MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Just over a week ago, Miles McBride was getting his minutes for the Westchester Knicks, driving to join the G League team and get his opportunity on the floor, then hopping in a car to get back in time to sit on the bench and watch his Knicks teammates.
It was a hard truth for the rookie point guard. But he joined the Knicks on their current seven-game road trip, and with injuries paring the roster and the losses piling up, pushing Tom Thibodeau to turn to his youngsters, McBride found himself trying to stop 6-7 Luka Doncic on Wednesday night in Dallas.
As the Knicks went through the morning shootaround at FedEx Forum on Friday, he was readying for another task, completely different but equally challenging — slowing down the Grizzlies’ 6-3 star, the hyper-athletic Ja Morant.
"Yeah, I feel Coach trusts me guarding some of the league’s best," McBride said. "I’m going to step up to every challenge. I’m not gonna be scared of anybody. They’ve got to show me what they got and I’m going to show them what I got, so I’m just comfortable defensively everywhere."
Both players are a challenge for any defender in the NBA, let alone a 6-1 second-round pick who had played sparingly before being handed the task.
"Definitely got to understand each player’s tendencies, each player’s strengths and weaknesses," McBride said. "So Luka is a little bit more slow-paced. Ja is flying up and down the floor. So try to contain him as much as we can."
Add to the challenge that he was seeing these players for the first time in person.
"Yeah, definitely. Obviously, they’re good for a reason," he said. "They know how to get to their spots and to pick defenses apart, obviously, and get to the foul line. So just understanding that the NBA is different from college and how you can guard people, just trying to get that feel for the game."
In the last three games entering Friday night, McBride averaged 20 minutes per game. While his offensive numbers are sparse, his impact can be measured by the plus/minus difference — +28 in 18 minutes against the Clippers, +8 in 20 minutes versus Sacramento and +19 in 22 minutes against the Mavericks.
He had appeared in only 24 games before those last three, mostly in garbage time, other than a pair of starts when COVID ravaged the Knicks’ roster and forced him into duty. The highlight was a 15-point, nine-assist effort in Houston, but he was sidelined by COVID himself after that game.
Now, with Derrick Rose, Kemba Walker, Quentin Grimes and Cam Reddish all sidelined by injury, his chance has come. He has opened the eyes of even his most veteran teammates.
"To be honest with you, for a guard in the NBA to fight over the top of a screen is extremely hard and tough," Taj Gibson said. "We try to ask our guards to do that. But when Deuce does it, he just has a knack for it. It just doesn’t really bother him. Whenever we get him out there, we are real confident putting him on their best player because we just have that much confidence in his defensive ability.
"He’s so young, so athletic, still only in his first year in the league. He’s just so eager to attack defensively, because he understands offense will come to him, but he just wants to make a stand defensively. It’s good to see a young guy already knowing what he needs to do to stay on the court."
"Just to stay ready," McBride said. "I think that would be anybody’s challenge not getting minutes is, you never know when your time is going to come, so just trying to stay ready, be as prepared as I can be.
"It’s all a learning process, honestly. Just trying to get in with the main guys and just figure out the rotation, figure out my spots and honestly just impact winning as much as I can . . . I think winning, that makes everybody happy. I think I’ve been getting minutes and just being able to impact on the defensive end is something I’ve always wanted."