much as his ability to get out and run. The hope is that Iggy will be a floor spacing wing who can thrive in transition. Iggy’s brash style will enhance even the fundamental plays. If he has some highlight reel finishes or big scoring nights, Iggy chants could fill the Garden sooner than expected.
Not much is known about Amir Hinton. He’s a big guard with a lot of scoring potential. He averaged 29.4 points his final year at Shaw University and drew a Dwyane Wade comparison from his coach. Clearly he can get buckets.
It’s not yet known how much time Allen and Trier will get, given their status with the main roster. Hinton, on the other hand, is likely to begin his journey in Westchester, but has the opportunity to put the main roster guys on alert with useful Vegas minutes.
This is the fun pick. According to The Knicks Wall’s resident Mississippi State expert, Stone Strankman, Lamar Peters has in-the-gym range. He was called Parking Lot Peters at Mississippi State, a name that explains itself.
Where you going 12? (PSA March Lamar Peters has arrived) pic.twitter.com/eswXS6bxeP— Dawgs On Top (@DawgBites15) March 15, 2019
Peters is the least likely to have a future with the team. That makes it even more plausible for him to empty the clip while he has the chance. He could share the floor with Hinton a fair amount and create a nice partnership.
The blend of Hinton’s 6-foot-5 frame attacking the rime and the six-foot Peters bombing away from deep could make for a fun Vegas bench mob.