Knicks fully vaccinated, take cautious approach on Mitchell Robinson

knicks, mitchell robinson

New York Knicks GM Scott Perry announced Friday that the entire team, including their coaching staff, are fully vaccinated.

It is an important first step for the Knicks as they look forward to building on their surprising playoff run last season.

“This was all internally driven, and a lot of credit goes to our players, our medical staff,” Perry said via News Daily. “It is something that we’ve been on top of really the entire year.”

“They took this thing very seriously and took the responsibility to get that done. So, we’re very proud of that fact, and we’re gonna move forward,” Perry added during a media briefing with team president Leon Rose and head coach Tom Thibodeau.

New York is one of the two NBA markets that require home teams to show proof of vaccination to access indoor dining, fitness, and entertainment and playing venues. San Francisco, where the Golden State Warriors play, is the other market that has the same health and safety protocols.

The Knicks’ announcement came after the Brooklyn Nets said that they have a couple of players who are still unvaccinated. But Nets GM Sean Marks noted that they are expected to meet the NBA and the state requirements before the season starts.

Fox Sports reported Thursday that Kyrie Irving is one of the Nets players who have yet to receive a vaccine. However, Irving was also seen seated courtside at the Staples Center, a section that requires a vaccination pass, earlier this month in a WNBA game.

The vaccination protocol, along with the continued threat of the COVID-19, will again be a swing factor in the upcoming NBA season.

As of Thursday, the NBA said the league is 90 percent vaccinated.

Last season, many playoff teams missed multiple players at one point due to the COVID-19 protocols that put a huge dent in their campaign. Fortunately, the Knicks dodged that, although Derrick Rose and Alec Burks have contracted the virus at different stages of the season.

The Knicks, except for Mitchell Robinson, are ready to plunge into what is expected a competitive training camp starting next week.

Robinson, who put on some serious weight and looked brolic in the offseason, will not be rushed to come back from his broken foot injury though he’s medically cleared. The Knicks are taking a cautious approach after the young center suffered two injuries that required surgeries last season.

“We love Mitchell Robinson and look forward to seeing him play,” said Rose via New York Post.

Rose spoke to the media for the first time since Thibodeau’s introductory presser or exactly after 421 days.

“We’re following what our medical people say and not going to rush it and going step by step,” Thibodeau said via New York Post. “That’s the great value of having Taj [Gibson] and Nerlens Noel. We love the depth at that position. (We’re) excited about season and not going to rush.”

With this development, Nerlens Noel could continue to start with Taj Gibson backing him up as Robinson will be eased back into the rotation.

This will be a critical year for Robinson contract-wise as he will become a restricted free agent if the Knicks don’t extend him. The former second-round pick is eligible to sign a contract extension up to a maximum of four years, $53 million. But the Knicks want to see first how he looks on the court after two serious injuries.

“Mitchell was just starting to take off when he got hurt,’’ Thibodeau added.“This summer, he’s put in a lot of time, conditioning-wise, strength training. He’s a big part of what we’re going to do.”

So the waiting game continues, which the Knicks can afford to do owing to their depth.

Thibodeau and his staff will also have a decision to make on Luca Vildoza whether the team will guarantee his contract on or before opening night.

Vildoza is back in New York after suffering a foot injury during the NBA Summer League, just a week after his Olympic stint.

Thibodeau will have 17 active bodies at his disposal in next week’s training camp, with Robinson not expected to participate in full-court, 5-on-5 drills.

Follow this writer on Twitter: @alderalmo

Knicks: How Quentin Grimes became a quintessential Thibs guy

quentim grimes, tom thibodeau, kelvin sampson

More than his outstanding three-point shooting, the biggest pull for the New York Knicks to gravitate towards Quentin Grimes in the first round of the NBA Draft was his impact on winning.

“That’s what we mostly talked about in my conversations with the Knicks and their scouts,” Kelvin Sampson, the University of Houston Cougars head coach, told Empire Sports Media on the phone.

“That’s the thing that they thought they liked most about Quentin as it relates to Thibs’ (Tom Thibodeau’s) culture. There’s a lot of similarities to the Knicks culture as far as what Thibs believes in and what we believe in here. That had a lot to do in them drafting Quentin.”

Grimes already knew he would become a Knick after the team executed a pair of trades during an eventful NBA Draft Night. Before NBA Commissioner Adam Silver announced Grimes’ name, his camp was already excited in anticipation of the announcement.

As the Knicks Draft night plan unfolded, Sampson was on the phone with the team’s general manager Scott Perry, his long-time friend.

“I just remember Scott was asking me questions and telling me what their plan was. That was prior to the 25th pick. And they were really hoping he would be there at 25. They were worried that somebody was gonna take him before them. I think a lot of those moves (trades) were built around drafting Quentin at 25,” Sampson revealed.

“Scott Perry is a professional organizational guy. He knows what he’s doing. They had a plan going in. And they executed it flawlessly.”

The Knicks kicked the can further down the road when they traded their 19th pick to Charlotte for a future first-rounder. With the belief that Grimes would still be on board in the mid-20s, they swapped picks with the Los Angeles Clippers (21st for 25th) to net an additional future second-round selection and save some salary cap space.

So after his hometown team, Houston Rockets, selected Josh Christopher with the 24th pick, the mood at Grimes’ Draft party lit up and was ready to explode.

“When their (Knicks) pick came up, we knew that he was gonna be the pick,” Sampson said, recalling that memorable night. “But you know, you want to hear your name called. You don’t want to react prior to. Quentin just broke down. He was emotional. Because of all the hard work he and his family put into that moment. You just sit back, and I was just so happy for Quentin and his family because he earned that.”

Grimes strongly believed it was his destiny to become a Knick. His perspective changed over the last two years after his initial goal of becoming a lottery pick didn’t pan out. His Houston homecoming had a lot to do with it after a disappointing freshman season with the Kansas Jayhawks.

