What did we learn from soaking in a Westchester Knicks game?
Last night’s 104-95 victory over the Windy City Bulls marked the Westchester Knicks’ seventh win in their first ten games to begin the season, good for first place in the G League’s Atlantic Division. The high-octane match up featured numerous former NCAA stars on both teams, such as Trey Burke, Isaiah Hicks, Nigel Hayes, Ryan Arcidiacono, and even Ron Baker, who was recently demoted. It was a college basketball fan’s dream to be in attendance yesterday and I was fortunate enough to not only watch the game, but to hear from some of the players and coaching staff during the pregame and postgame media sessions.
The gist of the what I was able to gather the previous evening during my time with the players was that they were grateful for the opportunity to be able to play basketball on a professional level but are always trying to work toward a goal of getting the call up to the big leagues. The soft spoken Trey Burke, who has had stints in the NBA before, reiterated that notion last night. “I’m focused on winning here and showcasing my talents so I can once again reach my goal of being in the NBA,” the Michigan standout said.
It’s no secret to players, coaches, and fans that the G League isn’t the ultimate goal for these players. Every single one wants to be in the NBA at some point. Few players (and coaches) have a much more realistic shot than others, like Burke. These guys aren’t making much money and aren’t getting the notoriety they once got in college. Therefore, they give maximum effort in order to push toward a potential promotion to the bigs. Effort is something that sometimes lacks in the NBA, but in the G League, there is no shortage of it, based on my observation, and that itself makes for a quality product. “Everyone down here is hungry for the next opportunity,” former Wisconsin forward Nigel Hayes of the DubKnicks chimed in regarding the level of competition in the G League. “Everyone plays hard, which has pushed me and made me a better player,” Hayes added.
My focus last night was more on the big picture, as opposed to just analyzing the results of the game in a vacuum. By honing in on that, I was able to make quite a few observations pertaining to the DubKnicks organization, how they’re run as well as the players who could potentially make an impact going forward in the Association:
Trey Burke belongs in the NBA
Based on last night’s performance, it is evident that the DubKnicks are a team with a handful of guys who have a realistic shot at playing in the NBA for someone this season. The “big four” Knicks (Burke, Hayes, Hicks, and Kornet) were awesome last night and scored 89 of the 105 points. Each of them looked comfortable and more importantly looked like they belong at the professional level, especially Burke.
Burke poured in 29 points and dished out nine assists last night and beat every Windy City defender off of the dribble. Burke displayed a ton of similarities in his game that made him so great at the University of Michigan. His ability to handle the ball, coupled with his ability to penetrate and finish creatively around the rim, makes him a tough match up for even the fleetest of foot. The knock on Burke is that he is too small to have much staying power in the NBA and that he takes some ill-advised shots, which both may be true. Regardless, the 25-year-old has made a decent impact in the NBA previously averaging 13 points per game his first two seasons as a member of the Utah Jazz.
In my Westchester Knicks season preview, I stated Burke should’ve been in the pros back then and there’s even more of a case now. On the Knicks roster, he would definitely be an upgrade over Ramon Sessions and Jarrett Jack and he would bring even more youth to a team on the rise. I don’t believe Burke has the ceiling of Frank Ntilikina, however, Burke could be a quality interchangable piece at the point guard position, as he offers more on the offensive end then Ntilikina at this juncture of their careers. In a season that is suddenly looking more and more bleak playoff-wise for the Knicks, it can’t hurt to give Burke a shot.
Isaiah Hicks/Luke Kornet could be the defensive answer down low
Hicks looked like a man amongst boys last night, dominating offensively with a 32-point effort on 14-of-16 from the field. Despite the offensive outburst, Hicks has never been known for his offense and most likely will not be a force on that end if he makes it to the NBA.
What impressed me about Hicks, though, watching him at UNC and last night as well, is his ability to navigate the paint and use his body to his advantage. Hicks is undersized for his position at 6’8″ but is extremely crafty and fundamentally sound defensively and knows how to position himself where he can grab rebounds and swat shots. Hicks’ motor is unbelievably high as well and is someone who constantly is on attack mode, not afraid to scrap with bigger bodies down low. Hicks last night did whatever he pleased and made a fool of anyone trying to get in his way.
Kornet on the other hand, is a completely different player than Hicks. Kornet as a seven-footer is much more slender. Due to his tremendous length, Kornet is more adept at blocking shots, once blocking 10 shots in a game while at Vanderbilt (!!) What doesn’t appear on Kornet’s stat sheet, however, is the amount of shots he’s able to alter, even if he doesn’t record the block.
Hicks and even Kornet have decent shots to get a chance in the NBA this season and could be difference makers. Willy Hernangómez looks lost defensively most of the time and Enes Kanter is not known for his ability to guard down low. While both Hicks and Kornet aren’t quite the offensive players Kanter and Hernangoméz are, the DubKnicks studs most certainly possess superior defensive skills and could be effective in small segments this season for the Knickerbockers.
Coach Miller’s short rotation
Another takeaway from last night’s contest was the limited number of players who got game action for the DubKnicks. Only eight players saw the floor last night, and I’m not sure of the reason. Maybe because it was a close contest? I don’t know, but based on what I’ve seen from Westchester and the coaching staff is that they usually find everyone minutes on the court.
This year’s team is different in that they have four fringe NBA players and maybe Coach Miller’s mindset is to get them as much exposure as possible so they can showcase themselves for the next level. I unfortunately didn’t get the opportunity to ask Coach what is reasoning was behind the short rotation, as his media availability was very brief. However, Miller did mention that he was “proud of the all around contributions” from Monday’s contest. It will be interesting to see if Coach Miller is changing his rotation philosophy, but based on the results from last night, I wouldn’t anticipate it. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. If the DubKnicks keep winning and the starters continue to play well, it’s going to be hard for these bench guys to prove themselves, but that’s just the nature of the business.
Overall, any Knicks fan should be encouraged by the hot start by the DubKnicks (7-3) and more importantly, and excited by the potential NBA talent they could be sending up this season. You never know who will make the most of this opportunity, show out and get the call up. Once again, I would highly recommend checking out a Westchester Knicks game if you are in the New York Metro area. The talent level throughout the G League as a whole is incredible and watching supremely gifted guys play the game with such intensity is a treat to watch.