Summer League Recap: No Vegas Vacation As The Knicks Get To Work

By Charlie Widdoes (Twitter)

As they return to their homes, every member of this Knicks' Summer League contingent needs a deep breath. Probably a nap. Maybe even a vacation. It was a lot to take in and it takes some time to digest.

For nearly two weeks in Las Vegas for NBA Summer League, players fight for their NBA futures and coaches begin in earnest the grueling duty of sculpting a roster that can compete at the game's highest level. While everyone's in town, the front office is feverishly working to fill out the roster and scouts litter the stands of two gyms, fixated on nine hours of basketball a day.

It's a dizzying run of pratices and study sessions that give way to games -- games that, for the first time in Summer League history, count for something other than pride. Over this time, hard-working, talented individuals must be more than that in order to stand out. 

The Knicks finished their five game slate with a record of 2-3, but no one will remember that once training camp begins. What endures for Mike Woodson and his coaching staff is how his players performed under the circumstances. Were they able to grasp the offensive and defensive coverages being thrown at them? How did they handle distractions? Did they show improvement? 

We'll answer those questions, and more, as we take one last look back at the Knicks in Summer League.

Backcourt

College basketball history is brimming with big men that underperformed relative to our expectations for them. The most likely reason: teammates that can't get them the ball in positions to score. 

In Summer League, where nearly every player in attendance is fighting for a training camp invite and opportunities to impress are precious, bigs are similarly reliant on those tasked with setting them up. 

For the Knicks, this responsibility fell primarily to Toure Murry (who spent last year playing shooting guard for Rio Grande Valley of the D-League after four years at Wichita State) and Chris Smith (J.R.'s brother, who spent last season rehabbing from a knee injury suffered in training camp). Both came in with more experience playing off the ball, but worked hard in practice to get up to speed on the duties of being a floor leader.

Murry, who started two games at the point, really impressed the coaching staff with his transition to the new role. He came out in the opening game against the New Orleans Pelicans and dished out five assists, with four rebounds and two steals in just 18 minutes. As he settled in, he became more comfortable scoring the ball, averaging nine points per game over the next four on 45 percent shooting. 

His feel for the pick-and-roll turned heads, as did his sound, active defense; he lived in the passing lanes and showed a consistent, mature approach to the game. Nothing seemed to faze him, and his performance could certainly have something to do with GM Glen Grunwald's willingness to save a third point guard spot for training camp.

A wrist injury 10 minutes into his second professional game limited 24th overall pick Tim Hardaway Jr. to two games in Vegas; while he remained a vocal presence as a cheerleader on the bench and as a one-handed rebounder in warmups, we left with only a glimpse of what he can do for the Knicks. 

He played 30 minutes in the opener, scoring 13 points with five rebounds and three assists. He showed feel for the game and looked comfortable playing alongside Iman Shumpert, who logged 27 minutes in his only game. In the Knicks' next game against the Wizards, Hardaway had caught fire, scoring nine points in 10 minutes, before falling on his wrist.

X-rays came back negative, but his Summer League season was over. Other guards on the roster (J'Covan Brown, Murry) would get their opportunities.

Wings

Other than Shump -- who played in just one game and looked exactly like you'd expect -- the Knicks' leader in minutes per game was C.J. Leslie. The undrafted free agent out of N.C. State logged 23.6 minutes per game, a golden opportunity to show the talent that made him the Preseason ACC player of the year. 

Summer League is a process, and Leslie showed encouraging signs over the course of his time in Vegas. Right from the beginning, his size, length and ability to play in space were evident, and he worked closely with the coaching staff during practice to improve.

His standout performance came in the Knicks' third game, against the Bobcats, in which he went for 15 points and five rebounds -- four offensive -- in 31 minutes against Charlotte. More importantly, he held his own against Cody Zeller, at times using his explosiveness to blow by the No. 4 overall pick and beating him to rebounds.

After doing the heavy lifting on the wing for the Knicks' Summer League team, the next step for Leslie will be proving to the coaches that he can help the team defensively in training camp.

Bigs

The Knicks roster was chock full of intriguing big men, all of which presented worthy cases for training camp consideration.

From Terrence Jennings (the 6-10 jumping jack who led the team in rebounding among players that played all five games) to Jeremy Tyler (the 22-year-old with upside and NBA experience), from Jerome Jordan (the late addition who had just played a week in Orlando Summer League) to Eloy Vargas (the 6-11 stretch-4 whose shooting stroke was obscured by his lottery pick teammates at Kentucky), competition was fierce up front.

As the games went on, it seemed like each guy took turns standing out. On the whole, they played with poise and set good screens, crashed the glass and worked hard to fit into a team concept despite such limited practice time.

Tyler really asserted himself, leading the team in scoring at 12.8 points per game. If you remove the Charlotte game, in which he played only six minutes, he averaged 15.4 points and 7.5 rebounds over the other four. By the end, his desire to dominate became very clear, a positive sign as we look forward to training camp. 

Jennings also made his mark, grabbing everyone's attention with his athleticism and nose for scoring. He's incredibly bouncy and is a strong slasher and shooter for a player his size. He finished on a strong note, scoring 14 points and on 7-of-12 shooting and pulling down nine boards against the Clippers.

After coming over from his stint in the Orlando Summer League, Jordan was as solid as advertised; he finished with an average of 8.3 points and 7.8 rebounds over four games. He has an NBA body and used his strength well. He could be in line for a training camp invite.