“I feel like I was picked in the perfect spot. I feel like some people might say I was picked too low or picked too high, something like that. But that’s why I got picked in the right situation,” Grimes said during his introductory press conference. “That’s why going to New York is going to be a match made in heaven.”

Thibodeau and the Knicks front office, led by team president Leon Rose, have created an environment in New York that made players fall in love with the process of getting better by making them accountable.

Grimes went through the same process in his two-year stint with the Cougars that rejuvenated his once flailing basketball career.

“I didn’t think Quentin had hit rock bottom yet when he arrived in our program,” Sampson said.

Grimes, the no. 8 recruit in his class, was a projected lottery pick before he went to Kansas. But things didn’t go according to plan, and his stock plummeted.

During his college debut, Grimes had a spectacular shooting display with 21 points on 6-of-10 three-pointers against Michigan State. But what followed next was a season of disappointment. His offense became erratic. He could only put up single-digit scoring in 17 of his next 35 games and missed 23 of his next 28 three-point attempts. He wound up with an 8.4-point average on a 38/34/60 shooting split that dimmed his prospect of getting drafted in the first round.

“Sometimes you had to fall even further before you can go back up,” Sampson said.

When Grimes couldn’t get a first-round guarantee, he decided to return to college, but he found out that his spot at Kansas was already filled up.

That’s when Sampson scooped him up as the Cougars were looking to replace Armoni Brooks, their best three-point shooter, who decided to go pro.

Marshall Grimes, Quentin’s father, reached out to Alvin Brooks, the Cougars associate head coach at that time.

“[Quentin] is a Houston kid. He was looking for a fresh start somewhere else. We didn’t recruit him out of high school as he narrowed his list down (to the blue blood schools) very early in the process,” Sampson said. “But this time around, his family, the familiarity of Houston and the success our program was having and also the reputation of our staff has in developing guards helped us.”

In a lot of ways, Sampson is very similar to Thibodeau. Both are hard-nosed coaches. Their teams love to defend. But the most striking similarity is both coaches benefited from a coaching sabbatical that allowed them to take a step back and see the current trends that made them better coaches upon their return.

Thibodeau visited many NBA teams in between his coaching stops from Chicago to Minnesota and New York. He learned how things are being done differently.

Sampson also had the same reckoning when he was forced out of his coaching post at Indiana University in 2008 due to recruitment violations.

Sampson revitalized his coaching career during his five-year show-cause penalty with an advisory role to his friend Gregg Popovich. At San Antonio, he saw firsthand how Tony Parker enjoyed freedom in running the Spurs’ offense. He also learned various offensive schemes as an assistant coach with the Milwaukee Bucks and Houston Rockets.

When he was eligible to return to NCAA, the Cougars hired him to rehabilitate their program.

Sampson returned to NCAA a changed man. His tough defensive philosophies were still there, but his deliberate style of offense — a trademark over three decades of coaching with Montana Tech, Washington State, Oklahoma, and Indiana — was replaced by the pace and space schemes and gave freedom to his guards as much as the NBA coaches do.

Sampson led the Cougars to the first round of the NIT twice during his first three seasons, followed by a Round of 32 appearance that snapped a seven-year NCAA drought. The next year, the Kentucky Wildcats needed a late Tyler Herro three-pointer to fend off the Cougars in the Sweet 16.

Sampson resurrected Houston’s basketball program that hasn’t been relevant since the Slamma Jamma era.

Their recent success under Sampson factored heavily in Grimes’ decision. As a sweetener, the veteran coach got a ringing endorsement from former NBA MVP James Harden who played with Grimes in a pickup game in Arizona during the pre-Draft process. 

Harden and Sampson forged a good relationship during their time with the Rockets. The former Rockets star texted Sampson right after the pickup game with a glowing review of Grimes.

“He told me he thought Quentin was a really good player, which we already knew. We were already recruiting him. I think James endorsed me heavily to him [as a players’ coach]. I’m sure Quentin appreciated what James said,” Sampson said.

Sampson knew he had a rough diamond in Grimes. So he worked on rounding up the edges. In his mind, Grimes’ case was psychological more than anything else.

“Quentin had to do certain things. Coming out of high school, his whole game revolved around offense,” Sampson said.

They started to work on his rebounding. There was a rebounding drill specifically made for Grimes. Sampson would put a cover on the ring, and Grimes was the only one allowed to get the rebound. So every time his teammates shoot the ball, Grimes had to fight the whole team to grab the rebound.

Under Sampson, Grimes learned to be tough and competitive. Defense became a priority. The offense came only second. But the freedom on offense allowed Grimes to flourish and become a consistent shooter.

“Once he learned how to do those things, that’s when I thought his game had started coming around. Psychologically, the challenge there was getting his confidence up. Getting him to believe in things,” Sampson said.

“I think we do a great job in our program of creating adversity, whether it is through hard work or through my ability to get kids to places where they will push themselves. I think Quentin had to learn those.”

Grimes regained his confidence through hard work and preparation. An ethos that Thibodeau also preaches to his teams.

It was not by accident that Grimes’ numbers began to shoot up. His playing time from Kansas remained the same in his first year in Houston, but he put up better numbers across the board.

The Cougars were bound for another NCAA tournament with Grimes on board until the pandemic scratched the tournament.

“We could really see progress during his sophomore year,” Sampson said. “I think Quentin was excited about that. It’s why he didn’t put his name in the [NBA] draft after his sophomore year because he realized he still had more work to do. And good for Quentin. A lot of kids would hurry to get into the pros, and they’re not ready. Quentin wasn’t ready.”

Sampson thought another year with them would be better than Grimes ending up as a late second-round selection and getting relegated to the G League.

“Psychologically, he still had to be a better rebounder, a better on-ball defender and learn how to win and impact winning. Those are all things that are part of the culture we have. Quentin bought into our culture.” Sampson said.

