Miles McBride’s 2021-22 season represented another oft-debated question of Knicks past and present: Does it make sense to not play your second-round pick in a lost year when he’s played well at every other level and the guys ahead of him in the depth chart are not young are all that good? The answer, as it should have been for 2019 draft pick Ignas Brazdeikis, is a resounding no. While Iggy Buckets was sadly never destined for greatness, neither was Maurice Harkless, and it couldn’t have hurt to make that swap and at least see what you had in the younger guy instead of playing Harkless 40 minutes to edge out wins to drop back in the lottery. The difference is that, while Brazdeikis was probably always bad and him being in the league two seasons from now is an unthinkably optimistic take, McBride has a legitimate chance at being good.
As a rookie, Brazdeikis averaged 21 points per game in the G League on 60 TS%, pretty solid numbers, especially for his age. He put up near-identical figures this season, three years into his career, and he offers little else on a basketball court. In the NBA this season, he averaged 14.1 points per 36 minutes on just a 52 TS%. So one could argue that just because McBride has scored well in the G League, he could similarly fizzle out of the league considering he’s averaged just 2.2 points on 29% shooting in the NBA. One would also be wrong to argue that.
Get ready for a lot of Deuce stats. I understand if you don’t care about anything other than the aforementioned lowly NBA stats, but if you can even slightly embrace the notion that playing historically well in the G League at a young age matters, you’re in for a wild ride. McBride did not just “score well” in the G League, he averaged 29.1 points on a ridiculous 65 TS%, a full 8 points more than Iggy Buckets ever did. While a nine-game sample is small, what he did in that run was historic and eye-opening by all accounts in my RealGM G League leaderboard stat deep-dive, which could be faulty—I’m not sure how good their recordkeeping is. In the past two years, no other player has averaged as many points for as many G League games as McBride, and only six others in the 15-year history of the league have done so.
Other veterans of the “G” who similarly to Brazdeikis or Fredette, ended up doing little in the NBA have scored at similar rates to McBride, but the difference between scoring like that as a journeyman veteran and as a rookie is significant. And even then, Justin Anderson’s 27.8 ppg or Carson Edward’s league-leading 26.7 ppg this season were still less than McBride.
If the scoring alone doesn’t move you, McBride made an unthinkable 52% of his three pointers on a high-volume of 8.8 attempts per game. A low sample size, but still a ridiculous hot stretch showing incredible pull-up shooting potential. His 4.6 makes per game rank tenth in G-League history, and his percentage with at least 50 attempts is second only to Knicks legend Steve Novak all-time.
If the shooting and scoring doesn’t do anything for you, he Hardenesquely paired that with doling out 11.1 (!) assists per game. That didn’t just lead the league this year, it was the most per-game in the league’s history (unless you want to count Raul Neto’s 12-assist in his lone G-League game). He averaged 4.3 turnovers per game, but when you’re scoring and passing like that, it’s more than acceptable and still rather low. In fact, it’s the one trait that’s translated so far in the big leagues for McBride. Despite his offensive woes, he had 41 assists to just 5 turnovers in the first 372 minutes of his NBA career. A low sample, but literally the best assist-to-turnover ratio in the NBA (with at least 15 games played) with 8.2 assists per every turnover. Not too shabby for a player written off at times as scared of the headlights. Tyus Jones, the qualified leader, finished with an 7 assist/turnover ratio.
Meanwhile, despite dominating in every aspect offensively, his calling card is his defense. He averaged .8 blocks and 5.3 defensive rebounds as a guard, and his 2.7 steals per game were the fourth-most in the league’s history for anyone with multiple games. Jose Alvarado’s four steals per game in the G have certainly translated to the big leagues.
Despite the scoring and shooting woes, he’s still had success in the NBA beyond his historic play in the G-League despite being shoved in the corner and playing through injury at the end of the season. The Knicks won whenever McBride was on the court. After finally getting extended run for the first time this season, he had 8 points and was a +4 in 20 minutes against the Warriors. He followed that up with a G League=esque 15 points, 9 assists, and four steals and was a +19 in a 13-point win over the Rockets, breaking a four-game losing streak. Naturally, he didn’t play for 6 more games, but had 3 assists and 2 steals in his return along with being a scoreless +39(!). He followed that up with three forgettable games and was out of the rotation entirely until the end of the season in which he was still rather forgettable, though he was battling some knee soreness like Grimes. Still, in his short time with the Big Boy Knicks, they won his minutes to an incredible degree with a +15.2 on-off. McBride’s total plus-minus of +101 in 372 minutes was the highest +/- of any player in NBA history to play 400 or less minutes in a season. While most of the players in his company didn’t go on to do much (no disrespect to Scot Pollard), it seems notable that another defensive guard who wasn’t allowed to play as a rookie under Thibodeau in Jimmy Butler was also in the under 400 minutes, over +80 club. Rookie Fred VanVleet, also a G League prodigy, is on the list with a +65 in just 37 total minutes. Again, a small sample either way, but winning at historic levels on a bad team while you also can’t hit a shot can’t possibly be a bad sign.
I don’t need to go too much into it, but he and Rokas Jokubaitis also both shined in the Summer League, which doesn’t necessarily mean nothing. Mitchell Robinson’s still-historic block and offensive rebounding numbers have certainly carried over to the league.
So what’s the point, McBride playing well in small sample sizes, mostly in a league full of relative scrubs, means he’s the GOAT and the Knicks are idiots? No, it’s more so the fact that there’s understandably not mass panic and hysteria over him not playing shows how far along the Knicks are with building a young core. Even just two years or so ago, I led a vocal crusade to call up who’s looking like a career overseas player in Lamar Peters because he was playing well with Westchester. It’s silly that McBride didn’t play more, but the fact I was able to write 1000 words on the historic play of one of the least-relevant young Knicks is a great sign for the state of the group as a whole.