How have the DubKnicks looked since the departure of their best player, Trey Burke, and key contributor Nigel Hayes?
As currently constituted, the Westchester Knicks sit atop the standings with a G League-best 21–11 record, despite the loss of Trey Burke, who was finally promoted to the big boy Knicks squad. The subtraction of Burke was expected by many to derail a promising 2017–18 campaign for Westchester. However, since his final game on January 7, the DubKnicks have posted a 3–2 record including some stellar performances from guys like Xavier-Rathan Mayes, Damyean Dotson, Luke Kornet and Isaiah Hicks.
On Thursday, I had the chance to experience first hand, the new-look Westchester Knicks. The victory over the local rival Long Island Nets was a solid performance from the opening tip to the final buzzer for the DubKnicks. All around contributions from the aforementioned players propelled them to a 98–90 victory.
The consistency I saw from the team throughout the game was what impressed me the most. Often times, basketball teams endure too many peaks and valleys, which usually don’t result in much stable success. The L.I. Nets are a good team and put up a good fight, despite not having many notable names on the roster besides Isaiah Whitehead. When the Nets went on mini-runs, Westchester kept its composure and was able to fight through and win a close contest at the Westchester County Center in White Plains, New York, roughly 20 miles north of the the city. The DubKnicks seem to play a level brand of basketball, and it was a result of excellent preparation and hard work. What went into the DubKnicks’ victory versus the Nets and the former’s success throughout the season?
Credit Coach Mike Miller
The overall success of the Westchester Knicks this season is a huge testament to Coach Mike Miller, who has had to work with a roster that has lacked continuity and has had many moving parts. It goes without saying, but being a G League coach is one of the most difficult jobs to have in basketball, due to the constant roster turnover, as well as the fact that most of these guys end goal is not be in the G League. Despite the clear obstacles, Coach Miller has been able to get his guys to play cohesively and with tremendous effort. Miller has willed his team to embody and buy in to the “next man up” mentality, and recently that mindset has been emblematic based on the team’s performance without Burke and Hayes.
“These guys all play hard and also want to play for each other,” Miller emphasized about his players’ efforts during the postgame media session last Wednesday.
Losing one of the most prolific offensive players in the league in Trey Burke, as well as solid contributor Nigel Hayes (who has since signed a 10-day contract with the Lakers) is a tough blow, but Miller has been able to figure it out so far and get his guys to grind.
Another statistic not to overlook is the DubKnicks’ 13–3 road record. Although home court advantage isn’t as much of a factor in the smaller G League arenas, the team still has to travel frequently and put up with opposing crowds. Maybe Mike Miller can teach Jeff Hornacek and his unit a thing or two about winning games on the road. Miller and the DubKnicks’ stellar away record is a hallmark of a solid team that gets their business done on the road.
XRM Makes Strong Case For Promotion
Coming out of Florida State, Xavier Rathan-Mayes was an undrafted free agent who prospect analysts expected to be a fringe NBA player at best. Coming out of college, critics bemoaned Canadian-born Rathan-Mayes’ erratic offensive play, specifically his inconsistent three-point shooting, as well as his diminutive size. We all knew Xavier could score—evidenced by a 30-point performance as a Seminole in five minutes a few years back. XRM was a stat-sheet stuffer to a degree in college and one of his main strengths was his versatility. Boston College coach Jim Christian referred to Rathan-Mayes as the “straw that stirs the drink,” according to the Orlando Sentinel. In my opinion, that is the perfect description of him, and it definitely fits the bill for what he has done so far in Westchester.
XRM has been balling all year to the tune of 15.5 points, 6.8 assists, and 6.7 rebounds per game this season (per G League/NBA Stats) with a few triple doubles thrown in there as well. As the season has progressed, Xavier has improved, as seen in the graphic below. Since Burke has departed, XRM has been the go to guy and has established himself as the best player on the team:
What also has impressed me regarding XRM’s performance, though, has been his defensive tenacity. In the times I have watched the DubKnicks this season, as well as the hand full of times I’ve seen him play as a FSU Seminole, he always seemed to be the type of guy who was a pestilence on defense, which is what every good team needs to be successful (e.g. Draymond Green). The reason Rathan-Mayes could land in the NBA is due to his defensive toughness.
He is never going to “wow” you with his abilities, but XRM has been incredible this year and has proven to be an excellent all-around contributor to a team that needed someone to step up when top playmaker Trey Burke was lost.
XRM definitely has the ability to lead the DubKnicks the rest of the way and is poised to do so, stating “I look forward to playing my best ball during the final month few months of the season.”
Two-Way Top Dogs
The DubKnicks big men tandem of Luke Kornet and Isaiah Hicks has been excellent, and the two have successfully held the fort down in the paint for the entire season. Both of these guys are on two-way contracts for New York and are undoubtedly hungry to make it to the NBA.
Hicks and Kornet complement each other well, with Hicks being a more physically imposing paint dweller, while Kornet is more of a slender stretch-four who can hit perimeter shots. Both are averaging north of 15 points per game this season and are rebounding at a high level, too.
Vanderbilt’s Kornet and North Carolina’s Hicks were granted exposure to the big stage while playing prime time college basketball has evidently prepared them well for the next level. Watching them the other night, you could see the toughness and the attention to detail that both of these guys play with. Neither of them are super athletic or going to dazzle you with their physical tools, but both Hicks and Kornet are able to overcome that with fundamentally sound basketball on a consistent basis.
Last Wednesday, Hicks only scored four points and was largely ineffective scoring the ball. Despite his poor output, he contributed in other ways with four assists, two steals, and three blocked shots. I know these numbers don’t jump off the page by any stretch, it proves that Hicks can be effective and valuable without dominating offensively like I saw last time I attended a DubKnicks game where he scored 32 points. This trait is something the Knicks should keep an eye on when looking for the next guy to call up. They could use someone like Hicks, who is constantly grinding and possesses a high motor.
As for Kornet, I don’t envision him coming up to the bigs this year, simply because him and Kristaps Porzingis do a lot of the same things and have a similar approach to the game. Regardless of whether he makes it or not, Luke is a nice prospect to have in the G League as someone with length, perimeter shooting ability, as well as an ability to block shots. Kornet on Thursday was impressive with his 18 points, four rebounds, and four assists and seems to have a natural feel to the game.
At this juncture of the season, you have to be encouraged, or pleasantly surprised, as to what we have seen from the Westchester Knicks. Not only have they given Trey Burke a chance to showcase himself and finally make it back to the Association, but fringe NBA players like Hicks, Dotson (New York’s second round pick in 2017), and XRM have won so far this season and have had the opportunity to work on their respective games. I’m looking forward to watching this team throughout the rest of the season and see if they can maintain the best record in the G League and keep giving these young guns an opportunity to show the basketball world what they got.