LAS VEGAS — The Knicks were trailing by three points in the final minute of regulation Sunday night in their second game of the Las Vegas Summer League and on the court was Kevin Knox, the most established scorer on the team, along with the No. 3 overall pick in the draft, RJ Barrett.
But Ignas Brazdeikis brought the ball upcourt and never hinted for a second that he was going to give it up. Moving around a pick, he pulled up for a three-pointer and confidently drained the shot, upping his output to 30 points on the night. The Knicks lost in overtime, but for the second-round pick who had just signed his contract a day earlier, the shot and the game allowed him to make a statement.
In his first appearance two days earlier he had shot just 2-for-8, missing all three of his three-point attempts. But this time he converted 6 of 7 shots in the first half and continued it in the second half, finishing 11-for-19 shooting with three three-pointers and eight rebounds.
“Yeah, my confidence never wavers,” Brazdeikis said. “I’m a guy who always believes in myself fully. Every time I step on the court I feel I’m the best player. There’s no doubt in my mind.
“It is important for sure [to make a good impression here], but I’m always just myself. I’m always aggressive. I always make plays. It doesn’t matter what stage I’m on. To me it’s all the same. It’s just basketball. That’s all it is at the end of the day. I’m just grateful to be a New York Knick. I don’t want to go nowhere else. It’s a great spot.”
Jud Buechler, who is serving as the coach of the summer league squad, said, “We’ve seen it all week here in practice. I had a chance to work out with him in L.A. He’s a fighter. He’s a scrapper. He’s not afraid of anything or anyone and he’s going to be great for us. He really is.”
While he broke out Sunday, it wasn’t the case for Barrett, who is a longtime friend of Brazdeikis, first playing together as young children while growing up in Toronto. Barrett followed a 4-for-18 debut with a 3-for-15 shooting night Sunday.
The night began better with Brazdeikis throwing a lob to Barrett for a dunk and then Barrett hitting a three-point field goal moments later. But then shot after shot clanked off.
“He’s one of the best players I’ve seen and played with, so it’s only a matter of time before he starts being himself and getting buckets,” Brazdeikis said. “There’s literally no doubt in my mind he’s going to get there and very soon, too.
“It’s a guy I grew up with. Having him there by my side and us together going through it, it increases the comfort level of being here.”
Barrett insisted after the first game that he wouldn’t back off and while he struggled he did block a shot in the final seconds of regulation to send the game to overtime.
“RJ’s figuring it out,” Buechler said. “I don’t think it was fair — this has been a ton of pressure on him coming in here, especially with the hype of the last game, our first game. But he’s done some great things. He had a bunch of rebounds [Sunday night]. He made a really nice defensive play at the end of the game. The shooting and all of that will come. We’re not worried about that. We’re telling him to stay aggressive and as you can tell he’s not backing away at all. He believes in it, we believe in it and it’ll come around.”