Grimes continued his upward trajectory in his junior year, posting career-best numbers — 17.8 points and 5.8 rebounds while shooting 40 percent from deep on 5.9 attempts — leading the Cougars to the NCAA Final Four for the first time since 1984.

He also posted his best defensive rating per 100 possessions at 90.1, a 15-point jump from his freshman year.

Grimes made it personal to defend the opposing team’s best player. He was a big part of why the Cougars were the second-best defensive team in the NCAA last season, allowing only 58.2 points per game behind Loyola Chicago’s 56.1-point average.

“He really bought in (to our culture). He’s such a great kid. I thoroughly enjoyed coaching him. To see his progress — almost every game we played this year, he was the best player on the floor — and his confidence took off. His belief in winning grew each game,” Sampson said.

Grimes became the first Cougar to be drafted in the first round since Cadillac Anderson went 23rd in 1987.

In Grimes, the Knicks got a ready-made rookie who can contribute from day one but still has so much room for growth. His appetite for learning is insatiable.

The rookie swingman started his Knicks career poorly, just like the way he did in college. After drilling his first shot — a three-pointer — in the NBA Summer League, he would only hit four of his next 21 attempts from long distance.

But even if his shots were not falling, Grimes didn’t stop playing.

He rebounded the ball, made plays for his teammates, and played resolute defense. 

Sampson was not worried, but still, he sent a text of encouragement to his former star.

“He started out like a rookie,” Sampson said. “I’m sure there were some anxiety and nerves. He was playing with a shoot-first point guard, whereas he played with a pass-first point guard in college. So he’s gonna have to be able to adjust with different styles and players, knowing that he’s not gonna be the first option. It took him a game or two to adjust, but once he did, you saw how good he is.”

Grimes finished the Summer League on a bright note. His final numbers were solid: 15.3 points, 6.3 rebounds, and 3.0 assists with nearly a steal and a block per game.

Grimes shrugged off his poor shooting start and ended up with a staggering 41-percent clip on nine three-point attempts.

In a loaded Knicks team, it will be hard to replicate those numbers in the regular season. Minutes would be hard to come by for rookies. But Sampson believes Grimes can earn his way into the rotation.

“He’s a smart kid,” Sampson said. “He knew that he’s not gonna be the first option. But even if you already know that, it will take some time to adjust.”

“He’s gonna be filling in a role. If you think about the NBA, everybody is a role player. For the best guys on that team, that’s their role. For the guys who take the most shots, that’s their role. So Quentin will settle into a role. Once he does, he has to accept it. Be the best that he can be at it. Each year, try to get better. That’s the key,” Sampson added.

Grimes’ initial role could be a 3-and-D spark off the bench when the veterans ahead of him, such as Alec Burks, Evan Fournier, and RJ Barrett, go down with an injury or having off nights. But during his introductory presser, Grimes was adamant that he’s more than just a 3-and-D guy.

Sampson agrees. 

“If you watch [Quentin] play with the Knicks this summer and with us and also at the [Draft] Combine in Chicago, he showed that he could make plays. He is an outstanding defender and a three-point shooter. But he also can put the ball on the floor and create,” Sampson said.

“But as a rookie, he’s just gonna go get in and sacrifice and figure out what coach Thibs wants him to do and do that. If he wants him to be a and 3-and-D guy, then be that guy. If they give you the freedom to do some other things, then make sure you’re ready to do that.”

Sampson, like Thibodeau, has built a reputation as a winner everywhere he goes. Grimes has been wired like a Thibs’ guy. So there’s no doubt in Sampson’s mind that Thibodeau will be able to find a role for Grimes.

“The Knicks organization knows how to win,” Sampson said. “Thibs has been doing that longer than anybody that has been commenting or writing or talking. He knows what he’s doing. He’ll put Quentin in the best position, and more importantly, their team to succeed.”

The Knicks identified what Thibodeau wanted and needed to succeed. Their thorough scouting and sleuthing led them to Grimes, an underrated talent and a high-character guy who will put in the work and put winning above all else.

“Good players, at some point, have to embrace winning over statistics. If all you care about is statistics, then you’re not about winning. Winning is far more important than putting up stats,” Sampson said. “Coaches want to see how much you impact winning, not how many points you can score.”

That is what the Knicks saw in Grimes. The former five-star prospect overcame adversity and repaired his shattered confidence once he embraced the Cougars’ culture and learned to impact winning. Sampson unlocked his true gifts and, in the process, molded him to become a quintessential Thibs guy.

Follow this writer on Twitter: @alderalmo

Report: Knicks extend GM Scott Perry

New York Knicks

New York Knicks general manager Scott Perry had been extended, according to Shams Charania of The Athletic. Ian Begley of SNY added that Perry signed a multi-year deal to stay in New York.

Perry started last season on shaky ground as a holdover of the Steve Mills regime, but he proved his worth with some of his past moves contributing to the Knicks’ successful turnaround.

Perry was responsible for the Knicks’ core that developed into a playoff contender under coach Tom Thibodeau’s first season.

After Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving spurned them in the 2018 free agency, Perry signed Julius Randle to a team-friendly contract. He was one of three power forwards he signed. Bobby Portis and Marcus Morris were the other two.

Portis went to the Milwaukee Bucks last summer and is now an NBA champion. Perry flipped Morris into a first-round pick that became Immanuel Quickley.

Randle stayed and keyed the Knicks’ surprising playoff run this past season. He blossomed into an All-Star and an All-NBA player and was named the Most Improved Player league.

Perry also stuck his guns during the 2019 NBA Draft as the Knicks stood pat with the third overall pick despite offers to trade down for multiple assets. He selected RJ Barrett out of Duke.

After a mixed rookie year where he was snubbed from the All-Rookie Team, Barrett bounced back with a strong sophomore season.

