Thoughts about a Knicks-Blue Coats G League Game
The Westchester Knicks play at the Westchester County Center in White Plains, New York, which is approximately 40 minutes from NYC. I live in Westchester, so the trip was pretty easy to make by car (although parking was actually more expensive than my ticket). The actual arena, while small, is clean and well lit, and the game was considerably empty so I moved from my assigned seat to a slightly better one above and behind the basket. Despite the unassuming crowd, which consisted of mostly families and local youth groups, the arena managed to grow quite raucous at times, most notably after a few of Kenny Wooten's highlight plays. I was impressed with the intimacy that the stands provided, as I could hear every player, coach, ref, and even the occasional heckler (imagine heckling the ref at a G League game). All in all, I consider my experience at the arena a pleasant one, with the only negatives being the food and a surprising lack of legroom in the stands.
By G League standards, the 10-12 Westchester Knicks aren't bad. They started the game with some hot shooting, with 22-year-old guard Tyler Hall starting the half 5-5 from three. This was punctuated by some thunderous putback dunks and blocks by 21-year-old PF/C Kenny Wooten, who flashed some serious athleticism and potential. Another standout in the first half was 29-year-old JJ Moore, who was T'd up for taunting after a fiery offensive rebound and dunk, much to the annoyance of the crowd. The Knicks' hot start and good three-point shooting led them to an eight-point lead over the Delaware Blue Coats after the first half.
However, all good things must come to an end, and the Westchester Knicks couldn't run from the unassailable fact that they are, despite their thirty-mile separation from Madison Square Garden, still the Knicks. Seemingly unable to deny any form of ball-penetration from the Blue Coats' guards, and shaken by the 7' 4" height of Christ Koumadje, the Knicks quickly gave up an eight-point run, and then the lead to start the third quarter. At the end of the period, Westchester was down five. The Knicks lost any hope of a comeback early in the fourth quarter, allowing the Blue Coats to go on a 12-2 run. The game quickly devolved into garbage-time shot chucking, in which various members of the team would rise to the honor of attempting a soon-to-be-bricked three. In sum, watching the Westchester Knicks was very similar to watching the New York Knicks: shots were falling until they weren't, the game was close until it wasn't, and the experience was fun until it - ultimately - wasn't.
Player Analysis aka You Didn't Read the Recap You Just Want to Know about Kenny Wooten:
Before I begin, here are some caveats:
- This is entirely based upon my one-game sample; I'm not a big enough basketball fiend to watch G League games in my free time (if you are, please feel free to correct me).
- The offensive game plan might have been significantly altered by the presence of 7'4" Christ Koumadje, who lingered under the basket and made nearly any drive to the rim by a smaller player (everyone else) near impossible.
- I am by no means a basketball scout, so I don't have the time nor the inclination to take a deep dive into the schemes or sets that either team ran. This stuff is pretty surface level.
What an athlete. As a high flying, rim-running, PF/C, Wooten impacts the game by rendering layup attempts and floaters null. When he jumps, Wooten seems to be in the air for an incredible amount of time. On the offensive end, he has some impact as a rebounder and dunker, but from what I saw, he lacks a back to the basket or shooting game. Wooten's main issues right now on the defensive end stem from two causes, one fixable and one not. The fixable issue is that he seems a step late on the help defensive end, often relying on athleticism to cover for bad timing. However, I can see this being coached out of him in the future with more experience in the G League. I say G League, because at the moment he is too small for larger centers in the NBA, and his defensive timing issues will be exploited by quicker and more explosive players whom Wooten can't use his athleticism to beat. I'm not sure if seeing NBA minutes is right for him now, but I wouldn't complain if Wooten were called up later in the season. I see him becoming a backup big who can provide spot minutes as a sort of spark plug energy guy, more of a tenth man than any kind of a starter (which isn't bad for an undrafted player).
I wasn't super impressed with Ivan Rabb this game. As a traditional PF/C with NBA experience, he was unable to be a difference maker. When he was matched up against Christ Koumadje, Christ's size rendered him essentially useless, so I can see him struggling against bigger centers in the future barring a bulk up (which is entirely possible since Rabb is only 22). However, Rabb did show some ability to post up, which bodes well for his future. I expect him to be called up later this season and post serviceable numbers as a backup big.
Tyler Hall and Lamar Peters:
They are similar types of players, both having solid shooting strokes. Lamar Peters actually set the Westchester Knicks' record for threes in a game recently, and Tyler Hall had a great shooting game against the Blue Coats, going 6-9 from deep. While Lamar had an off shooting night (3-11 from three), he showed playmaking potential, posting 11 assists. If both players improve on their man defense, I expect them to receive opportunities in the NBA sooner rather than later.
I was impressed with Amir's ability to break down opposing players off the dribble and create space for himself, and his scoring benefited, as he went 3-5 from two-point range. I wasn't able to get a great look at him besides that, however, as he only played 11 minutes and didn't make a sizable impact besides his dribbling skills.
Good energy guy, but unfortunately, he is already 28 years old, so he may have run out of time to get a shot in the NBA. Regardless, I was impressed with his poise and his rebounding, especially on the offensive end.
Note: As a team, the Knicks shot a very pedestrian 14-20 from the line, begging the question, "Has the entire Knicks organization forgotten to practice free throws?" At this point I'm half-confused and half-worried about the Knicks' woes from the line.
Watching Zhaire Smith, I was expecting to see a player who was head and shoulders above his peers. Unfortunately, the mid-first round 20-year-old sophomore hasn't yet reached those expectations. Even though he posted a 16/4/2 statline in 30 minutes, his impact on the game can best be described as "ehhh." His shooting stroke remains shaky, and he wasn't creating significant space on his dribble drives. I hope with more time in the G League he can develop into the player that the Sixers expected him to be when they drafted him.
Man, can this guy shoot. Posting a 25/7/7 with 5-10 shooting from behind the perimeter, Shayok had a large impact on the game. There's a reason that he's the G League's leading scorer. With his clean stroke, and the Sixers' apparent inability to find three-point shooters, I expect Shayok to get NBA experience at some point in the future, whether it's this year or the next.
This game was defined by the presence of the big man, and his game high plus-minus of +21 reflects that. Simply put, when he was in the game, the Knicks couldn't drive. When he was out, they could. Koumadje easily snagged any rebound that was within his grabbing range, and put up eight points with four offensive and four defensive rebounds. Koumadje also added two blocks, completely swallowing up poor layup attempts from Knicks' players. With a little more development, he may be able to play that Boban/Tacko Fall type role where he gets a few minutes a game to present a size matchup to the other team.
In conclusion, going to a G League game is a great way to see some cheap basketball, all while practicing your scouting chops. It's gained my endorsement, and I hope to catch more Westchester Knicks games in the future.
Class of 2022