LAS VEGAS — The best thing that can be said about a player at the NBA summer league is that he doesn’t belong there.
Such a player stands out too much. He has reached a point at which he should be sitting on the sidelines with designer sunglasses next to the established players who come to Las Vegas to party and take in a few games.
That was how it felt watching Quentin Grimes over the Knicks’ first three games. The second-year guard talked a big game about dominating in the days leading up to the glorified, nationally televised scrimmages. He backed up his words — and not just by knocking down jumpers. Grimes was the total package, incorporating playmaking into his 3-and-D skill-set.
The Knicks were at their best when he was on the floor, outscoring their three opponents by 39 points. Grimes did much more than just score, although he did that at an elite level, averaging 24 points on 46.1 percent shooting. He distributed (4.3 assists). He attacked the basket. He defended and rebounded (4.0).
Grimes, the 25th-overall pick in the 2021 draft, looked ready to force coach Tom Thibodeau into giving him a major role next season. Grimes certainly won’t be returning to Las Vegas next summer — unless he wants to watch a few games.
A few other takeaways from summer league:
- Watching Jericho Sims control the paint, beat opponents down the floor and serve as the backbone to the Knicks’ defense, it made sense that Taj Gibson opted not to return to the Knicks after he was waived. Sims looked ready to be a part of Thibodeau’s rotation, showcasing the offensive versatility the coach talked about late in the season. Most impressive was Sims’ mobility with the ball in his hands, his skill at grabbing a rebound and starting transition himself or finding an open teammate when a double-team came. The Knicks’ best position next year may be center, with Sims serving as the No. 3 pivot behind Mitchell Robinson and newcomer Isaiah Hartenstein.
- The Knicks started each game well. They played with the kind of passion, focus and intensity at the defensive end Thibodeau demands. They treated the contests with a seriousness that shouldn’t be completely dismissed. Yes, the results of summer league games don’t count. Most of the players, for the Knicks and the opposition, won’t have roles next season. But their attention to detail on the defensive end, their hustle and their jumping in to help when someone was beaten were different from a lot of what was seen from other teams. They didn’t allow more than 88 points in any game, and they get a pass for their subpar defensive effort in the second half of their loss Monday night to the Trail Blazers since it was the second game of a back-to-back against a rested opponent.
- Unknown players make statements all the time in Las Vegas. Off-the-radar prospects grab everyone’s attention. That didn’t happen with the Knicks. The guys assured of roster spots — Miles McBride, Grimes and Sims — were clearly their best players. Forward Feron Hunt, who is on a two-way contract, was solid, providing energy and explosion in transition. But aside from hitting a few jumpers, Jean Montero — the undrafted rookie who spent last year with Overtime Elite, the new high school league that pays players — didn’t stand out. He needs to get stronger and develop his playmaking skills. The 6-foot-2 Montero had one assist in three games. The Knicks’ lone 2022 draft pick, second-rounder Trevor Keels, showed some glimpses with his attacking mindset at both ends of the floor, but the scouting report on him — that he needs to improve his jump shot and get into better condition — was on the money. He made just 6 of 28 shots, but did average five rebounds and 2.3 assists.
- There were a number of players with ties to the area, from Julian Champagnie (St. John’s) to Ron Harper Jr. (Rutgers) to Jared Rhoden (Seton Hall). The best performer? LJ Figueroa, Champagnie’s teammate for one season in Queens. The 6-6 wing didn’t miss a single shot in his first two games for the Hornets, building off a strong G-League season with the Santa Cruz Warriors (the Golden State affiliate) in which he produced 16.4 points, 8.8 rebounds and 2.5 assists. Figueroa was a perfect 13-for-13 from the field and 4-for-4 from distance, notching 15.5 points, 7.0 rebounds and 3.5 assists. His performance could net him a two-way contract with Charlotte — or another NBA team.
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