Perry also drafted Mitchell Robinson, a second-round pick that proved to be a steal. He also signed Reggie Bullock, who had a solid run last season. But he also had his shares of misses, like picking Kevin Knox over Mikal Bridges, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Michael Porter, Jr, and hiring Dave Fizdale over Mike Budenholzer.

ESPN NBA Insider Brian Windhorst reported last May that Perry would likely remain with the Knicks beyond this season.

Perry was initially hired in 2017. He remained with the Knicks when Leon Rose took over for just a one-year extension. It was a move viewed around the league as a stop-gap measure to ease the team’s transition to the Rose regime.

Follow this writer on Twitter: @alderalmo

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

Windhorst: ‘Scott Perry will be around Knicks longer’

New York Knicks

New York Knicks general manager Scott Perry started the NBA season on shaky ground. But along with Julius Randle and the Knicks’ rise, Perry is believed to have found his solid footing on the new regime.

ESPN’s NBA Insider Brian Windhorst posited on his podcast that Knicks team president Leon Rose would retain Perry on Tuesday.

“Scott Perry only got a one-year contract extension,” Windhorst said on Brian Windhorst & The Hoop Collective podcast.

“I think someone should want to hire him,” his guest, ESPN’s The Jump host Ramona Shelburne replied.

“I’ll get in trouble for saying this because it will get aggregated, but I hear Scott Perry will be around the Knicks longer,” said Windhorst. “He will be. I hear it is all going to be worked out.”

Perry is a remnant of the Steve Mills era. But he’s not at all a stranger to the new regime. He has prior connections with the Knicks’ current team executive vice president and Rose’s senior advisor William Wesley.

The two executives have known each other since Perry’s days with the Detroit Pistons in the early 2000s. Wesley has become an influential figure in the Pistons’ locker room, being Rip Hamilton’s confidant and a close friend of coach Larry Brown.

While Perry was there, he helped the Pistons build a consistent playoff roster that went to the Eastern Conference Finals six times and won an NBA championship in 2004 under Brown.

Before this season, Perry’s future with the team was murky.

But to Perry’s credit, as Shelburne discussed on the Windhorst’s podcast, he was responsible for pivoting quickly to Randle after Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving spurned the Knicks.

Perry locked up Randle to a team-friendly deal, and his gamble paid off.

Randle has emerged as an All-Star this season, leading the surprising Knicks to the playoffs for the first time in eight years. He is the favorite to win the Most Improved Player of the Year and a cinch to be selected in one of the three All-NBA teams at the end of the season.

Perry has also stuck to his guns during the 2019 NBA Draft picking RJ Barrett with the third overall pick despite some quarters in the Knicks organization wanting to trade down and pick up additional draft assets in return.

After an All-Rookie Team snub last season, Barrett bounced back and has added an outside shot to his developing all-around game that has become vital in Knicks’ success this season.

He also signed Reggie Bullock and Marcus Morris and flipped him for a first-round pick that eventually became Immanuel Quickley.

Perry was also responsible for drafting Mitchell Robinson in the second round of the 2018 NBA Draft and locking him up to a team-friendly contract. But he also had his shares of misses, like picking Kevin Knox over Mikal Bridges, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, and Michael Porter, Jr, and hiring Dave Fizdale over Mike Budenholzer.

Before coming to New York in 2017, Perry also had stints with Orlando — where he drafted Victor Oladipo, Aaron Godron, current Knick Elfrid Payton, former Knick Mario Hezonja, — and the Kings after his first stop in Detroit.

Follow this writer on Twitter: @alderalmo

Knicks move up in the draft, send 2 picks to Jazz for No.23

New York Knicks, Leon Rose

The New York Knicks made their first trade under Leon Rose, packaging the 27th and 38th picks to move up to 23rd in today’s NBA Draft.

ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski first reported the transaction.

The Knicks have also acquired the rights on Croatian 7-foot-2 center Ante Tomic, Jazz’s 44th overall pick in 2008. Tomic is is not expected to play in the NBA.

Interestingly, both the 27th and 38th picks were acquired by the Knicks via previous trades.

The 27th pick was originally from the Los Angeles Clippers via the Marcus Morris trade deadline deal.

The 38th pick, meanwhile, came from the Charlotte Hornets in a 2018 trade involving Willy Hernangomez.

The Knicks must have liked a prospect that they wouldn’t want to slide beyond the 23rd pick.

The 23rd pick also gives the Knicks a much more significant asset than the 28th pick for a bigger move down the road.

If they stand pat, the prospects who could be available at No. 23 that were previously linked to the Knicks are Stanford’s Tyrell Terry, Washington’s Isaiah Stewart, TCU’s Desmond Bane, Arizona’s Josh Green, North Carolina’s Cole Anthony, San Diego State’s Malachi Flynn, and Maryland’s Jalen Smith.

Follow this writer on Twitter: @alderalmo

Quick like a Fox: Knicks’ prospect Kira Lewis stock on the rise in New York

New York Knicks

Alabama Crimson Tide coach Nate Oats tried to downplay his FaceTime call with the New York Knicks top brass and his speedy point guard Kira Lewis, Jr. last week. But there’s a link between him and the Knicks that’s too hard to ignore, making Lewis an intriguing possibility to land in New York on Nov. 18.

The Knicks, under Leon Rose, have been operating like a fraternity. The new regime is looking to score big by leveraging on relationships at its core. Tapping on Rose and his senior advisor William Wesley’s vast network, the moribund franchise has succeeded in luring great minds from inside and outside the league to come and help rehabilitate the Knicks.

It appears they’re operating the same way in their pre-Draft process.

In a draft that is so unpredictable, intel is king.

Without the NCAA March Madness and the benefit of a regular Draft Combine, those forged relationships and strong networks have come in handy for the Knicks.

The connections are coming from everywhere. It’s not just confined within the Creative Artists Agency where Rose was its former head of basketball or Kentucky, where John Calipari shares a strong bond with Wesley.

