Laney, Whitcomb rep New York Liberty at the WNBA All-Star Game

The New York Liberty were well-represented at the WNBA All-Star Game in Las Vegas, which saw the league’s brightest stars take down Team USA.

The resurgent New York Liberty were well-represented at the WNBA’s All-Star proceedings at Michelob Ultra Arena in Las Vegas on Wednesday night.

Betnijah Laney partook in the winning efforts for the league’s victorious All-Star group, who earned a 93-85 win over the United States Olympic team bound for Tokyo. Laney, the Liberty’s leading scorer at the halfway mark, put up four points, two assists, and a rebound toward the triumph. Meanwhile, Sami Whitcomb put forth a very respectable effort in the WNBA MTN DEW 3-Point contest, earning 26 points through cashing in on the “money” balls worth extra points. It was Whitcomb’s first appearance in the contest, which was won by Allie Quigley of Chicago.

This marked the third time that the league staged a “Team USA vs. WNBA” format, though the first two were not officially considered All-Star Games. New York City hosted the original matchup in 2004 at Radio City Music Hall prior to the Summer Games in Athens, while Connecticut’s Mohegan Sun Arena got the latter in 2010, a non-Olympic year. This marked the WNBA squad’s first win, as they were paced by 26 points in an MVP effort from Arike Ogunbowale of Dallas.

Laney mostly played the backup point guard role behind Courtney Vandersloot, earning nearly 17 minutes of game action. Wednesday marked Laney’s first career appearance in the WNBA All-Star Game. She’s working through her first season in New York after winning the Most Improved Player honor in last year’s bubbled season in Bradenton as a member of the Atlanta Dream.

The well-traveled Laney was particularly enthused by the chemistry she had with the rest of the WNBA squad, as she had worked with several of them in prior professional stops.

“I kind of knew everybody, considering I’ve bounced around quite a bit, so I’ve had experience playing alongside a lot of the people that I was playing with today,” Laney said with a smile. “It just felt like home, it felt it was it was really fun and I really enjoyed having the opportunity to play with them all again. I’m really glad that we came together and got the win tonight.

Laney was far from alone in representing the New York resurgence; teammates Reshanda Gray Michaela Onyenwere sat courtside with assistant coach Jacki Gemelos, whie Sabrina Ionescu watched with Kobe Bryant’s widow Vanessa and her mentor’s surviving daughters. Meanwhile, Rebecca Lobo called the game alongside Ryan Rocco for ESPN. Lobo, an original member of the Liberty, was also honored alongside other members of the 1996 United States women’s basketball contingent, whose gold medal trek from the Atlanta Games celebrates its 25th anniversary.

“I found (the experience) amazing, just for myself to just be here in this moment, you know, after everything,” Laney said after the game. “Then to have the support that I had from the team, from my family, and friends, it was just a really good experience.”

The Rutgers alumna was particularly happy to work with former collegiate and AAU teammate Kahleah Copper.

“It was really fun because this was the only level that we haven’t played on together,” Laney said of the Chicago representative. “To be able to have that opportunity out there today, you know, it was fun. I really enjoyed playing alongside her.”

Whitcomb had her time to shine at halftime, partaking in her first three-point competition. The WNBA’s leader in successful three-point attempts (56) was representing Mary’s Place, a Seattle-based non-profit that “provide(s) safe inclusive shelter and services that support women, children and families on their journey out of homelessness”. The winning shooter would receive $10,000 toward a charity of her choice.

Whitcomb’s work was immediately cut out of for her, as Connecticut’s Jonquel Jones immediately tallied 27 points in the opening round. But Whitcomb came tantalizingly close to passing her, giving a whole new definition to “Moneyball”. Whitcomb sank the money ball shot worth two points toward her tally, as well as one of the “Dew Zone” attempts worth three. With the top half of the four competitors set to advance to a final round, Whitcomb seemed well on her way, soundly beating former Seattle Storm teammate Jewell Loyd (18).

Alas, she was done in on the literal last shot, as Quigley sank her final money ball to tie Jones before winning the contest by a 28-24 margin, appropriately earning her third three-point trophy.

