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Six things to keep an eye on during the Knicks Summer League



Six things to keep an eye on during the Knicks Summer League

As was reported here last week, the Knicks will be kicking off their 2024 Summer League with a 5:00 p.m. ET tip-off against the Charlotte Hornets on July 13.

With the highly anticipated exhibition matches set to commence in just a few days, here are a few things fans should keep an eye on.

1. Tyler Kolek’s ability to run an offense

Last season, it was clear that the Knicks lacked creation and stability on the offensive end whenever Jalen Brunson wasn’t on the court. Tom Thibodeau attempted to remedy the situation by trying out Deuce McBride, Josh Hart, and Alec Burks as de facto point guards in the second unit, but it never clicked.

McBride, despite taking significant steps as a scorer, still struggled to create for himself or for others. Hart is amazing as a secondary playmaker shining when asked to make the connecting plays, but generating open looks for the team out of nothing isn’t his strong suit. Burks can, in essence, create shots for himself, but that was more because he never saw a shot he didn’t like. And because of that, he seldom created for others last season.

In Kolek, the Knicks now have a true playmaking point guard. Last season, Kolek showcased the ability to continuously get downhill with his quick first step and was also a solid shooter off the dribble as well. Those specific skill sets, in conjunction with his great passing and decision making, should give him the tools to be a solid playmaker at some point during his rookie season. And while a few games in Summer League don’t make, break, or define anyone’s career, or even their rookie season, it will be interesting to see just how Kolek runs the Summer League team’s offense.

2. The long awaited return of Rokas Jokubaitis

Jokubaitis may be an unfamiliar name for a lot of fans outside of the Knicks and rightfully so. Honestly, there are even Knicks fans who don’t know much about the Lithuanian point guard. But he’s one of the best personifications of the term, “if you know, you know”.

Since being drafted by the Knicks in the second round in 2021, Jokubaitis has only played 29 minutes across three Summer League games but he’s shown promise overseas.

His stats (15.2 PPG, 5.6 APG, and 3 RPG on 56.6% shooting from the field 48.6% shooting from 3) and measurables don’t wow you per se, but he’s had his believers for a reason. He possesses a nice combination of solid outside shooting, craftiness, and passing while being a serviceable defender and he’s played in the Spanish Liga ACB which is often considered one of, if not, the best domestic leagues outside of the NBA.

If the mythical figure that is Jokubaitis finally comes to the NBA, he could end up being in a positional battle with the aforementioned Kolek, making his performance in Summer League a must watch for Knicks fans.

3. Can Pacôme Dadiet show off his upside?

Given Dadiet’s age and the team’s incredible depth on the wings, a lot would have to go wrong for Dadiet to get real significant minutes for a Knicks’ squad looking to contend for a championship. Because of that, Dadiet won’t necessarily have too much pressure. It’s not like he’s a lottery pick trying to carry the hopes and future of an entire franchise and its fanbase.

That being said, both the Knicks and their fans will want to at least see glimpses of the French rookie’s upside and potential. Can he tease those watching with his silky smooth high-release jump shot, downhill attacking, off-ball movement, and defensive upside?

4. Ariel Hukporti’s skill level

Hukporti, who was taken with the last pick of last month’s draft, is a raw developing big man who didn’t go to college in the States, or play in one of the major leagues in Europe. And while the NBL (the professional basketball league in Australia) is a quickly developing one, questions about his overall talent and the competition he went up against are still there.

Can Hukporti make it solely based on hustle and motor? Has he started to develop some new skills since last season? Was part of his lack of showcased skill due to his team or role? We don’t really have a clear answer to that right now. As the Knicks rookie both fans, and analysts know the least about, it will be interesting to see just how he looks during Summer League. And the good news for him is that he could potentially get a lot of minutes to impress us given how thin the projected Knicks Summer League roster looks at the center position.

5. Has Jacob Toppin made any improvements?

Nobody expected Toppin to get any real minutes last season and he may get even less this season. The Knicks’ ten-man rotation is pretty much set in stone and they head into the season even deeper than they were last year. That being said, Toppin is in his second season now so it’d be nice to see him help lead this Summer League team both on and off the court to see if he has any real future both in the league and on the Knicks.

6. Kevin McCullar Jr.’s versatility, impact, and most importantly, shooting

McCullar Jr. is a Jack of all trades, master of none, Swiss-army-knife-player akin to the aforementioned Hart. He can defend multiple positions at a high level, slash, finish in transition, be a connector as a secondary or tertiary playmaker, and he can rebound. That makes him one, a great fit for Thibodeau, and two, a great plug and play contributor for a Knicks team that already has shooting and creation.

That should make him a fun watch during Summer League where he’ll likely get to shine by showing off a little bit of everything. In fact, it wouldn’t surprise me if it’s McCullar Jr. and not the first-round pick Dadiet, or the hyped-up Kolek and Jokubaitis, that looks the most impressive during Summer League.

That being said, the shooting remains a question mark for the former Kansas Jayhawk. He is coming off of a very solid season shooting the three ball last season but his shot still lacks fluidity and there are still some who wonder if his improvements from deep last season were a fluke. It may become easy to be in awe of all the little things he does, but if he can’t shoot the ball well enough, it could limit the minutes he plays and the kind of role he plays.

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