The ties that bind

The FaceTime call last week transported Oats back to his early days in his coaching career. 

When Oats got his first head coaching job at Romulus High School in Michigan in the early 2000s, he used to drive to Detroit and observed the Pistons’ practice. 

Around that time, the Knick’s current general manager Scott Perry was a Pistons’ team executive. At the same time, Williams was already a ‘players’ whisperer’ and was involved with The Family, an AAU basketball team based in Detroit supported by former Pistons’ guard Rip Hamilton. Wesley became a regular fixture at Pistons practices and games, especially when another close friend, Larry Brown, took the head coaching job in 2004 that resulted in one of the NBA’s unlikely championship runs.

“I’ve known those guys for a little bit,” Oats told Empire Sports Media during his zoom call press conference on Thursday. “They made a connection with Kira when they were interviewing him. They FacedTime me.”

“I coached Kira for a year. Kira is a great kid. They got great staff there in New York. [I have] No idea where’s that going, and I’m sure they are going around interviewing all kinds of people leading into the Draft. I don’t want people to take too much out of it. It’s just a common connection. I coached Kira, and I knew those guys during my time in Detroit.”

Oats tried his best to sell the FaceTime call short, saying it was merely a sort of introduction to make his point guard a little more comfortable during the meeting. But there’s a certain level of comfort and trust between Oats and the Knicks’ top brass that may pull Lewis to New York.

“They’re good guys, and I guess they just want Kira to feel a little bit more welcomed. We chopped it up and joked around a bit. We talked about Kira’s game for a minute then I got off. I know the Knicks are getting a lot of media attention there in New York, and they have a high draft pick,” Oats said. “They gotta make sure they get the right pick.”

Alabama’s sweet spot?

The Knicks are at an inflection point since Rose, a former player agent, took over from James Dolan’s right-hand man Steve Mills.

They are looking for a lead guard, and Oats’ connection with the past (Perry) and the new (Wesley) regime in New York could play a vital role in the franchise’s search.

“I think Scott Perry is going to be really good for them. Thibs (Tom Thibodeau) is going to get their defense squared up, and I think Kira’s defense got a lot better last year,” Oats said. “We talked about that.”

“I think he is a very talented kid. I think the way the NBA is played now — it’s so spread out and wide open — you can’t put your hands on guys defensively. With the speed and skill level Kira has, he can get in the paint whenever he wants and makes plays. He was great in our system. We played a lot like what the NBA is doing that is so wide open, and I think he’ll make a great NBA player.”

Lewis, a 6-foot-3 guard with a 6-foot-5 wingspan, has been a blur in the SEC ever since he stepped into Division I as the youngest player at 17 years old in the 2018-19 season. He skipped his senior year of high school and went straight to college.

“He’s really a smart kid. He was such a good student in high school that he only needs a couple of core classes to go and reclassify,” Alabama assistant coach Antoine Pettway told Empire Sports Media in a separate exclusive interview.

“So he had like either go up in high school and score 40 points a game or go to college. He always wanted to challenge himself and try to get to the next level.”

As the youngest freshman under former Alabama coach Avery Johnson, Lewis took over the starting role vacated by Collin Sexton, the eighth pick of the 2018 NBA Draft. The Knicks, barring any trade, are scheduled to select at the same spot where Sexton was picked by the Cleveland Cavaliers two years ago.

Will that eighth slot become Alabama’s sweet spot?

Leader by example

Pettway, who recruited Lewis to Alabama, observed that the 17-year old freshman was shy initially. But it didn’t take long before Lewis began to put his stamp on the team.

“Our team respects his work ethic, his talent. Coming in, he should have been a senior in high school and came in as a starting point guard on a pretty good team. It took him a little while before he warmed up to everyone, but I thought he made a lot of great strides his second year being more vocal, leading guys,” Pettway said.

As Lewis’ game expanded, so was his role in the team. He wasn’t only the Crimson Tide’s floor general. His leadership extended beyond the hardcourt.

“I always tell this story. He’s a guy that gets up at six in the morning and works out. And during the first couple of days, he hit it on his own. Then after a couple of weeks, he’s bringing the whole team with him; he’s already organizing. He’s the guy that leads by example. He’s very personable,” Pettway said.

Lewis comes from a small and simple family in Huntsville, Alabama. Their family owns a small barbershop. His basketball exploits are always a headliner in the barbershop talk. Recently, another member of the Lewis family has joined the conversation.

“His sister just got a degree from UAB (University of Alabama Birmingham). They’re really a tight-knit family. When you meet the rest of the family, you can see Kira has a really good upbringing,” Pettway said.

It wouldn’t be long before Lewis’ NBA exploits would soon dominate the barbershop talk when his name is one of the first to be called by league commissioner Adam Silver later this month.

“It will mean the world to them. His parents were there in every step of the way. His mom, Natasha, said she’s not going to cry when they put the hat on him, but I know a hundred percent it won’t be dry in that room when his name gets called,” Pettway said.

“It’s always good to see good things happen to good people. I’ve dealt with some good people from top to bottom and Kira is a product of that, you know Kira is a class A kid. As good as he is as a player, he’s even a better kid. And when you meet his mom and dad you’ll know why he’s a good kid.”

Love at burst sight

Pettway first scouted Lewis when he was a ninth-grader going up against Alabama’s older and better players. In a game that featured Lewis against Michigan State’s Joshua Langford, who was two years older, Pettway went to see what the hype was all about.

Pettway fell in love right away.

“He really held his own against Langford. He played really, really well. And you can just tell, his speed even at that age, oh man just the way he moves and gets into the lane and finish, how fast he was, you can really, really tell he’s going to be a good player. That’s my first time seeing him in person,” Pettway said. “He’s close to 15 (years old) at that time. I watched him that whole summer.”

Pettway recognizes a great point guard when he sees one.

