Kristaps Porzingis is a Latvian native, and the New York Knicks’ highest draft selection since Hall of Famer Patrick Ewing. Greeted with an avalanche of boos from skeptical Knicks’ fans, the young Porzingis carries a heavy burden of expectation. Still very raw, the Knicks’ future is contingent on Porzingis’ basketball development. Often waning thin, the patience of New Yorkers will be flailed on the threshing floor.
But the regular season is still three months away. Spike Lee and Jay-Z are not in attendance. Basketball’s Mecca, MSG is 2500 miles away. This is Vegas. This is the Summer League, a Roman coliseum of sorts. A trial by fire, basketball gladiators from all over the world come to make a name for themselves in the arena. Many careers have been staunched, falling by the wayside under the engulfing pressure of the moment. But few, like the Syrian gladiator Flamma, rise from the ashes and solidify a spot on an NBA roster. In this effort, Kristaps is not alone. Everyone on the New York Knicks’ summer league roster is looking for their place in the NBA, including Jerian Grant.
Grant, a first round draft pick out of Notre Dame, was traded on draft night to the New York Knicks. Grant is a natural scorer. Last year at Notre Dame, he led the Fighting Irish as a Consensus All-American. Often times Grant had to put the Irish on his back, being both a scorer and facilitator. On paper this makes him a good fit with the Knicks. It will be his job to find a happy offensive medium between Carmelo Anthony, Aaron Aafalo, and Kristaps Porzingis. Their success will hinge on his ability to people manage.
The Las Vegas Summer League would prove to be the perfect testing ground. In his first few games, Grant scored in double figures but struggled to facilitate. He was settling for shots and making unforced errors. Going at a hundred miles per minute, his decision making was shoddy at best. But then something happened. Grant did a one hundred and eighty degree turn in his playing style. Those out of control reckless mistakes became less frequent.
Then in a light bulb moment, epiphany hit me. It is not often that a head coach leads a summer league team; that is often left to assistant coaches. But the New York Knicks’ are coached by five -time NBA Champion Derek Fisher. Who’s better qualified than Derek Fisher to teach a talented rookie guard? Fisher’s championship knowledge has already begun to influence Grant’s basketball playing style. If properly assimilated, Grant could be a force for the Knicks.
In their summer league game against Jaws’ Sixers, Grant’s leadership glistened. Down 63 to 56 late in the fourth quarter, he returned to the game. Grant immediately had a positive effect on his teammates by running the Knicks’ offense with confidence. His ability to facilitate off the attack put teammates in a position to succeed. The Knicks would go on to win the game behind Grant. His leadership and the Knicks’ success have a direct relationship. If the summer league is indicative of what’s to come, then as Grant goes, so will the Knicks.