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Once a Knick, Always a Knick: Summer League edition

How are former Knicks faring in Vegas?

2021 Las Vegas Summer League - LA Clippers v Portland Trail Blazers Photo by Chris Elise/NBAE via Getty Images

“This article is from Bootum, who is having some trouble logging in.” -Joe

A common theme in the NBA playoffs is shining a light on former Knicks for a few laughs, but that’s not the only place you’ll find a hotbed of former Knick action.

The Summer League is chock full of once-Knicks, many of whom were a part of the organization’s promising future (in Knicks’ fans heads, anyway).

Let’s get into where they are now, and how they’re doing so far:

Emmanuel Mudiay, Portland Trail Blazers:

Like Galactus’ never-ending appetite for planets, Mudiay cannot rest if he’s not taking minutes fanbases would rather have going to some other, likely also not-promising, prospect. The 25-year-old surprisingly finds himself back in Summer League after a yearlong basketball hiatus after an admittedly solid year off the bench for the Jazz. He’s been steady against the inexperienced youngsters he’s faced. Through two games and 38 minutes, he’s put up 18 points and 13 assists on 8-15 shooting (2-4 from three) in the Blazers’ two wins.

Michael Beasley, also Portland Trailblazers:

This is even more confusing than the first entry. The Blazers’ Summer League roster seems to be almost a challenge to Damian Lillard—screaming, “ask out, we dare you”—than their actual roster. Not listed in this post is 31-year-old, once constantly-rumored Knicks’ trade target, Kenneth Faried, who has looked exactly how you’d expect a 6’8” big man who relied on athleticism to look like when he no longer has any. It’s also a bit confusing what Michael Beasley is doing here, as people generally know who he is at this point—a human bucket that forgets where he is on defense. The Knicks fan favorite, who single-handedly won games against genuine playoff teams during his stint in New York, accomplishing nothing but crushing lottery odds and raising vibes, has fizzled out of the league. But he’s trying to get back. Sadly, he’s been surprisingly meek in the Blazers’ two wins with just 18 points, 8 rebounds, and a nostalgic 9 fouls on just 7-21 shooting in 40 minutes.

Isaiah Hicks, Los Angeles Clippers:

One of the most forgettable Knicks in recent memory, he somehow lasted two seasons with the Knicks in 2018 and 2019 on two-way deals. I think. Who knows. The husky North Carolina big man hasn’t done much to prove that the Knicks made a mistake letting him go, but has instead proved that his two two-ways (heh. tutu.) were as inexplicable as they seemed at the time. The 27-year-old has bounced around overseas ever since, most recently for the Seoul Samsung Thunders of the Korean Basketball League, and has put up just 11 points on 4-11 shooting, 7 rebounds, and 6 fouls in 23 minutes of Summer League action.

Theo Pinson, Milwaukee Bucks:

If you love him, let him go. Knicks fan-favorite bench celebrator/Isaiah Hicks’ former teammate does actually play basketball too on the side (even dropping 43 in the G-league a couple of years ago), and is trying to prove it to the Bucks. In his first SL start he nearly matched his Knicks’ season minutes total (27 to 34), and dropped 9 points (7 more than his season total), 5 rebounds, and 4 assists en route to the Bucks’ win in their opener.

Kai Jones, Charlotte Hornets:

Maybe I’m taking “Once a Knick” too literally here. He did wear their hat on draft night for a few minutes before the pick was punted into the future. He had a cool dunk over the decrepit Faried in a matchup with Portland. Get ready for the Knicks to hear all about highlights like that but not when he shoots 5-15 as a big man, as he has in SL so far.

Omari Spellman, Chicago Bulls:

This one hurts. I was so excited for the prospect of Spellman being a fan favorite after the Knicks got him in the one-million-second-rounders-for-Ed Davis heist last year that I wrote a little something when the Knicks let him go because I was so disappointed. After looking too good for the G-League last year (20-8-3 on 49-40-69 with the Iowa Wolves), because he felt above playing for the Timberwolves after playing so promisingly in Golden State (15-9-2-1-1 per 36 with 40 3pt%), his weight ballooned. He was cut by the Knicks in preseason in favor of Taj Gibson, then averaged just 8-5-2 on 37-25-77 splits with the Erie Bayhawks last year. So far, his disappointing play has continued through Summer League as he has made just 2 out of 7 shots en route to 7 points, 5 rebounds, and a minus-14 in 15 minutes. He did get up to throw down a dunk, despite still looking far heavier than he did in Golden State.

Lamar Peters, Philadelphia 76ers:

Lamar Peters! This is someone I was genuinely banging the drum for to get a call-up of some kind in the gruesome 2019-20 season. While the Knicks desperately lacked shooting/everything in 2020, Peters was making 41% of an electric 9 three-point attempts a game en route to averaging 18 points and 7 assists in Westchester. I’m still a little confused how a young (still just 23) shooting talent like that can’t get an NBA shot, but alas. He played somewhat disappointingly last year for *breath* Frutti Extra Bursaspor of the Turkish Super League, putting up 11-7, though with his three point shot betraying him as he hit just 31% of his threes, and 36% of his shots overall. With Philly he’s played just 6 minutes so far, putting up a point, assist, and team-worst minus-13.

