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Schmeelk: Porzingis, Grant Proving They Fit With Knicks

By John Schmeelk
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The Knicks played their final game in the Las Vegas Summer League on Friday night, signaling the last time we'll see the team together on any sort of basketball court until September.

The major takeaways from the experience were good, especially in reference to the Knicks' pair of first-round picks: Kristaps Porzingis and Jerian Grant.

Coming over from Europe, the one thing everyone knew about Kristaps Porzingis was that he could shoot. He wasn't asked to show off his sweet jump shot much in the summer league; instead head coach Derek Fisher decided to make Porzingis prove he could do all of the things people doubted he could handle in his transition to the NBA.

Porzingis passed most of the tests with flying colors. While he did get moved around by heavier players, Porzingis did not shy away from contact. He didn't back down. He battled and was as physical as his body allowed. He was able to successfully use his length to protect the rim, blocking a number of shots in the paint against the man he was guarding, though he didn't come over to help get many blocks on penetrating guards. Porzingis also showed the ability to move his feet and guard the pick-and-roll. He even stole a pass and went the length of the court for a dunk.

Offensively, he showed aptitude to draw contact in the lane and get to the foul line. He tried to post up a number of times, and showed good feet and the ability to score with his right and left around the basket. He set good screens outside, and hit a couple of mid-range jumpers, including a couple of sweet strokes off the glass. He also threw a couple of nice passes to find cutting players for layups.

There were some things to improve upon. Porzingis caught a few tough passes cutting to the basket, but also didn't handle a couple of them. He committed a lot of fouls in limited minutes. He also struggled rebounding. He would box out his man, but then he was unable to react to the ball, detach from the opponent and get to the ball. That should improve as he gains more strength.

Jerian Grant showed a lot of positives as well. As advertised, he was able to get into the lane almost at will. He passed the ball well and showed consistently excellent vision to find open teammates on the court. His length allowed him to get after the ball on defense, and he showed he should be able to guard opposing SGs. Grant also displayed an ability lost on many NBA players: he shot well off the dribble from mid-range.

Grant showed some warts, which is no surprise for a rookie point guard. He would too often settle for a tough floater rather than getting all the way to the basket to finish or draw contact. There were also times he over-dribbled and ran out the shot clock without going anywhere. His long-range jumper was a bit inconsistent as well.

The Knicks have three or four starters more or less set. Carmelo Anthony and Robin Lopez will be in the starting lineup, and they'll be joined by one -- or both -- of Jose Calderon or Arron Afflalo. I'm not buying the idea that Afflalo will be some kind of sixth man. Depending on whether the Knicks want to play  Anthony at the three or the four, it would leave room for another wing or big. Porzingis could slide in next to Anthony at the forward position, and provide more rim protection next to Lopez and some floor-stretching on offense.

Or if the Knicks decided to play small with Afflalo at SF and Anthony at PF, Grant could play next to Calderon in a dual-point-guard alignment. Calderon could spread the floor with his shooting, while Grant penetrates to the rim and creates offense.

Expecting too much from either player this year would be mistake, given their rookie status. Grant will probably be able to handle the physical rigors of the season better, but the transition of point guards to the NBA usually take some time. Some of Porzingis' skills will show up right away, like his shooting, but his body might not be able to carry him through an entire season night in, night out.

With that said, both players could be starters at some point this season, and the Knicks will be counting on both to be heavy rotation players who play significant minutes and roles in 2015-16. For the Knicks' sake, they'd better catch on quickly.


-- While the rookies impressed, second-year players Langston Galloway, Cleanthony Early and Travis Wear did not fare particularly well. Galloway should be fine, but Early and Wear didn't show enough characteristics to be regular NBA players. I'll be surprised if Wear is on the roster, while Early will have to fight tooth and nail for regular minutes.

--With open roster positions, if I were the Knicks, I would throw a guaranteed contract at Maurice Ndour. New York needs a backup big, and he showed the sweet stroke and effort to be a back-end roster player in the NBA.

On Tuesday, we'll break down how the Knicks should fill out the rest of their roster spots.

You can follow me on Twitter @Schmeelk for everything Knicks, the NBA, the Giants and the world of sports. 

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