Team USA was paced by 17 points from Brittney Griner of Phoenix. They’ll remain in Las Vegas for further training, which includes exhibitions against Australia and Nigeria, before opening Olympic play on July 27 against the latter (12:40 a.m. ET/tape delay: 4:15 p.m. ET, USA). USA has been paired in a group with Nigeria, France, and host nation Japan.

Other Liberty representation in the Tokyo Games includes Rebecca Allen of Australia and international holdovers Marine Johannes (France) and Han Xu (China).

The Liberty return to action on August 15 against the Minnesota Lynx (7 p.m. ET, YES/Facebook).

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

Knicks’ chances of retaining Nerlens Noel dwindling as Nets and Cavs enter the fold

nerlens noel, knicks

The New York Knicks will be looking this off-season for center help as Nerlens Noel and Taj Gibson prepare to hit the open market in August. Whether they allocate resources in the draft or free agency, bolstering the position behind Mitchell Robinson is a priority.

Ideally, finding a big man who can also help offensively would be ideal, as both Noel and Gibson struggled to produce in that category. However, Noel had one of his best seasons defensively, recording a career-high 2.2 blocks per game. He also contributed 5.1 points, 6.4 rebounds, and shot 61% from the field. Clearly, he’s not much of a force regarding points on the scoreboard, but is adequate in the paint and came up clutch on multiple occasions during the Knicks’ path to securing the 4th seed in the Eastern Conference.

If President Leon Rose was interested in bringing back Noel, he’s going to have multiple suitors this off-season after having a bounce-back year, starting 41 games after starting fewer than 16 since the 2016 season.

According to Ian Begley of SNY, several teams are interested in signing Nerlens Noel this off-season:

Mavs are among teams expected to have interest in free agent C Nerlens Noel, per league sources. Nets are also expected to have Noel on radar, depending on how offseason plays out/money available to them. TOR & CHA also expected to have interest in Noel, as

For a player like Noel, joining a team on the verge of a championship could be intriguing, which makes the Nets the obvious landing spot. Last season, the Knicks signed him to a one-year, %5 million deal, making him an affordable piece to help in the paint, where the Nets struggled defensively. While his loss will be felt, the Knicks desperately need more scoring production from their 5s, so letting him walk won’t be the end of the world.

Knicks Draft Watch: Belgium’s unicorn Vrenz Bleijenbergh takes a giant step to his NBA dream

Belgian prospect Vrenz Bleijenbergh grew up as a Knicks fan. Will the Knicks make his NBA dream come true?

Imagine a 6’11 point guard with a 7’1 wingspan in the NBA. That’s unheard of.

But Belgium’s best-kept secret, Vrenz Bleijenbergh, aims to become the first one. The unicorn has been flying under the radar in a country best known for its chocolates, waffles, and beer, and soccer as its no. 1 sport.

“Basketball is not really big in Belgium. The league there is also not big. That’s a bit of a negative factor in my career,” Bleijenbergh told Empire Sports Media after his workout in Sacramento last Monday. “If I had played in Spain, Italy, or France, it would have been way easier for me to be on the radar. But I just take it as it is and I’m just proving myself right now and it’s paying off.”

Bleijenbergh missed the NBA Draft Combine in Chicago after his papers were not processed on time. But ever since he arrived in the United States on the fourth of July, he’s been making up for the lost time.

From four pre-Draft workouts initially scheduled for him, that list grew to 13 teams after an impressive stint in the massive pre-Draft workout in Minnesota last week.

So far, he’s conducted workouts and interviews with Oklahoma City, Memphis, Minnesota, New York, Sacramento, and now he’s in Charlotte. Next on his tight schedule is Atlanta, New Orleans, Dallas, Toronto, San Antonio, Cleveland, and Milwaukee.

The dizzying schedule has kept his body sore. But he’s embracing the pain.

As the cliche goes, “No pain, no glory.”

“I got like 13 workouts in 20 days. It’s really tough for me. I had a 20-hour flight from Belgium and have been traveling to different cities since then. It’s been tough, but if you have a goal, and it’s your dream, you got to go through all the pain and gotta show up,” Bleijenbergh said.