Before becoming an assistant coach and the top recruiter in Alabama, he was the Crimson Tide star point guard during the school’s quarterfinal run in the 2004 NCAA tournament.

Pettway secured Lewis’ commitment after the latter’s stint in the 2018 Nike Skills Academy, an exclusive camp reserved for the top 25 high school players in the country.

Lewis didn’t disappoint because even when he was the youngest freshman, he played with so much poise. Pettway won’t forget the exact moment when he realized Lewis is special and has a shot at becoming their next NBA Lottery pick after Sexton.

The reckoning came in a tight game against the visiting Arizona Wildcats in December of 2018.

“It was a close game. We were up by two; Arizona just made a run,” Pettway recalled.

“He (Kira) drove hard right, and pulled back his dribble. He hit a big-time three-point shot with less than a minute to go to ice the game. That’s the first big shot he’s made here, and I looked at him, and I was like ‘yo, this kid is different!’”

Lewis didn’t look back since then.

He led Alabama in assists (2.9 apg), 20-point games (5), and minutes (31.6 mpg) and earned a spot in the All-SEC Freshman Team. The next summer, he suited up for the Team USA that won the gold medal at the 2019 FIBA Men’s Basketball U-19 World Cup.

Lewis was just getting started. He took off when Oats took over from Johnson.

Oats, the former Buffalo Bulls head coach, brought with him his coaching philosophy, which is based on “max effort, continuous growth, and selfless love.”

Lewis embraced Oats’ tenets, and he flourished in the new Crimson Tide’s up-tempo style.

Career game vs. The Ant

Lewis’ arrival to the national spotlight came at the expense of the potential No.1 pick Anthony Edwards.

He picked the right time to set a career record in scoring when he dropped 37 points against Edwards and Georgia in a 105-102 overtime victory. His arsenal was on full display. He completed his virtuoso performance with seven assists, five boards, two steals, and one block, which turned the heads of many NBA scouts.

Edwards had a double-double (14 points, 12 rebounds), but he was limited to 5-of-17 shooting and 0-of-6 from beyond the arc.

Lewis is the engine that kept the Crimson Tide’s high-octane offense humming. He’s the Michael Schumacher of Oat’s Ferrari.

Lewis’s blinding speed has an impact on both ends of the floor. He was a blur on offense and a disruptor on defense.

His sophomore year saw him record eight 20-point games and three 30-point explosions, two double-doubles (point and assists) and could have been more if not for the Covid-19 shutdown.

Lewis finished his last season in Alabama as the Crimson Tide leader in scoring (18.5 ppg with 46/36/80 shooting splits), assists (5.2 apg), steals (1.8 spg), minutes (37.6 mpg), and field goals made (206) and attempted (449). As if that’s not enough, he also led the whole SEC in minutes while ranking third in assists and steals and fourth in scoring.

His game’s only knock is his high turnover rate (3.5) and his finishing at the rim. But the inefficiency could be attributed to his high usage rate and heavy minutes playing at an ultra-fast speed. There’s a belief that once he goes up in the NBA and the game begins to slow down for him, chances are he could become more efficient.

He has the potential to become an elite scorer with that kind of blinding speed in the era of pace and space in the NBA.

“The speed, from baseline to baseline, I think he’s the fastest guy in this Draft. I think his scoring ability, his decision making, just his reads coming out of the ball screen, his skill set, being able to pass or get into the lane are already a given, but what’s going to surprise a lot of teams is how well he shoots the ball,” Pettway said.

“If you see him work out and watched him closely, he can really, really shoot the ball, especially on catch and shoot situations, and with all the space that they have in the NBA, he’s going to be a blur. He constantly gets into the lane and looks for scoring opportunity. And another underrated part of his game is his ability to take floaters. He has a really, really nice touch on his floater.”

Per Synergy, Lewis scored 1 PPP on all jump shots (73rd percentile), 1.238 PPP when shooting off the catch (89th percentile), and 0.926 PPP on shots off the dribble (79th percentile) during his sophomore year in Alabama.

Even Iowa State head coach Steve Prohm, who has his own point guard Tyrese HaliburtonTyrese Haliburton in the draft, was impressed with Lewis.

“He’s pretty good, a phenomenal kid. He has really elite quickness that can get the ball from A to B. He can get to the free-throw line, and he can shoot it,” Prohm told Empire Sports Media.

Quick like a Fox

Lewis already knew what he could do. But he’s not resting on his laurels.

He’s smart enough to realize that speed alone doesn’t cut it to the next level. A strong game to match his blazing speed is what he would need. Described as a gym rat by his coaches, Lewis tripled his efforts in preparation for the NBA.

“He’s working out every single day. He’s eating right. He’s done a great improvement with his body in terms of getting strength. He’s constantly in the gym working out two to three times a day,” Pettway said. When he’s away from the gym, he’s watching a lot of films.

Lewis has put on 15 pounds to his once scrawny 165-lb frame.

Derek Murray, Babcock Hoops director of scouting, recently saw a vastly improved and stronger Lewis scouting trip in Miami.

“Right off the bat, Lewis showed off his dazzling speed. It didn’t matter if he was in an isolation or in the pick-and-roll; he was easily getting around his man for easy lay-ins. He always got downhill quickly, staying on par with his success at Alabama. One of the most noticeable things during the runs, however, was how Lewis absorbed contact in the lane,” Murray said.

With a stronger body, Lewis exudes more confidence on the court attacking the rim.

His burst of speed reminded Pettway of another speedy playmaker — former Kentucky Wildcat and current Sacramento Kings’ lead guard De’Aaron Fox.

 

“That kind of speed is hard to deal with,” Pettway said. “Based on their finishing, I think De’Aaron is really good at finishing while Kira is a guy who’s crafty who knows how to finish. De’Aaron is probably bigger, longer right now, but Kira shoots better at this stage.”

Fox shot 25 percent from deep as a one-and-done under John Calipari. In contrast, Lewis shot an average of 36 percent during his two-year stay in Alabama.

