After setting a similar tone in each of the previous two seasons, the Westchester Knicks are once again off to a great start. The team has begun the season with a 7-4 record, which includes a 4-1 mark on the road. Many of the team’s top prospects have exploded for impressive offensive outings, which has made an exciting start to the campaign. This group is young and features plenty of talent, so it might be just the beginning for the Dub Knicks.
The Knicks’ starting five boosts four rookies who possess their own unique skill set. The team has a solid core of front-court players who can get out on the perimeter and knock down a three, or out work the opposition down on the low block. Nigel Hayes wasn’t much of a deep threat at Wisconsin, but he has since expanded on his three-point shot and maintains one of the top percentages from long range in the G League.
Luke Kornet has the ability to serve as a stretch five, which opens the driving lanes for the guards. He has demonstrated the ability to be pass well and find teammates along the perimeter. Isaiah Hicks has shown he can outmuscle his defender in the post, while also getting out and knocking down a jumper, or driving to the basket.
Xavier Rathan-Mayes, alongside NBA veteran Trey Burke, has formed a solid backcourt for Westchester.. Both players have proven they can handle the ball and run the offense. Rathan-Mayes leads the team in assists and continues to show he can draw contact when driving to the basket. He has also maintained a certain level of aggressiveness on the defensive end as well.
While Burke is still a young player at 25, he brings to the table something very important for this otherwise inexperienced squad: veteran leadership. The guard continues to put crafty skills, like his penetrating ability, on display. He’s a well known scorer, which was clearly evident during his franchise-record 43 point performance against the Delaware 87ers earlier this season.
“What’s really great about our team is we always have five guys on the floor that are capable of shooting or making a play off the dribble or passing,” Luke Kornet told KnicksJournal.com. “Any given night, one of us can be the leading scorer and then other guys are supporting. I think that’s kind of what makes us dangerous. We’re [7-4] and we’re proud of that, but we could have won any of our four losses, too. We think we’re capable of winning every game. Our chemistry is just getting better and better.”
For head coach Mike Miller, this is one of the youngest teams he has had since joining the organization in 2015. With no returning players on the roster, the team has many rookies like Hayes, Hicks, Kornet, Rathan-Mayes, Paul Watson and Billy Garrett.
“We’ve played 10 games now, so that’s always a mark where you look and evaluate how we have played, what we’ve done, and what do we need to do,” Miller said. “I think as we look at our players and they’re young and they’re seeing some things for the first time. I think the next three weeks will allow us to take a jump. As we do that, we need to develop our bench a little bit more. They are getting a good feel for playing together and being able to play off each other’s abilities.”
Outside of the starting five, Westchester’s second unit features some talented players who figure to play key roles as the season rolls on. Watson, who was selected with the No. 5 overall pick in the 2017 NBA G League Draft, has the length, versatility and athleticism to be a solid wing player for his team. He’s averaging 5.7 points per game, so it would be a big asset if he develops consistency with the three-ball.
While Garrett isn’t a pure point guard, he has been running the team’s second unit offense. He’s made strides in attempting to get other players involved, even when his shot isn’t falling. Despite only recording two points against the Raptors 905 earlier in the campaign, Garrett was active all around as he finished the game with nine assists, four rebounds and two steals.
“This team has a lot of growth potential because we’re really young,” Mike Miller stated. “This is the youngest team I think we’ve had since I’ve been here, which I think is exciting. I think that’s a positive, but I think you’re going to see these guys improve a lot.”
While the Knicks stand tall at second place in the Atlantic Division, the team has lost three games by a combined seven points. With those games in the past, the defeats now serve as a huge lesson for this young team.
As the season goes on, the players will gain more of a feel for one another’s respective games. This will benefit Westchester in the long run. With the early success, this team believes they’re just getting started.