The New York Knicks field a 14-man roster for the NBA Summer League, but during the NBA's glorified pick-up basketball summer session, the spotlight will be on four players in particular: Tim Hardaway, Jr., Shane Larkin, Cleanthony Early, and Thanasis Antetokounmpo. It is those core four players who are the most likely to actually be in the Knicks' regular-season plans and rotations, thus making them the ones most deserving of attention during the 11-day slate. And it was those players who played the most significant parts -- albeit to differing degrees -- in the Knicks escaping with a 71-69 victory over the Portland Trail Blazers Saturday night.
After just two games of Summer League action, it is obvious what plans the Knicks have for Hardaway, Jr.; the team seems intent on getting him comfortable taking on a larger share of the scoring burden in the offense once the regular season begins and the games begin to matter for the franchise. So far, Hardaway, Jr. has acquitted himself well in his new role of featured scorer, and on Saturday, while he was not overwhelmingly efficient, he more than rewarded the Knicks' faith in his ability to use a large percentage of the team's possessions while not crumbling under the pressure. Hardaway, Jr. dropped 20 points on the Trail Blazers as he converted on 6-of-16 from the field, 3-of-8 from three-point range, and 5-of-6 from the free throw line; his last made field goal, a three-pointer with 3:38 remaining in the game to cut the Trail Blazer's lead down to one point.
Shane Larkin managed to salvage what was still a disappointing night overall by hitting one incredibly clutch shot. After Jeremy Tyler's free throws had tied the game at 69-69 with 1:25 remaining and the Knicks had rebounded a Hardaway, Jr. miss to extend the team's possession, Larkin knocked down a floater from the baseline with 28.4 seconds left to give the Knicks a 71-69 lead and eventually the victory. Larkin's game-winning shot helped make up for his 3-for-11 shooting night from the field and the lack of shots he created for his teammates; he did, however, do yeoman's work on the glass, snatching a team-high seven rebounds.
Even in the Summer League, 2014 second-round draft pick Cleanthony Early has adopted a tertiary scoring role and has fallen into the role player category that will probably describe him for his entire career. Early attempted the third most field goals and was able to score 11 points on nine field goal attempts and five free throw attempts. He did not shoot particularly well from the field or three-point range -- outside of Hardaway, Jr., no one really did -- but his aggressiveness in drawing fouls proved to be enough to give him a respectable level of offensive efficiency.
As for Thanasis Antetokounmpo, he was not a big part of the Knicks gameplan on offense, only attempting three shots from the field, but he did provide one of the most memorable plays from Saturday night with his monstrous one-hand dunk putback. Explosively athletic plays from time to time -- usually in transition -- will most likely be the most the Knicks can hope for from their other 2014 second-round draft selection.
With the win, the Knicks are now 2-0 in Summer League play and are poised to make a run for the tournament title if they can maintain their level of play.