Fox eventually improved his outside shot in the NBA, becoming a 33-percent three-point shooter in three seasons with the Kings.

Lewis’ shooting mechanics are more precise that more than makes up for his lack of size.

Murray also saw his potential as a small-ball two-guard in the NBA.

“We also saw Kira play next to Terry Rozier and operate a fair amount off the ball, something that he did not do very often while at Alabama. It was interesting to see him without the ball in his hands as both a cutter and a floor spacer. His ability to shoot off movement may unlock a whole other level to his offensive ceiling due to his speed; a defender tasked with chasing him off screens for extended periods of time would be in for a miserable evening. While he’s not regarded as a combo guard or off-ball shooter right now, we got a glimpse into that becoming a possibility,” Murray said.

Ready for prime time

Pettway believes Lewis is the type of player who can immediately impact any NBA team, whether he’s starting or coming off the bench.

“I think with the spacing in the NBA, he’s going to have the opportunity and will be a problem every single night that he’s on the floor. I think he’s going to fit wherever the situation he goes. If there’s a veteran guard whom they want him to learn from in a couple of years, he could fit in, and if he’s thrown into a situation where he has to be the lead guard from day one, he’s really capable of doing it,” Pettway said.

“Super respectful kid. He’s a joy to coach. You can push him hard, and he won’t complain. He’s never disrespected us. He just goes about him being coached the right way and applies it. He’s a dream to coach.”

Lewis said he has talked to “just about everybody” in the NBA, which Oats also had done the same, adding that teams have been very inquisitive.

“He’s got zero red flags as a kid. He’s a great person off the floor. He works hard. He’s always at the gym. That’s the type of stuff they want to know. They can see how good he is on film. And they want to know what it’s like being him off the court. They give you some really detailed questionnaires, like interesting questions that I told one of those guys to send me those questionnaires for me to ask the recruits when we recruit kids to come here. It’s a lot of interesting questions,” Oats said. 

But as the NBA Draft approaches, the Alabama coach said he’s still getting a decent amount of calls. And based on those conversations, he already has a pulse where his point guard might fall.

“Lately, those teams who are a little bit interested are those teams from the middle to the end of the lottery to mid-first round. And everybody on that range has reached out doing their homework. And there are a few others who are maybe looking to make trades. The team with the No.1 pick has reached out to us. I don’t think he (Kira) is going No.1 in the draft. Who knows? But I think those teams that are doing homework with the possibility of maybe there are trades going to come up, have reached out,” Oats said.

The Minnesota Timberwolves have indicated that they are open to trading the No.1 pick. Either Lewis is a trade-down candidate, or he’s on their radar for their No.17 pick. But it’s unlikely that he’ll still be on the board when the Wolves get their second crack.

In this unpredictable draft, analysts’ projections of Lewis’ draft position have been varied.

Jonathan Wasserman of Bleacher Report has him at No. 10 going to the Phoenix Suns. Both Kevin O’ Connor of The Ringer and Sam Vecennie of the Athletic peg him at No. 14 with the Boston Celtics while ESPN’s Jonathan Givony slots him at 20th pick with the Miami Heat. Babcock Hoops has him going to the Pistons at No. 7.

O’Connor noted that the Celtics are offering their three picks (14, 26, and 30) to move up in the Draft. It’s unclear if that’s enough to entice the teams in the upper echelon of the lottery. The Wolves and the Golden State Warriors are looking for an established player that fits their core’s timeline.

So far, Lewis has worked out with the Knicks, Orlando Magic (No.15), Pistons, and the Chicago Bulls (No. 4).

It’s going to be a shock if the Bulls pick him at No. 4. So he’s most likely on the Bulls’ radar as a trade-down candidate.

On the other hand, the Magic are intrigued in pairing Lewis with former top overall pick Markelle Fultz at their backcourt. But with Lewis’ stock rising after his impressive workouts, the Magic may need to trade up if they want the Alabama guard. Because the Kings, who are picking at No. 12, also have their eyes on him as Fox’s backup guard. It’s going to be wild to have both speedy playmakers in Sacramento’s backcourt.

The Suns are interested as well with their starting point guard Ricky Rubio entering his 30s.

Meanwhile, the Knicks and the Pistons are both in the hunt for a lead guard. And if the FaceTime call is any indication, you can tell Lewis’s stock is rising in New York.

Pettway loves the idea of Lewis going to the Knicks as a potential lead guard.

“I love it! They have some good pieces — Julius Randle, RJ Barrett, Kevin Knox and Mitchell Robinson. I think he will mesh with those guys. Kira is the kind of guy who comes along well with everybody. That speed that he has, he will fit anywhere, but I love it with the young core that Knicks have with just a few years in the league whom he can relate to; I love that fit,” Pettway said.

“I just think he’s going to make it work wherever he goes. Guys will like to play with him because he’s unselfish. He loves the game. He wants to succeed so badly. He’s so competitive and confident and he’s going to do whatever it takes and allows his team to win the game,” he added.

Thibodeau has never had a dynamic scoring point guard since he had a prime Derrick Rose in Chicago. None of the current Knicks’ point guards so far has panned out yet.

Lewis could provide that burst of speed and outside shooting that will put pressure on the defense.

Lewis is ready for prime time.

Oats can’t wait to see his point guard star in the Broadway if ever he lands on the lap of his old friends in New York.

“It will be interesting to see what happens. I’d love for him to go to New York. I think he would be great there. Shoot, I’d like to come to New York and watch a few games. So give me a good reason to go to New York and watch some games when our season’s over.”

Follow this writer on Twitter: @alderalmo

New York Knicks: Leon Rose mum on team’s future plans

New York Knicks, Leon Rose

The New York Knicks held an introductory press conference for new head coach Tom Thibodeau on Thursday. Thibodeau, president Leon Rose and general manager Scott Perry took questions from the media.

