By John Schmeelk
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It’s Las Vegas summer league basketball. Who cares, right? Well, at least this year, Knicks fans should care because the team is being coached by Derek Fisher and might have as many as eight players that could be on the roster this fall or next season.
Fisher is basically going to be coaching the Knicks minus Carmelo Anthony, Jose Calderon, and the team’s offseason free agent pickups.
Here’s a look at the players to watch this summer.
Kristaps Porzingis: This is the main attraction, the fourth overall pick in the draft that most fans haven’t seen, spare some YouTube highlight and scouting videos. There was some worry he wouldn’t play this summer due to a hip injury suffered during a predraft workout with the Knicks, but it appears he’ll be ready to go for the first game on July 11. This will be a good acclimation period for Porzingis, who needs to get a taste of NBA physicality. The D-league is very physical, as players are trying to do everything they can to make a team, and players are allowed nearly unlimited fouls. The summer league will also give Porzingis the first taste of the triangle offense and playing under Fisher.
Things to watch: He’s going to shoot well, but what else can he do? Can he post up at all, drive or finish near the basket? Defensively, can he body up with someone and grab some rebounds? Will he protect the rim with any sort of consistency? It’s everything but the shooting Knicks fans should be concerned about. If he plays well enough and carries it into the fall, he could earn a starting spot.
Jerian Grant: This is the opening act. Grant was the Knicks’ second first-round pick, acquired from the Hawks for Tim Hardaway Jr. At 22 and a five-year collegian, Grant should be able to adjust quickly to the NBA game. He is 6-foot-5 and can play both guard spots. He will fight for a starting spot in training camp, and this will be a good start for him. Like Porzingis, it will also give him a chance to start learning the triangle.
Things to watch: Can he get to the basket and finish consistently after taking physical contact from much bigger and taller players than he played in college? Will his defensive effort be consistent throughout games? Finally, will he play more like a true point guard or a combo guard? He took some long jumpers early during the shot clock at Notre Dame, and that’s something that will drive a coach nuts.
Louis Labeyrie: Acquired via a cash trade on draft night in 2014, Labeyrie played in France last year, and is very likely to do so again this season. One of two of the Knicks’ draft-and-stash players, he will have a chance to show what he can do this summer. If he impresses he should be at the Garden in the next couple of years. He’s 6-10 and about 200 pounds and has been more of a role player in France. He is 23 and Knicks fans should enjoy seeing what he might be able to bring to the court in the future.
Things to watch: This is just a matter of seeing what he can do and what kind of game he has. Is there a fit in the American game with the Knicks? We’ll find out.
Thanasis Antetokuonmpo: His far more accomplished brother, Giannis, has already proved his NBA chops. Thanasis has not. He showed defensive potential on the Knicks’ D-League team last year, but was inconsistent and fouled a lot. He doesn’t have much of an offensive game. At 6-7 and 215 pounds with a 7-foot wingspan, he could be a valuable wing defender.
Things to watch: Has he developed any type of offensive game? Will his defense be more consistent? If he shows those two things he should be on the Knicks this season.
Ricky Ledo: He has a partial guarantee on his contract this season, and has the type of offensive ability to score from the wing that the Knicks desperately need. At 6-7, he can score, pass, drive and shoot, but his physical skills have never been the problem. He has to show he has what it takes between the ears to make it in the NBA.
Things to watch: Does he play within the system? Does he play smart? Does he pass? Is he a good teammate and locker room guy? If he grows up he could be a factor for the Knicks offensively this year. The summer league could be the type of scenario where his physical skills could dominate inferior competition.
Cleanthony Early: He is further down on this list only because Knicks fans have a pretty good feel for his game after seeing him play in in the NBA this past season. He was proclaimed the steal of last year’s draft and then proceeded to have a rough rookie season. He needs to show improvement in most facets of his game, including shooting, defense, and passing. He could be an important rotational player if he makes a big jump in his sophomore season.
Things to watch: This is a guy I’m not watching for any one particular thing. Instead, I’m watching to see how comfortable he looks. Does he look like the better player on the floor? Does he seem like he doesn’t belong in the summer league because of a greater skill level? I would like to see him take over a game or two over the course of the week.
Travis Wear: He showed a nice shooting touch with the Knicks last year, but struggled rebounding and defensively, despite being 6-10. He will have to play better to earn a roster spot again this season. He has the tools to play the triangle, but they haven’t translated into production yet.
Things to watch: Can he stay healthy playing relatively major minutes? He should be able to score at this level, but whether he will defend will be a better question.
Langston Galloway: He is last on this list because the Knicks know what they have in Galloway. He is a solid player than can shoot, plays hard on defense and is a good team guy offensively. It will be a huge upset if he is not on the team next season.
Things to watch: I would like to see him run the team and see if he can be a pure point guard. If he can run a team, he could be a nice two-way player, since we already know he can defend and shoot.
The rest of the roster: Jimmy Baron, TJ Bray, Ovidijus Galdikas, Alex Kirk, Maurice Ndour, and Ben Strong. One of these players is likely to surprise during summer league play. We’ll see who it is.
The Knicks play Saturday at 1:30 p.m., Monday at 5:30 p.m., and Tuesday at 2:30 p.m. before the playoffs start. The games will be on MSG.
Follow John on Twitter at @Schmeelk