(Edited: 4:19pm 7/21/17 - The initial article referenced the shooting of Robin Lopez, which was meant to be Brooke Lopez)
After just two games in this years’ Summer League in Orlando, the Knicks inked 7’1” Luke Kornet to a 2-way contract with the team. Throughout the five game stretch, Kornet averaged 18.6 minutes and apparently showed the Knicks all they needed to see pretty early. below is a look at what Kornet gave the squad on paper.
Certain things jump off the page, like Kornet’s 41% shooting from 3 on over four attempts per game. Then there’s the dreadful 27% field goal percentage for a guy who’s over seven feet tall. The blocks and rebounds look pretty nice if you were to compute them into per-36 or per-40 statistics, but we will dive deeper into those areas of Kornet’s game shortly.
The most important aspect of Kornet’s game is his jump shot. When people use the term “stretch five”, Kornet is exactly the type of player they’re talking about. Unfortunately for Kornet, when his shot isn’t falling, he becomes a huge liability to keep on the floor. Unlike some current NBA centers like Nikola Jokic and Brooke Lopez, who shoot the ball well from deep but take their time to do so, Kornet’s form is simple, effortless, and fast.
Although the goal is to evaluate Kornet’s Summer League play and not take his collegiate career into account too much, he was an inconsistent shooter throughout his time at Vanderbilt. Clearly, Kornet has the tools to be a very good shooter, but great shooters have little variance in their mechanics from one shot to the next. Luckily for Kornet, his inconsistencies should be an easy fix, but even throughout the five games in summer league, you could see some differences in landing spots, balance, and general lower body action that alter his shooting form.
One thing to take into account going forward is Kornet’s impact in spreading out the defense. When Kornet was on the floor it was clear to the opposing team that he could hurt them from outside. One look at a Kornet jumper and a defense knows not to leave him open on the perimeter. This became a welcomed advantage for the Knicks offense, sometimes dragging opposing centers or power forwards out of the paint, but also creating one-on-one opportunities for other players as defenders refused to help off of Kornet.
Stretching the floor with shooting is a fantastic asset to have, but can you live with that if it’s coupled with a 27% field goal percentage? Of Kornet’s ten made field goals, nine of them were from behind the arc. Kornet’s strength in the post looked worrisome to say the least. Kornet is not built like Kevin Durant or Brandon Ingram, he’s a strong kid who weighs 250 pounds, but most of his problems seem to stem from his inability to get low and use his leverage. Kornet was pushed off the block repeatedly by smaller defenders and rarely got rebounds in traffic.
I have to be suspicious of Kornet’s rebounding ability in the NBA without a ton of athleticism or ability to box out. Kornet’s limited athleticism hurts him a bit defending pick-and-roll as well. Mostly aiming to contain, Kornet would sometimes get caught floating a bit too far off the ball in pick-and-roll or lack the speed or anticipation to stop the drive off the screen.
When the pick-and-roll targeted Kornet to isolate him onto a quicker guard, it was very difficult for him to even give a good effort. Obviously the Westbrooks or Irvings of the NBA will be in another stratosphere.
When Kornet was defending away from the ball, he showed a mixed bag. There were times where his help came too late or he just wasn’t aggressive enough stopping the penetration.
At other times, Kornet showed very good basketball instincts which masked some of his issues (not all of which were his fault, as new defensive schemes and little time together as a unit can make defending quite chaotic). Kornet’s feel for the game is underrated, but it has to compensate for his shortcomings for him to be effective.
It would be fair to say that Kornet struggled on defense in this short sample size, but it wasn’t all bad for Kornet on that end of the ball. There are a couple of stats that TV guys like to throw out there when covering Kornet. First, they mention that Kornet is the all-time collegiate leader in 3-point field goals made for a seven footer. Second, they always mention that Kornet was the all-time leading shot blocker in Vanderbilt history. Watching Kornet defend, you wouldn’t suspect he’s a huge shot blocking threat. Typically, long, athletic types like Rudy Gobert or Deandre Jordan are the prototype, but Kornet’s reach and size coupled with his timing allow him not only to get physical deflections, but also affect shots and alter the shooting motion of would-be drivers.
Among a sea of pointed fingers and “whose man is that?!” accusations, Kornet showed a good quality in closing out to shooters regardless of his assignment. Many times players will stick to their assigned man as a shooter becomes open and take a “not my problem” approach to broken down plays. I liked that Kornet took a “contest now, ask questions later” approach to defending broken plays.
Kornet’s game is far from complete, but he showed signs in Summer League that he was ripe to improve in several areas. He won’t be getting much faster, I’m confident of that. He likely won’t add enough to his vertical leap to become a rim-runner type or anything of that sort, but putting the ball on the floor with confidence would help his stock tremendously. Particularly, I’m eager to see him develop a mid-range or post fall-back jumper. With his height and his touch, he could easily double his offensive weapons and go beyond being simply a catch-and-shoot threat. Just ask Dirk Nowitzki, you can lack a bit of (or a lot of) athleticism or strength, but still be extremely effective in the post if you can shoot over defenders with a silky touch.
Kornet didn’t yet look like he was certain to have an extended NBA career, but he showed enough in Summer League to warrant a contract. By all means, Kornet has size and skills that are extremely valuable to an NBA roster, but improving his strength on the block and expanding his offensive game may make the difference between fringe NBA player and multi-year veteran.