His workout with the Knicks over the weekend included first-round prospects Joshua Primo of Alabama and Jaden Springer of Tennessee. There were six of them who worked out with Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau walking around the facility as his skills coaches put them on different kinds of drills.

“I had a great workout with [Knicks], all of them by the way. But in New York, it was a lot of 3-on-3, 1-on-1 basketball. A lot of shooting too,” he said.

The Belgian prospect has an affinity to the Knicks because he grew up watching them.

“When I was a young kid, I’m really a New York Knicks fan because of Carmelo Anthony. I really liked the Garden. My best friend is also a die-hard Knicks fan,” Bleijenbergh said. “I watched them last year. They had like a bad year before and this year seemed better. And I hope for them to keep going and do better.”

He hopes he made quite an impression to become part of that special group under Thibodeau. He had a great interview with the team, including a talk with GM Scott Perry.

Bleijenbergh grew up in a small town called Brasschaat, known as a park town in Belgium. There are no skyscrapers. But it has its own version of the SoHo district with a long high street lined with various shops, cafes, and bars.

“New York is a great city. It’s one of the biggest cities in the US. There’s a big difference compared to Belgium. But I really like the people around here,” Bleijenbergh said. “So, New York has really been great as a franchise but I would love to go to the team that really believes in me, that will really work with me to reach my potential.”

His potential has always been there since he held a ball 16 years ago.

“I started playing basketball when I was four years old with the same club I’m still in it. I’ve been with the same club for 16 years now. I grew up from the youth [team] to the second team and to the first team and I’m kinda trying to make the next step,” he said.

Bleijenbergh led Belgium to a bronze medal finish in the 2018 FIBA U18 European Championship Division B in Macedonia. He was named to the All-Tournament Team after averaging 13.5 points, eight rebounds, a tournament-high six assists, and two blocks per game.

At the age of 16, he left high school and focused on his NBA dream. He turned pro, declining offers from big NCAA programs such as UCLA, Arizona, Texas Tech, and Kentucky, among others.

“In Belgium, it’s difficult to combine school and basketball. I didn’t finish high school yet so I can’t go to college. So, I decided to go pro at 16 years old,” Bleijenbergh said.

He felt that playing against grown men will fast-track his development.

“I always wanted to be an NBA player. But I really think I became closer [to my dream] when I started playing for the U16, U18 team for Belgium. That’s when it hit me that I really wanted to be a professional player,” he explained.

“When I became a professional player, I really wanted to go to the NBA because it’s just like a dream for everyone. But when I became stronger, I grew taller, and I was like 18, I was really thinking about the possibility of playing against great basketball players. I really felt I could make it because of the talent I got and the hard work I put in. So, when I turned 18, I really decided to go all-in for it,” he added.

He played point guard even though he was tall enough to play the wing or even the center position. His court vision and passing skills have held him back from being pigeonholed as a big man, making him such an intriguing prospect at a time when basketball has become positionless.

“I was always a point guard even at my younger age,” Bleijenbergh said. “I was a backup point guard when I started my professional career and I was really lucky that I have the best court vision at my young age. Because in Belgium, if you’re tall, you’re a center and if you’re small, you’re a point guard. But I always had the vision and the passing skill to be a point guard. So now I’m a 6’11 point guard.”

His rare combination of size and unique skill set has drawn him to another European unicorn Luka Doncic from Slovenia. The Dallas Mavericks’ rising superstar is the one guy he’s been looking up to as no player in Belgium made it to the NBA. Former NBA journeyman DJ Mbenga technically was the first Belgian to play in the NBA, but he’s a Congolese who holds a dual citizenship with Belgium.

Bleijenbergh has been diving into Doncic’s films a lot after practice.

“I really like his game, how he plays and how he sees the floor. I really look up to him,” he said. “What I liked most about Luka’s game is the way he plays the pick and roll game, how he finds open teammates, how he’s creating space for himself, how he’s shooting the ball out of pick and rolls, finding the roll man. That’s how I like to play, too.”

Scouts have raved about Bleijenbergh’s playmaking and ballhandling. He runs the floor in a fluid motion for his size.

