As I probably won’t get to see any more Summer League games because of travel, I’ll take this opportunity to read way too much into New York’s first game.
My proviso about pre-season in any sport is that it’s data, and all data tells you something. The trick is to figure what it tells you and what it doesn’t. Summer league can tell you if a player has NBA athleticism (or compensatory skills). It can tell you about a player’s current skill set, which can also indicate where that player needs improvement.
That said, here’s what I think I learned yesterday about a few actual and would-be Knicks.
1. Cole Aldrich can provide legit rim protection. That’s obviously not based solely on this particular game, but this game did show off his well-developed sense of timing even if it was against fringy competition. Aldrich is not an elite leaper by any stretch of the imagination, but 28″ vertical from a 6’11 guy (at the 2010 NBA combine) is plenty from a reserve big. Just as importantly, he gets off his feet quickly. He does a nice job of anticipating the shot release and clearing his body so as not to give the ball handler anything to feel. So basically he’s the anti-Ian Mahinmi. Solid signing by the Knicks. (I’m going to try to avoid spending this season gritting my teeth about Woodson’s long list of mind-boggling decisions, but his unwillingness to find minutes for Aldrich until way late is at or near the top of said list.)
2. Shane Larkin lacks functional NBA strength. I never saw Larkin play at the University of Miami but heard plenty about his quickness and pick-and-roll prowess. So his horrendous shooting numbers last season in Dallas, and inability to get to the line (really since his first year at Miami) puzzled me. His reputed quickness was apparent yesterday, yet he still looked almost physically overwhelmed at times by Vegas summer league competition. That’s often a very good indicator that a player has so little functional strength that it effectively cancels out other elite or near-elite traits. That is, he’s so weak his quickness doesn’t matter. It reminds me a bit of Mustafa Shakur, former University of Arizona and fringe NBA PG. Super-quick. High-quality handle and vision. I just knew he’d be a solid NBA guard, even if he had to go overseas and work on his shot. But Shakur was so wispy thin he simply was not strong enough to consistently get the corner against NBA athletes. Let me be clear that I’m certainly NOT pronouncing any sort of sentence on Larkin. I’m saying that his seeming inability to turn the corner on fringy NBA talent troubles me for a supposed pick-and-roll guard. Larkin, who looked a little doughy, seems to lack the upper body strength of other near-six footers of recent memory. (I’m thinking Damon Stoudamire and JJ Barea more than the freakishly athletic Nate Robinson.) Yet I didn’t see obvious evidence of an elite compensatory skill and nothing in his profile indicates that there is one. Fortunately for Larkin, getting stronger is the easiest deficiency to address. That’s mostly about dedication and hard work. JJ Reddick turned himself into a pretty good NBA player basically by getting stronger and working on his ball-handling. Like Redick, Larkin may get some time to develop from this staff since it invested in him. I certainly hope he turns into something, but I’d be very pleasantly surprised if that happens this season. Right now I’d honestly prefer Toure Murry’s length and defensive upside, but I’m willing to have Larkin win me over.
3. Cleanthony Early will bring athleticism and length. Seems like it’s been a while since the Knicks had a true small forward prospect (Rooster and Ill Will, really. Shump’s a guard who can play some small forward.) All I was really hoping for from Early, another guy I didn’t see play college, was that he’d show as one of the most athletic guys on the court. I’d already seen the excellent shooting numbers. Check. The athletic talent is there to match the shooting. I’m officially excited. I’m looking forward to seeing how the staff develops him. I didn’t even remember how that felt since Shump got drafted. It’s kinda tingly.