The Knicks have talked about getting better on defense all off season and so far in this year’s Summer League, its working. New York improved to 2-0 in Las Vegas with a 76-66 defensive handling of the Los Angeles Lakers (1-2) on Monday night. Once again, Cleanthony Early led the team in scoring with 13 points along with Langston Galloway, who lived at the free throw line to tie the team high.
The Knicks jumped out to an early lead using tenacious defense that forced the Lakers into twenty turnovers and 30% shooting on the night. That allowed New York to control most of the game and ward off a late comeback bid by L.A. The offense also looked very cohesive for stretches with a lot of decisive player movement and passing en route to a team total 17 assists. The guards did a better job of pushing the tempo in transition and getting early offense on back door cuts, drives to the rack and kick outs. Let’s take a closer look at the individual performances:
Jerian Grant: Let’s start with the floor general, Mr. Grant. We saw in his first summer league game what kind of impact he can have even if the shot isn’t falling. On Monday night, Jerian was up to his usual tricks, recording a game-high eight assists, four steals and literally whipping passes all over the place. He had a better scoring night as well, finishing with 10 points on 3-8 shooting and 3-3 from the line with one three pointer made.
Grant has that kind of game that just seems to gel with anyone, as he and Early among others are already building chemistry. Three turnovers isn’t all that bad either for a rookie point guard in 28 minutes of play. Another strong outing from Jerian Grant as he hands-down outplayed number two overall pick D’angelo Russell and has the Timmy Jr. trade looking better each and every day.
Kristaps Porzingis: The more you watch Porzingis its easy to see that he has very solid fundamentals and a great understanding of the game. He’s rarely out position on offense or defense and had another encouraging performance against the Lakers. In 18 minutes he finished with nine points on 3-5 shooting, three rebounds, one steal and a blocked shot. Kristaps’ only real disappointment was going 3-7 from the stripe.
On offense the Latvian shows good patience and body control and the ability to use both hands around the rim. Porzingis also displayed his soft touch and the ability to put the ball on the deck when he drove and nailed a floater while getting fouled. He’s a very willing screener and makes timely cuts to get good position in the post. The obvious offensive flaw is once again his strength, as he was pushed back twice when trying to face up against Tariq Black, forcing an awkward kick out pass and ugly fade away.
Defensively he is mobile enough to hedge the guard and push him out on a ball screen and get back to his original man. He also altered at least two or three shots which won’t show up on the stat sheet but impact the game. Kristaps was bullied to the hoop by Julius Randle at least once but had some nice contests at the rim even though he was whistled for two questionable calls and five fouls overall. Rebounding is still an issue as the 7-footer doesn’t really assert himself enough yet. So far both rookies are looking good and the two will create a lot of space to operate in the pick-and-roll this year.
Cleanthony Early: For the second straight game Early led the Knicks in scoring with 13 points on 6-13 shooting from the field and made 1-2 from the line. He also impressed with nine rebounds, while chipping in three assists and a steal. The second-year player was very aggressive on offense and is moving great without the ball, especially on backdoor cuts for layups.
Cleanthony does need to improve his ball handling, but he still had a couple athletics finishes in transition with a nice tip in off a rebound. Additionally, Early was not a liability on defense either which was something Derek Fisher stressed following Sunday’s win against the Spurs. This kid looks poised to be a contributor for New York this season.
Langston Galloway: On paper Galloway played very well and I thought he could have had an even better game. The point guard tied the team-high with both 13 points and nine rebounds to go along with 8-9 from the free throw line. Langston also had a nice transition finish but overall struggled from the field shooting 2-11.
Only recording one assist with three turnovers, Galloway needs to improve his court vision as he had streaking teammates wide open multiple times which could have resulted in an easy dunk. Overall though, the St. Joe’s kid is proving he can play.
Alex Kirk: Clyde Frazier couldn’t help himself once Captain Kirk started hitting shots. The 6-11 center from New Mexico came out gunning on offense and showed a nice face up game along with a soft touch. He finished with 10 points on 5-9 shooting with seven rebounds and looked very deliberate and comfortable on both sides of the floor.
His lack of athleticism limits his potential, but known as a good college defender with his size, Kirk could have an outside chance of the Knicks’ roster if he continues to play that well.
Maurice Ndour: Another big man who impressed was rookie Maurice Ndour who totaled eight points, eight rebounds and three blocked shots on 4-10 shooting from the field in 26 minutes. With that he showed a decent mid-range jump shot, but its Ndour’s hustle and athleticism that really stood out.
He was all over the court defensively and finished a couple high-flying alley-oops. New York’s front office had to like what they saw from Maurice on Monday.
Ricky Ledo: Maybe its just me but I really like the way this kid plays. He shows the ability to consistently penetrate, has a pretty nasty spin move and euro step and can pass the rock. Ledo finished with four points on 1-3 shooting from the field, hit both of his free throws and showed great athleticism on a dunk in only 14 minutes of action. The skill and physical abilities seem to be there but he needs to take care of the ball better and not hold onto it, as four turnovers will have you riding the pine.
Thanasis Antetokounmpo: Thanasis had a few athletic plays including a big block and slam, but he continues to show very little on offense in the way of half court sets go. He scored four points and had one assist and a steal in only 12 minutes of play. His athleticism is undeniable, so best hope will be for him to turn into a lock down defender to make the roster.