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How are the second-year Knicks performing in Summer League?

Trio of sophomores looking to impress

2022 Las Vegas Summer League- New York Knicks v Portland Trail Blazers Photo by Garrett Ellwood/NBAE via Getty Images

With the Knicks having a very young core, fans have gotten accustomed to tuning in to Summer League games to get a glimpse of what the future may look like. Just a few years ago, we watched Kevin Knox burst onto the scene (had to find a way to remind people how good he looked) and a year later, fans, still hurt about losing out on Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, and Zion Williamson, turned to RJ Barrett and his first Knicks action for some comfort. Just last year, we all saw both Immanuel Quickley and Obi Toppin dominate. This year, with only one selection in last month’s NBA draft, a lot of the fans’ attention has been on the three sophomores: Quentin Grimes, Deuce McBride, and Jericho Sims. There’ve been some very interesting things to note so far.

Now, Summer League is by no means a perfect preview of what is to come. Good players can struggle and mediocre players can look amazing. It is a unique atmosphere that blends some of the intensity and structure of an NBA game but still lacks the competition, hype, and fans that the real games offer. But there are still things that can be taken away from watching these games especially if you take them with a grain of salt and understand the context.

When talking about this year’s Summer League players, we have to start with Grimes. Not only has he been the best player on the Knicks, he has been one of the best and most dominant players in all of Summer League. Through three games, Grimes is averaging 23.5 PPG (third among all players) on 43.7% shooting from the field, while adding 4.5 RPG and 4.25 APG. There are certainly things to nitpick — his free throw shooting has been surprisingly bad for a shooter of his caliber, and the turnovers, a result of his added responsibility and aggressiveness, have been concerning at times. That being said, Grimes has looked every bit like the sharpshooting, hard-nosed 3 and D player we saw during his best stretch last season. In fact, he has looked like an even better version of that player.

Fans all know how good of a shooter he is, so the fact that he is leading all players in 3-pointers made is no surprise. What is surprising, though, is the fact that Grimes’ 33 points off of 3-pointers accounts for just 47% of his total points. That may seem like a high percentage, but considering 3-pointers accounted for 78% of his points last season, it shows that he really has diversified his game. Grimes seems to have really put an emphasis on improving as a driver as he looks way more comfortable and confident getting to the rim. And it hasn’t just been scoring in the paint that fans have been impressed with. Grimes has also shown flashes of becoming a better playmaker so far this summer evident by his eight assist game against the Warriors.

While we still have to wait and see if he can stay this way during the season, this should do wonders not just for his game but for the Knicks’ offense as a whole. Teams know that Grimes can shoot with the best of them so if he can use that to his advantage and get to the rim off of pump fakes and bad closeouts, it should lead to easier baskets for the team as a whole.

Next, there is his backcourt mate, Miles McBride, who has been a bit of an enigma. The young guard out of West Virginia University has good numbers with averages of 16.75 PPG, 5.5 APG, 2.75 RPG and 2.5 SPG, but he has not always passed the eye test. While McBride has been very solid so far, he hasn’t shown much growth from the player we saw last season. He is still really good at the things we was good at, but still needs work on the same things he needed work on last season.

Of those things he needed and still needs work on, is his ability, or lack thereof, to beat his defender. McBride still struggles to consistently beat his man to create good looks. Too many of his offensive possessions end up in tough step-back jump shots. He is not big enough, athletic enough, or a good enough shot-maker to rely on those kinds of shots. While he showed some glimpses of being a really solid player last season in limited minutes, these struggles prove why it was kind of foolish to crown him the future PG of the Knicks after a few incredible games in the G League last season.

That isn’t to say that he won’t ever become really good or a key piece of the Knicks’ future. To McBride’s credit, he’s gotten better as Summer League has gone on and probably played his best offensive game last night against the Orlando Magic. McBride still relied a bit too much on tough contested shots but was able to beat his defender a bit more than in prior games.

Despite his scoring talents being questionable at times, McBride is still damn near elite at a few things. McBride has been a very solid point guard and facilitator when given the chance. In the G League, he showcased an amazing ability to rack up assists and this summer, while his assist numbers are down, he’s still shown a tendency to make the right pass and make quick decisions without turning the ball over too much. He is also showing once again that he is already an NBA-level point of attack defender. McBride continuously gets in the ballhandler’s face and is incredibly adept at navigating screens and staying on the opposing player’s hip. With the arrival of Brunson, and Rose and Quickley still on the roster, there was never going to be a lot of minutes available for McBride if everyone is healthy. And unlike Grimes, who has shown that he is clearly above the competition, McBride’s lack of growth on offense may see him spend a lot of time on the bench again unless there is a major trade or injury.

Last but not least is Sims, who is kind of the opposite of McBride. His stat line of 11.2 PPG, 10.2 RPG, and 1.6 BPG isn’t necessarily amazing especially. Also, he’s shooting an abysmal 31% from the free throw line. But he continues to show why the Knicks gave him a new contract. Sims still does so many little things that don’t show up in the stats like setting screens, and hedging out on to perimeter players. Watch any of the Knicks’ games so far and you’ll see Sims dominate the boards, and be extremely active as the anchor of a Knicks’ defense that has been incredibly fun to watch.

But it has been the new additions to his game that has fans excited. While he has only played 27 MPG, Sims has shown off some nice passing and playmaking skills that reportedly has intrigued coach Tom Thibodeau. “I’ve been working on pushing the ball in transition a little bit, trying to get more comfortable doing that again, making the right reads,” Sims revealed. We’ve also seen Sims take the ball around the free-throw line, face up on the catch, and use either a smooth looking crossover or a spin move to get into the lane. Much like Grimes’ new moves, there is no guarantee that Sims does this during the season, but it’s been refreshing and encouraging to see him have the ability and confidence to pull this off in game. Unfortunately for Sims though, he, like McBride, may not see a lot of playing time with the way that the roster is currently constructed. But the NBA season is a long one and you never know who’ll get traded or who’ll get hurt.

Overall, it has been a pretty solid Summer League for Knicks fans so far. The team has looked good as a collective unit and has made the Summer League championship game that will be played Sunday at 3pm ET. The defense, anchored by Sims, has been playing incredibly hard and the offense has been led by Grimes, who looks motivated and poised to win the starting job. The interesting wrinkle in all of this is the potential of a Donovan Mitchell trade. A trade that big could lead to any of these guys being gone but also could mean that any of these guys could end up playing a bigger role than expected. Regardless of if these guys end up in a different jersey or end up staying, it’s nice to see them playing well. You obviously have to take the positives and negatives from Summer League games with a grain of salt, but it’s hard to not be excited about the Knicks’ future right now.