Do you miss the Knicks yet? If you’re like us, the answer is a resounding “hell yes.” The team plays their first 2022 NBA Summer League game tonight against the Golden State Warriors. It’s been almost three months since we last witnessed Knicks basketball of any sort. The Summer League roster includes last year’s three rookies, this year’s lone draft pick, and a few other players of note. Here are four reasons why you should watch Knicks’ summer league. For once, it might be a sign of things to come.
- Grimes Time
Quentin Grimes has already told us he’s coming to Summer League to dominate. He must convince old man Thibs that he deserves that starting shooting guard spot. Now that Jalen Brunson is our starting point guard, the diminutive guard will need a defensive ace next to his 6’1” frame. Nobody wants to see a repeat of last year’s disastrous Kemba Walker/Evan Fournier pairing on defense. The time has come for Fournier to be moved to the bench and Grimes to start, bringing switchable defense and 38% three-point shooting to the starting group.
He may need to validate his promotion during the next five games. Grimes showed he belonged in this league by contributing as a 3-and-D player last season, earning Thibodeau's respect and minutes. He dropped 27 points against the then-reigning champion Milwaukee Bucks last December. But there have been signs he can be more than just a system player. Grimes has above-average starter ability and will need to show he has improved his ability to score off-the-dribble in isolation.
2. Deuce and Sims state their case for backup minutes
New York’s front office has done a pretty good job of clearing some of the veteran clutter off the roster. Still, Miles McBride and Jericho Sims probably won’t see much playing time next season, barring some big changes. Then again, Sims could see serious time if one of Mitchell Robinson or Isaiah Hartenstein go down. Grimes’ road to a rotation spot is less clear, though another Derrick Rose injury, along with some thinning of the guard rotation, could present Deuce with a chance. Will the two former rookies state their case as trustworthy reserve options with their play in Vegas? We’ll see.
3. How fit is Trevor Keels?
One of the biggest knocks on the Knicks' new second-round pick, Trevor Keels, was his conditioning. At 224 pounds, his 13.5% body fat was the fourth-highest in this summer's Draft Combine and the highest for any guard. As well, his standing vertical leap (24.5 inches) and shuttle run (3.32 seconds) each ranked third-worst among all prospects. It’s easy to project Thibs will mitigate that through his rigorous practices and conditioning drills. But it will be on Keels to show the organization that drafted him he can condition on his own and come into camp in peak physical form. Summer League will be the perfect time to show that he's fit enough to play significant minutes.
The better shape he's in, the more likely he can improve upon his mediocre 31.2% shooting from three. Keels is on a two-way contract, and he’s likely to spend most of his time in Westchester, but he has to prove he can bring a combination of conditioning, shooting, and defense — three areas where he faltered during his time with Duke.
4. Feron Hunt plays for his contract
I watched a ton of SMU games the last three years, and Feron Hunt was always my favorite player. He has a motor Thibs would love while possessing above-average athleticism and a fiery competitive spirit. Since entering the league, he has bounced around G League stints with the New Orleans Pelicans and his hometown Dallas Mavericks. His 6’8” frame allows him to be a switchable, long defender to guard multiple positions. That’s a role teams have put a premium on in today’s NBA.
This current Knicks roster doesn't have a player like Hunt, who is currently taking up their other two-way contract. Cam Reddish possesses similar physical attributes but lacks the motor and willingness to take on a minor role as a dirty work guy. If Hunt continues to parlay his hustle into Summer League, he should make a case to stay on that two-way deal. If Julius Randle is dealt, he might even find his way into some real NBA minutes at the 4. I am personally rooting for Hunt to make the team, as he would provide a valuable backup role that fits Thibs culture and, at 23 years old, the timeline of Knicks' young core.