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.
— alder almo (@alderalmo) July 14, 2021
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"
Luca Vildoza talks about getting the chance to be a Knick and play under Tom Thibodeau pic.twitter.com/aDE5J2qw6j
— Knicks Videos (@sny_knicks) July 14, 2021
“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