LiAngelo Ball, Charlotte Hornets:

Not ever actually a Knick, but kinda feels like one because of the Knicks run with Chris Smith. Also I got excited because I saw there was a Chris Smith on the Pistons roster, but it was a different one actually deserving of a chance at a roster spot. Gelo’s been playing pretty well though (26 points through two games), which is cool to see after being treated like the Frankie Jonas of the family. He’s even outscored draft Twitter darling/teammate Grant Riller, and it’s always nice to see them taken down a peg.

Skal Labissiére, Westchester Knicks

In a comical offseason of just CAA and Kentucky signings last year, former blue-blood and elite high school prospect Labissiere to the Knicks’ G-League bubble went a bit under-the-radar. It was the one signing I had actually wanted to see the Knicks do that they actually ended up doing outside of Troy Williams, who’s shockingly not in Summer League apparently. Skal has strangely fallen out of the league after appearing to be solid as a backup in Portland, where he averaged 5-5-1 and a block on 57/33/72 shooting in just 15 mpg. He somehow regressed in Westchester last year, averaging 6 points, 3 rebounds, and a block on 45/20/100 shooting in 11 minutes per game, despite putting up a monster 28-16 in his two G-league appearances in 2018, and averaging 15-8-1-1-1 the year before as a rookie. He’s continued to struggle in his two Summer League appearances so far, putting up 3 points on 1-6 shooting, 8 rebounds, 4 assists, and 6 fouls in 27 minutes. In fairness, in his first game he was matched up with the unstoppable defensive presence known as…

Kenny Wooten, Minnesota Timberwolves

Kenny Wooten has had a very strange career. He wasn’t expected to be much of anything out of Oregon due to being a 6’8” slowish center/forward, but he caught some eyes after doing what he did best in his inaugural Summer League for the Knicks in 2019, with 5 awe-inspiring blocks. After a stellar G-League campaign in Westchester, averaging 3.7 blocks in a shade under 25 minutes, he was awarded a two-way contract which was mocked for being too unfair to him as it was a two-year-two-way, extending through the 2021 season. The Knicks ended up cutting him loose in the beginning of last season after becoming even more of a fan-favorite after a host of tweets embracing the fans and team, which made people like myself even more irrationally upset over a backup G-League forward. The Rockets were quick to swoop him up themselves, but elected to give a two-way spot to Mason Jones instead. He averaged just 1.1 blocks per game for the Rio Grande Vipers. This April, he signed with Filou Oostende of the Belgian League, but I guess he’s still allowed to play Summer League just in case. It’s not too late for Wooten though, he can just take the Chris Copeland route of becoming the MVP of the Belgium League and parlaying that into an NBA roster spot. Wooten was scoreless with a block, an assist, and four rebounds in 10 minutes in his lone Summer League appearance so far.

Simi Shittu, Chicago Bulls

Technically a Knick, Shittu was reportedly signed to a two-way last year, until it was strangely reportedly revoked a few days later. He’s filled up the stat sheet with 13-11-2-1-2 in 33 minutes and has a funny name.

Ignas Brazdeikis, Orlando Magic

Last but certainly not least, it brings me incredible joy to inform you that Ignas Brazdeikis is cheffing up the Summer League again with clutch buckets. After his first appearance in the SL, he put up a vintage clutch performance with 12 points, 4 rebounds, an assist, and a game-high plus-25 on 5-9 shooting, including a big go-ahead three late in the fourth. Iggy turned in a solid regular season performance with the Orlando Magic (11-5-2 on 44/41/67 shooting) after the 76ers quickly waived him in the aftermath of the Austin Rivers for-no-one trade. Orlando finally smartened up and offered him a two-way deal last night.

I’m not sure what was ever the deal with Iggy. They paid a million to trade up for him, he was electric in Summer League (18-6-3-1-1 on 55/58/77 shooting, including 30 points and a game-winner vs the Suns) and arguably the best player on a team with RJ, Knox, Mitch, and Allonzo Trier (Why’s he not in Summer League?) yet he never got any true chance even after continuing that solid play in the G-League. There’s a good chance a late second-rounder with questionable defense, athleticism, and even shooting fizzles out of the league, but I’ll never get the hesitance to just make sure he stinks when Kevin Knox is, well Kevin Knox.

I was doing this solely off box score scouring and looking for players I recognized. If I missed any, I’d be delighted if you pointed them out. Most of these games can be found on alternate versions of ESPN and NBATV, but you’re probably better off doing something better with your life, like not spending way too much time writing about Summer League players no one cares about.