In the always on world of the Intertubes there is no offseason. There is no basketball frontier to remote or obscure. Ball is life. 24-7-365. Anywhere, everywhere, always and forever. Ball is life.
With that in mind, I thought I’d turn my attention to a couple of assets controlled by the Knicks, that are sometimes out of sight and out of mind. The two assets in question are our dear European Knicks – Louis Labeyrie and Guillermo “Willy” Hernangomez. You remember them, right? They’re the Knicks we haven’t invited to meet the parents yet.
It’s become increasingly possible to follow the development of far away players via the Internet. There are a number of high quality projects dedicated to scouting different leagues, compiling data and highlights, and communicating regularly with fans about very special things. Thank the basketball gods that such projects are possible and that smart, talented folks have channeled their passions into stuff for us to enjoy instead of work or actual human relationships.
It is via these services I bring you a look into the development of our EuroKnicks, and I’ll start with the longest tenured EuroKnick prospect Louis Labeyrie.
Labeyrie was selected in the 2nd round by the Knicks at the tail end of Phil Jackson’s first draft with the team. When his name was announced, I imagine three people in the civilized world had ever heard it uttered aloud before. Two of them were Louis’ parents. Labeyrie wasn’t a highly thought of prospect when he was selected and he only really showed limited upside in the various basketball camps he attended to show the world his skeels. To this day, I’m not really sure what Phil and company saw in Labeyrie that made him worthy of an actual, honest to goodness draft selection, but they took him and he’s ours.
Labeyrie had never really established much of a track record, playing in the LNB for Paris-Levallois club. He was a low minute reserve, as are many very young prospects. Louis managed to work himself onto the Knicks summer league team in Las Vegas, but as you might remember (or not), he averaged 10 nondescript minutes over four games and was gone. What you most certainly do not know is that he returned to his Parisian home club and has finally cracked 22 minutes per game over the club’s 8 games and is averaging 10.4 points, 6.4 rebounds, .6 steals, and 1.5 blocks per game. He’s hitting half a three per game and his shooting line goes .642/.400/.579 so far. Labeyrie has demonstrated this sort of per-36 value in the French pro-league before. He’s only 23 this year, and he’s alternated this sort of production with some lesser production in his 4+ seasons as a Euro-pro. This season’s minutes are a pretty substantial bump, so it’s nice to see him keep up the good work. A couple of highlights for Louis in this young season have been games versus Villeurbanne and Chalon. I don’t know what either of those teams are, nor do I claim to have a good grasp on the level of competition in France, but the production seems positive whatever the case. There are a ton of French players in the NBA nowadays, and France is always competitive in the Eurocup, so I expect the level is relatively high all things considered. The game lines:
Villeurbanne – 14 points, 9 rebounds, a steal, 5 blocks in 34 minutes. 7/11 shooting from the field.
Chalon – 19 points, 4 rebounds, 2 steals, a block in 26 minutes. 8/8 shooting from the field and 3/3 from three.
Paris-Levallois are 3-6 in league play….so there’s that. On the other hand, we have our young Porzingis buddy, Willy Hernangomez. Willy was selected by the Sixers in the 2nd round of Krisdraft and traded to the Knicks for 37 future second round picks, give or take a dozen. Why were the Knicks so high on Willy? I expect that one reason is that he looked excellent next to Kristaps playing in the ACB for Sevilla. As Clarence Gaines zeroed in on Krakeem Porzinguwon, Hernangomez became hard to ignore. After the Knicks acquired his draft rights, word came out that Willy is only one of 7 players in Spanish League history to produce a PER of 20 or more at the age of 20 or younger. In addition to Willy, only Stanley Roberts, Tiago Splitter, Rudy Fernandez, Ricky Rubio, Nikola Mirotic, and Luis Scola have accomplished that feat. Hernangomez did it for Sevilla, thanks in part to the disfunction of that club and its need to thrust a young player into a high profile position. Kristaps benefitted from that situation as well. This season Willy has returned to the pro club that held his promising rights, Real Madrid.
Before suiting up for Real, we were treated to a little WHG action during the Eurobasket competition that saw our young fella join forces with Pau Gasol, Mirotic, and the rest of the Spanish national team. In the early going, he got some run and produced very nicely, but as the competition got more serious his minutes became an afterthought. In the young Real Madrid season, Willy has seen limited playing time, as one would expect for a 21-year old on a world class team. He’s only cracked 10 minutes in three of the team’s 7 ACB games (6-1) to date, but his per-36 numbers are very encouraging. Playing behind Sergio Llull, Rudy Fernandez, Sergio Rodriguez, Gustavo Ayon, and Andres Nocioni, WHG is averaging 18.8 points, 12 rebounds, a steal, and 2.6 blocks on .667 shooting from the field, per-36. Of course, you have to take those kind of extrapolations with a grain of salt, but it is encouraging that the rates are identical to his Sevilla numbers, where he played a much larger role the last couple of years. He’s very productive.
Before sitting down to write this piece, I would have sworn up and down that Labeyrie was garbage and that Hernangomez is our future Gasol brother, waiting in the wings. I’m not sure I have enough information or expertise in such matters to render a sound judgment, but the Interwebs make this sort of thing a lot of fun. I’m now ready to imagine that Labeyrie is Renaldo Balkman on Super Soldier Serum and that Willy Hernangomez bends time and space. If you want my real, non-scientific, limited exposure opinion on these guys, I’d have to imagine that Labeyrie stands little chance of every contributing in the NBA. I’d argue, however, that the Knicks may have stolen WHG in the second round, although those 37 future picks are bound to hurt at some point. Hernangomez comes from a family of top level Spanish players. Mom and dad both played. His brother is a very good youth player. His sister is now starting to rise up the ranks of women’s youth basketball in Spain. He’s in elite company with some of the metrics. He passes the eye test. He’s been selected at a very young age to play alongside Pau Gasol and company. Real Madrid wanted him enough that they plucked him back from Sevilla. He played well with Porzingod. I’m hoping that he’ll show up to play for the Knicks next season and begin a journey that lies somewhere between Scola and Gasol for many years to come.
In the meantime, it will be fun to update this little look at our assets, mainly because I love to show you my assets, and we can commence with conjecture and faux-expert analysis as a means to love one another in Knickdom.