It also helps that he’s played against NBA-caliber talent, getting necessary experience against the likes of Milos Teodosic, Marco Belinelli, and one-time Knick Mindaugas Kuzminkas, among others.

His numbers consistently jumped throughout his first three years as a pro. Antwerp Giants eased him into the rotation, starting with 7.5 minutes per game until it peaked at 26.1 minutes last season. He averaged 9.5 points, 4.8 rebounds, 3.5 assists, 1.3 steals, and 0.6 blocks per game with a 38/34/68 shooting split in his final season in Belgium’s pro league.

His shooting percentages aren’t that solid, but his shooting motion has been fluid. Despite his length, he’s only averaged two free throws a game, as he mostly operated from the perimeter.

It’s something that he’s working on as he prepares to jump to the NBA.

“Getting stronger – I think that’s the biggest thing I need to improve on. My talent is there but I think if I get just a little bit stronger, the more I can create space for my teammates. It will be easier for me to finish strong closer to the basket,” he said.

Coming from Europe, where the game is played differently, Bleijenbergh is confident that he can easily adapt to the NBA.

“[The game here is] more of an isolation game. I’m a team player. In Europe, we do a lot of sets, a lot of team plays. Here’s a little bit different – more on isolation game and talent. It’s also good for me because I’m very versatile and can play many different positions. I like to be here, and I’m really enjoying it,” he said.

“I can play with the ball in my hands, play off the ball. I can catch and shoot. I can go into a defensive role. I can spot up. I can find open teammates. I’m pretty long, athletic, and pretty quick so I can also go on the open floor, grab rebounds and run it to keep the tempo up. So that’s the kind of player I am.”

Bleijenbergh had been encouraged by the feedback he’s been receiving from the teams he visited so far. His confidence is growing after every workout.

“I think I have the chance to get picked in the first round. I’m just a little bit under the radar,” Bleijenbergh said. “I’ve been grouped with a lot of lottery picks and maybe I was even better in the workouts. But we’ll see. It’s difficult for guys from Belgium, who’s not predicted to be in the first round. But I think I’m a first-round talent. I’m really positive about it.”

European prospects have become a hit-or-miss target recently, except for Doncic, who is a generational talent. Bleijenbergh doesn’t come from a European nation with a reputation for producing NBA players. But there are signs that he’s the chosen one in his country to become a trailblazer.

“It’s not a lot of pressure because nobody has reached it yet,”Bleijenbergh said. “So, I’m trying to be the first one, and it’s going to be a big achievement for me because I’m really working hard on it. I really want to make it. And it’s also good to put Belgium on the map. I always love to play for my country.”

Follow this writer on Twitter: @alderalmo

Recapping The New York Mets 2021 Draft Picks (Rounds 6-10)

New York Mets, Luis Rojas

As we count down the days until the New York Mets start their second-half schedule, let’s continue our look at the rest of their draft picks. Here is a recap of their selections in rounds six through ten.

Round 6 Selection: RHP Carson Seymour (Kansas State)

Seymour is a mountain of a man at 6’6″ and 260 pounds and brings power to the mound. His frame allows him to sit in the high-90s with his fastball and throw a power slider which sits in the 89-91 mph range. While scouts are not in love with his fastball, they love the potential surrounding his breaking ball. The movement is 12-6 and has a spin rate of 1,800 RPMs, according to Rapsodo. Seymour struggled to keep runners off base in 2021, which led to an ERA over six and a 1.59 WHIP. His control needs plenty of polish after averaging about five walks per nine, but there is a lot of promise in his arm.

Round 7 Selection: SS Kevin Kendall (UCLA)

The Mets went back to the UCLA well by selecting their second position player from there. Kendall is a 5’10”, a 170-pound shortstop who had a solid year batting .356 with four home runs, 18 RBs, and had 88 hits. He is also a speedy player who is versatile enough to play the outfield and play all of his defensive positions very well. Scouts always like his tools but were waiting for him to emerge as a hitter. His slight frame is unlikely to lead to more power, but he projects to be an athletic player the Mets can move all over the field.

