Euro-Knicks Poised To Make Impact During ‘16-’17 Campaign
A look into the importance of the European-born Knicks exploits on the court
Phil Jackson and the Knickerbockers revamped their roster this offseason in an attempt to build a playoff caliber team ready to compete in the top-heavy Eastern Conference. Some of the moves include the signing of 6'9" Lithuanian small forward Mindaugas Kuzminskas and Spanish center Willy Hernangómez.
Hernangómez played with close friend and fellow Knick Kristaps Porzingis overseas on the Baloncesta Sevilla team in the Spanish League during the 2014–2015 season.
Kuz and Willy join Porzingis and veteran Sasha Vujacic as the only European-born players on this years Knicks roster.
Porzingis, the most talented and highly touted of the bunch has looked excellent in two games so far this season, averaging 18.5 points and 6.0 rebounds and has even drawn comparisons to Mavs great Dirk Nowitzki. KP has also displayed tremendous confidence and has clearly worked diligently in the offseason on developing his all-around game. His incredible shooting range along with his dunking ability and athleticism makes him one of the more formidable offensive threats in the game. The ceiling for Porzingis is one of the highest in the NBA, but he has much more work to do to reach his full potential.
A few things I’d like to see him get better at is staying out of foul trouble as well as tightening up his defense. At 21, his skills will continue to improve and of course his 7'3" frame gives him a huge advantage. Kristaps needs to develop more of an NBA body and become more solid physically and it is apparent that he is willing to put in the time off the court in the weight room to make that happen. Since being drafted fourth-overall in 2015, KP has been one of the few bright spots on a Knicks team that has struggled recently to say the least. It looks like he is prepared to take a huge step forward this season as he looks to propel the Knicks to the playoffs.
KP’s good buddy Willy Hernangómez appeared in both games this season totaling 8 points and 3 rebounds in limited action. Willy brings length and a paint presence to the center position that leaves a lot to be desired offensively. He looks to compete with Marshall Plumlee for the backup center spot behind Joakim Noah. The 22 year-old Hernangómez is a very raw talent and has a long way to go before he becomes a consistently good NBA player.
Despite only 17 minutes thus far, his performance has been encouraging and it will be interesting to see if he improves enough to be able to play quality minutes down the stretch of the season.
The other European offseason addition Mindaugas Kuzminskas impressed in preseason action displaying his range as well as his ability to block shots. In garbage time against the Cavs, Kuz scored seven points and hit a three-pointer. At 27, he is a little older than KP and Willy but still has plenty of time to get better. Kuz is not projected to play too many minutes this season behind Melo and Lance Thomas at the small forward position, but it is important that Kuz plays well when given the opportunity in order to remain on the roster. He definitely has the potential, lets see if that translates into a significant role on the team.
Finally, veteran shooting guard Sasha Vujacic has not contributed much during his time here in New York City. The Phil Jackson favorite from his Lakers days has primarily been a benchwarmer on the Knicks. When given the opportunity, Vujacic has the potential to provide instant offense off the bench with his ability to shoot the three, however it is very unlikely Sasha will be a difference maker in any game this year. At 32, it looks like his best years are behind him and all the Knicks could expect out of him is to hit some shots and play hard when getting on the court.
Aside from KP, the expectations of the other Euro-Knicks are relatively low. They will have opportunities to perform in limited minutes in order to get more playing time. The Knicks are hoping guys like Kuz, Willy and Sasha can spark the team and bring energy when Coach Hornacek calls their number.
— Nick Scolaro, site writer