Rose, the Knicks new president, says the organization has “not set a timeline” while noting that Thibodeau can help make them “a perennial winner” (quotes per Marc Berman of the New York Post).

“We have not set a timeline. We are taking it one day at a time. We felt Tom was that coach who can take us with development to becoming a perennial winner. That happens one step at a time,” Rose said. “At the moment we don’t know what the roster will be moving forward. We have decisions we have to make. The important thing is to instill the culture, focus on the development and take it from there.”

With Thibodeau in the fold, the onus for the Knicks now shifts to rounding out a coaching staff (Mike Woodson is reportedly expected to join Thibodeau’s coaching staff) and the NBA offseason.

The Knicks have three selections in the 2020 NBA Draft: their own first and second-round pick and the Los Angeles Clippers’ first-round pick. They acquired the Clippers first rounder as part of a midseason trade that sent Marcus Morris to the West Coast.

New York is sixth in the NBA lottery, which takes place on Aug. 20, and owns the eighth selection in the second round (38). They have reportedly interviewed and/or shown interest in guards RJ Hampton, Cole Anthony and Killian Hayes and wings Deni Avdija and Jay Scrubb.

New York has team options on Bobby Portis, Taj Gibson, Elfrid Payton, Wayne Ellington and Reggie Bullock for the 2020-21 NBA season. In the scenario those options are declined, the Knicks could have roughly $60 million in cap space in the offseason.

Jared Harper talks joining the New York Knicks

New York Knicks, Jared Harper

The New York Knicks claimed point guard Jared Harper off waivers from the Phoenix Suns in June. Harper signed with the Suns as an undrafted free agent last offseason and spent the 2019-20 season with the team’s G-League affiliate, the Northern Arizona Suns. Across 34 games, he averaged 20.2 points, 5.5 assists, and 1.1 steals per game while shooting 36.2 percent from beyond the arc.

In an interview with Marc Berman of the New York Post, Harper said Knicks president Leon Rose and general manager Scott Perry “couldn’t wait” for him to join the team.

“[Rose and Perry] told me they couldn’t wait for me to be part of the team, be in New York and be myself,’’ Harper told The Post in a phone interview. “Just play my game and everything else will take care of itself. I feel there are a lot of great things I could do and have good potential to do those things.’’

While the G-League came with its fair share of challenges, Harper said he became “a better basketball player” last season.

“At times I felt it could have been frustrating just wanting to get an opportunity to be on the NBA floor and try to contribute to the team,” Harper said. “I still felt overall it was a great first year being in the G-League improving. I felt this year is the most I’ve improved overall in my career, able to work on different things. I definitely felt I became a better basketball player. I wouldn’t have wanted it to go any another way because I feel I improved.’’

Harper compares the Knicks to the Auburn Tigers, his alma mater, in regards to having “a great fan base.”

“It’s definitely a great spot for me,’’ Harper said. “I’ll be able to grow as a basketball player. That it happened so quick was just assurance to me I belong at this level.

“It’s similar to my Auburn situation — a great fan base. Auburn was really good before and struggled a bit and I was able to get the Auburn program back up again. I feel I want to help make Knicks basketball what it was before.‘’

Harper played and started three seasons at Auburn. Across those seasons, he averaged 13.5 points, 4.8 assists, and 1.2 steals per game while shooting 35.9 percent from beyond the arc.

Harper said he’s going to “compete” whenever he steps on the floor for the Knicks.

“I’m someone who’s going to compete every time he’s on the floor,’’ Harper said. “Someone who knows what it takes to win, someone who is going to enjoy the moment.’’

Harper joins a point guard depth chart that includes Frank Ntilikina, Dennis Smith Jr., and potentially Elfrid Payton, who the Knicks have an $8 million team option on for the 2020-21 NBA season.

New York Knicks: Leon Rose praises Mike Miller, talks head-coaching search

New York Knicks, Leon Rose

New York Knicks president Leon Rose was interviewed by MSG Networks‘ Mike Breen Wednesday night on the “MSG 150 At Home.” The interview marked the first time Rose spoke publicly/virtually since joining the organization in February.

Among the many topics discussed were the team’s head-coaching situation. Rose praised Mike Miller, who took over as interim head coach after David Fizdale was fired in December 2019, for his efforts in leading the Knicks this season while noting how he hopes to have a head coach in place by the end of July.

“What I witnessed before I was here and what I saw being around Mike Miller – first class, did a great job in a very difficult situation, and we’re so appreciative of that. Mike is the first person that we talked to,” said Rose, who hasn’t had an introductory press conference yet.. “We’re setting it up in two phases. We’re having shorter meetings, kind of break the ice, with the various candidates, and then we’re going to have full interviews with the candidates, and Mike, obviously, is one of those candidates. We’re anticipating that to go to mid-to-late July, and hopefully by the end of July make a decision, whether it’s to keep Mike or to go in a different direction.

“But it’s really exciting. There’s a lot of really great candidates, and I’m not going to get into who the candidates are, but it’s exciting. We’re looking at a lot of different people with a lot of different mindsets, philosophies, and for me personally, this is educational, and I need to make sure that we go through this process and we dot every ‘I’ and cross every ‘T’ in order to make the right decision.”

Rose said he wants the team’s head coach to be a “leader” who will be “collaborative.”

“We want to find the right leader that can develop our young players, as well as hold everyone accountable and take us from development to becoming a perennial winner. We also want somebody that we think will be collaborative with the front office and someone that, when you’re in that huddle and you’re looking in that coach’s eyes, every player that’s looking at him knows that that person is driving the ship and going to get the job done.”

Rose and the Knicks have made a handful of front-office moves since the NBA season was suspended. They retained general manager Scott Perry, while hiring Walt Perrin as assistant general manager for college scouting, Brock Aller as vice president of basketball and strategic planning and William Wesley as executive vice president/senior basketball advisor, among others.