Round 8 Selection: RHP Mike Vasil (Virginia)

Vasil is a well-built 6’5″, 225-pound right-handed pitcher ranked 114 on Baseball America’s Top 500 prospects. He is not a power pitcher as his fastball can touch the mid-90s but sits in the low 90s. Vasil also brings a slider, curveball, and changeup as his secondary pitches, but scouts feel his changeup is the best out of the three. This season he pitched 81.2 innings with a 4.52 ERA and allowed just 18 walks. The command is certainly there for Vasil, but an increase in velocity will be his difference-maker.

Round 9 Selection: RHP Levi David (Northwestern State)

David is another 6’5″, 220-pound pitcher, but he pitches to his size. In 61 innings, he had a 4.41 ERA and an incredible 104 strikeouts, and just 34 hits allowed on the season. Those numbers look amazing, but his 46 walks, 23 wild pitches, and 19 hit batters show his extreme lack of command. His fastball can reach the upper 90s, but it leads to control issues. David’s curveball is a dominant pitch that hitters got five hits and struck out 80 times against. He is also a 50-meter freestyle state champion from his swimming days in high school.

Round 10 Selection: LHP Keyshawn Askew (Clemson)

Askew is a lanky 6’4″, 190 pounds left-handed pitcher, the first lefty the Mets took in this year’s draft. In 57 innings, Askew had a 5.84 ERA with 69 strikeouts and a .289 batting average against. He started red hot when the season began but ran out of gas and pitched to an ERA over ten in his last handful of starts to finish the season. Askew projects as a soft-tossing left-handed reliever with a sinking fastball in the high-80s and a sweeping curveball. As he improves in the minors, he has the ability to turn into an Aaron Loup or Pedro Feliciano type of reliever.

One element Zach Parise would bring to the Islanders no one has yet to mention

The Islanders’ offseason just got a bit more interesting in the last 24 hours and it wasn’t even them who were involved.

Yesterday, the Minnesota Wild announced they were buying out the contracts of veterans Zach Parise and Ryan Suter thus making them free agents at the end of this month.

Both players had the same years remaining on their identical 13-year, 98M deals they signed back in 2012.

It was a shocking move to say the least, especially after the Wild took steps in the right direction this year and pushed the Vegas Golden Knights to seven games in the first round of the playoffs. But now Parise and Suter, both 36 years of age, have the chance to find new homes.

There’s already speculation that the Isles could be a potential suitor for either player or both for that matter. A source told amNewYork’s Joe Pantorno this morning that he wouldn’t be surprised if the Islanders make a run at Parise. The Isles did try to acquire him already from Minnesota at the 2020 NHL Trade Deadline but the deal never fell through.

Obviously, the connection is there between the player and the organization. The Islanders might also have an even slighter advantage with current g.m. Lou Lamoriello being the one who drafted Parise to New Jersey back in 2003.

If Parise and the Isles were to agree to a cheap deal, it could be a huge win. He would help in some areas the team has been still lacking, mainly the bottom six and scoring (he was still averaging over 40-plus points before this season). Aside from that, there’s another part of Parise’s game that could have the most impact for the Islanders: the power play.

For years, Parise has been one of the more underrated power play specialists in the league. He hold’s claim as the Wild’s franchise leader in power play goals with 69.

In two of the last three seasons, Parise recorded 22 goals on the man-advantage. Compare that to the Islanders who as a team combined for just 21 from their power play goal leaders in that time — Anders Lee with 10 in ’18-’19, Mathew Barzal with 4 in ’19-’20 and Brock Nelson with seven this season — and you see where he could be a crucial addition.

Parise has the skill to be both a shooter and a net front presence. A combination like that could give the Isles a huge boost, even if they do have guys who already play that role in Anders Lee and Oliver Wahlstrom.

But think of the first word: shooter. Parise would give head coach Barry Trotz and power play boss Jim Hiller another weapon at their disposal for good measure. Ditto someone like Mathew Barzal, who has a pass-first mentality.

It’s been blatantly clear the Islanders don’t shoot enough. It’s one element that’s made them an enigma for what seems forever. If not that, it’s played a part in costing them a chance at winning a Stanley Cup. Against the Lightning in the semifinal, the Isles went 1-for-17 with the power play which was a repeat performance of the previous year against the very same team.

Having another weapon like Parise could have made a huge difference just in that department alone.

The Islanders are very close to winning it all and Parise would be a solid addition. His ability to have success on the power play might be one factor no one has spotlighted enough. The Isles would benefit immensely from that kind of added presence.

 

 

 

 

 

Mets’ Taijuan Walker about All-Star experience: “I just had a big smile on my face the whole time”

New York Mets, Taijuan Walker

New York Mets’ starter Taijuan Walker has been perhaps the best addition to the team for the 2021 season. He finished the first half with a pristine 2.50 ERA in 16 starts and 90 innings. His 89 strikeouts and 1.03 WHIP confirm just how dominant he has been in a year the Mets had had to deal with a myriad of injuries to their pitching corps.

The performance was good enough to win a spot in the All-Star Game as a replacement, and he thoroughly enjoyed the experience from start to finish. It was the first time of his career he pitched in the Midsummer Classic.

The Mets’ righty pitched the sixth inning, conceding a home run to Tampa Bay Rays slugger Mike Zunino and earning one strikeout.

He spoke with the media after his inning of work.

“I was super excited,” the Mets’ hurler said to SNY’s Michelle Margaux. “I just had a big smile on my face the whole time.

“The red carpet was fun, watching Pete [Alonso] win the Home Run Derby and just standing on the mound and listening to my family scream for me and cheer for me. Just being a part of it, having the All-Star on my back…it’s pretty cool, just the whole experience of it.”

The Mets’ star enjoyed his first Midsummer Classic

The whole experience was worthwhile, from pitching in the game to seeing the game’s brightest stars perform.

“Just hanging around guys, talking to them, seeing their personalities outside the baseball field,” Walker said. “Talking with [Fernando] Tatis [Jr.], [Manny] Machado, you know just a bunch of different guys that I wouldn’t ever really get to talk to because we’re competing against each other.”

Walker attributes his early success with the Mets to health.

“I just feel healthy this year,” Walker said. “Coming back last year, first year back from Tommy John and I throw really good. And then this year I just feel like I’m finally putting the pieces together.”

Yankees News, 7/14: Bombers looking into former World Series MVP pitcher

New York Yankees, Cole Hamels

The New York Yankees are preparing to take on the Boston Red Sox on Thursday at 7 PM, coming off a much-needed All-Star break. With Aroldis Chapman, Aaron Judge, and Gerrit Cole being coined All-Stars this year, the Yankees will be expecting their top players to come back stronger than ever, especially Chapman, who has struggled the past few weeks closing games.

In fact, over his past seven appearances, Chapman has a 16.88 ERA, allowing 10 earned runs and 11 walks. Over his last 15 games, he hosts an 11.57 ERA with 15 earned runs. On the year, he sits at 4.55 with 16 saves and a 1.48 WHIP. For all intents and purposes, Chapman did not deserve to be an All-Star but managed to sneak in based on his stellar start to the season, but he needs to turn things around immediately if the Yankees want to gain essential ground in the AL East standings.

Aside from the bullpen, the Yankees’ starting pitching has also had its fair share of ups and downs this year with injuries. Losing Corey Kluber several weeks ago was devastating, and the Yankees are reportedly intrigued by one former world series MVP, Cole Hamels.

Joel Sherman of the New York Post stated that the Yankees would be in attendance for Cole Hamel’s bullpen session on Friday:

As Jon Heyman reported Cole Hamels is throwing at showcase Friday in Texas. I can report that the Yankees will be among the teams in attendance. Would not read more into this right now than due diligence, since the NYY tend to attend just about all showcases of this type.

Hamels has made just one appearance at the MLB level in two years, pitching 3.1 innings in 2020 with Atlanta. With the Chicago Cubs in 2019, he hosted a 3.81 ERA over 141.2 innings pitched. The 37-year-old starter is well beyond his prime years but could offer a bit of insurance at the back end of the rotation for a team like the Yankees, who are currently dealing with injury issues. During his most recent campaign in 2019, he featured a 47.3% ground ball rate, 9.08 strikeouts per nine, and 3.56 walks per nine, a career-high.

While it seems the Yankees are simply doing their due diligence in this scenario, there is always a possibility they look to bring him in on a cheap deal if the starting rotation continues to struggle.

Knicks News, 7/14: Luca Vildoza opening eyes with 3-point shooting, Reggie Bullock a retention candidate?

luca vildoza, knicks

If there’s anything to take away from New York Knicks point guard Luca Vildoza’s performance with the Argentinian National Team, it is his stellar three-point shooting (8-of-19 over three games). While Argentina lost their third consecutive game during exhibition play in Las Vegas, with their most recent coming against Team USA, Vildoza was one of the only bright spots for his squad.

Having lost by 28 points, Luca understands that he must pick up the intensity, but he had the opportunity to guard some of the best players in basketball, including Damian Lillard, Bradley Beal, Zack LaVine, and Darius Garland.

Gaining essential experience against quality players will hopefully provide him a bit of momentum as he prepares to take on the NBA over a full season next year. Vildoza is excited to join New York on a four-year contract, and with Elfrid Payton and Derrick Rose hitting free agency, the 25-year-old is currently one of the only point guards on the active roster.

“I’m really happy to be part of the historic team,’’ Vildoza to The Post about signing with the Knicks prior to the end of the 2020-21 season. “I’ve been saying this for the last two months. For me, it’s a dream since I was a child, I was dreaming of this day. When I got there, coach was there. I’ve been talking to him — one of the best coaches in the league. It’s so special. This is my chance to get here and get through to my dream.’’

Hopefully, Thibodeau will have a positive impact on Luca as he transitions to the NBA. Based on what we saw last season and the elevation of multiple players, we can imagine how his game will improve and progress at the next level. He undoubtedly has the right coaching staff and personnel around him to spur growth.

“I’ve [been] doing this last two, three years in Europe and I know I can do it here,” said Vildoza. “Today was a test for me against the best players in the world. I felt really good against them, but we lost by 30, and I got to get better. I got work to do.’’

So the Knicks consider retaining Reggie Bullock?

One player New York could look to bring back is small forward Reggie Bullock, who is an unrestricted free agent this off-season. Having signed a two-year, $8.2 million deal in 2019, Bullock served an efficient purpose, averaging 10.9 points, 3.4 rebounds, and connected on 41% of his three-point attempts over 6.1 shots per game. Overall, he had a positive impact on the roster last season, so bringing him back could be a productive move, considering his price tag and the fact he averaged 30 minutes per game.

Aside from Bullock‘s obvious qualities on offense, he was a solid defender for the Knicks and has the versatility to play shooting guard as well. At 30 years old, he might earn a tad more based on his season last year, which included career-high minutes per game, but it shouldn’t be anything worth ignoring his value over.

What do you think about the idea of retaining Bullock? Comment below!

WATCH: How Knicks guard Luca Vildoza fared against Team USA

luca vildoza, knicks

There was so much anticipation among the New York Knicks fan base.

Newly-signed guard Luca Vildoza arrived in the U.S. with much fanfare but will exit with a mixed bag of performance, including a sporadic electric game against Team USA.

Argentina got pummelled, 108-80, in their final pre-Olympics tuneup game Tuesday in Las Vegas, but the Knicks fans couldn’t care less about the final score.

All eyes were on Vildoza on how he measures up against elite NBA competition.

Vildoza came off the bench to spread nine points, all coming from beyond the arc, and he added three boards, two assists, one steal, and a block in his most complete performance in three exhibition games.

But there were moments when he looked overwhelmed.

Bam Adebayo blocked his shot. Draymond Green picked up his pocket. Kevin Durant shot over him.

But there were moments too when he looked he truly belonged, especially when he danced around Darius Garland before hitting a tough, in-your-face three-pointer.

Vildoza shot 3-of-8 from the field in 23 minutes. In three games, he shot 9-of-24 or just 37.5 percent from the field. Almost exclusively, his made baskets came behind the shorter FIBA three-point distance. He shot much better from that zone with a 42-percent (8-19) clip.

Overall, the Argentine combo guard averaged 9.3 points, 1.7 rebounds, 1.3 assists in 20 minutes with a 37.5/42/100 shooting split.

“I got to get better,’’ Vildoza told The New York Post during the postgame press conference. “I’m shooting too much 3’s without a reason, without thinking too much. I know I can get better on defense especially.”

Vildoza signed a partially guaranteed four-year, $13.6 million deal with the Knicks after averaging 10.1 points, 3.5 assists with Baskonia in the Euroleague last season while hitting 38 percent from long-distance.

“I’ve [been] doing this last two, three years in Europe and I know I can do it here,” said Vildoza. “Today was a test for me against the best players in the world. I felt really good against them, but we lost by 30, and I got to get better. I got work to do.’’

Vildoza and the world’s no. 4 Argentina have their work cut out for them. Except for the close call against Australia, they looked overmatched against Nigeria and Team USA.

“We played bad, we weren’t prepared for this game. They were switching everything. We are a pick and roll team and they defended that. It’s tough but we got time,” Vildoza said.

They better hurry.

If they can’t pull their acts together, their chances are slim to play in the medal round. That will be bad news for Argentina. But good news to the Knicks as Vildoza can fly back to Las Vegas earlier to play in the NBA Summer League.

Argentina is grouped with host Japan led by NBA players Rui Hachimura and Yuta Watanabe, Luka Doncic’s Slovenia, and world’s no. 2 Spain. Vildoza and the Argentinians need to finish in the top two in their group to advance outright to the quarterfinals, or else, they hope they end up as one of the two best third-placers among the three groups to survive.

The quarterfinals will be played on August 3, while the semifinals and the gold medal match will take place on August 5 and 7. Meanwhile, the NBA Summer League will tip-off on August 8 in Las Vegas.

The Knicks are evaluating his performance this summer to guarantee his contract next season. Before he flew to Las Vegas for Argentina’s Olympic buildup, he spent time with the Knicks developmental coaching staff and met New York coach Tom Thibodeau.

“I’m really happy to be part of the historic team,’’ Vildoza said of the Knicks, who broke an eight-year playoff drought this season. “I’ve been saying this for the last two months. For me, it’s a dream since I was a child. I was dreaming of this day. When I got there, coach [Thibodeau] was there. I’ve been talking to him — one of the best coaches in the league. It’s so special. This is my chance to get here and get through to my dream.’’

An Olympic medal and a slot in the Knicks roster next season is his ultimate goal this summer. But there’s more work to do to get there.

Follow this writer on Twitter: @laderalmo

Yankees’ Aaron Judge had an eventful night in the All-Star Game; declares himself ready for second half

New York Yankees, Aaron Judge

New York Yankees right fielder Aaron Judge had an eventful All-Star Game on Tuesday night. It was one of his goals: put on a show for the fans that voted him as one of the best players in the American League. And he delivered.

Judge, who has carried the Yankees offensively this season, was the sparkplug of the American League offense in a game they ended up winning 5-2.

Judge took a walk in the second inning to lead off things, raced to third base on a double by Rafael Devers, and then scored the first run of the night on an infield single by Toronto Blue Jays’ second baseman Marcus Semien.

The Yankees’ star got things going

The AL’s cleanup hitter, Judge worked a four-pitch walk to open the second inning against the Brewers’ Corbin Burnes, then dug for third base on a double by Rafael Devers of the Red Sox before scoring on an infield single by the Blue Jays’ Marcus Semien.

“For me, you never know how many opportunities you’re going to get like this,” said Judge, who finished 0-for-2, to MLB.com. “It’s a blessing to be here, it’s a blessing to represent the Yankees in an All-Star Game and be by my teammates, especially with the fans voting me in.”

Judge also made a very nice catch at the warning track in the third frame, which had the look of an extra-base hit by Pittsburgh Pirates’ outfielder Bryan Reynolds.

The third All-Star experience for the Yankees’ star is now finalized, and he can relax for a couple of days before jumping right into the fire for a crucial second half.

The Yankees open the second half against the Boston Red Sox.

“I don’t know if I’ll ever come back to an All-Star Game; you never know what the future holds,” Judge said. “It’s always a special honor to come here, spend it with my family and have some downtime to relax and rest, and get ready for the second half.”