It is late March. The Westchester Knicks are well on their way to another loss, this one against the Canton Charge.
Most of the Knicks’ D-Leaguers are playing defense according to the situation -- sagging off their opponent and waiting for the clock to run out. But one is playing as if his team is down by one.
He’s pressuring the inbounds pass, trying to force Canton into a turnover.
He’s sprinting after a Canton ball handler, trying desperately to knock the ball loose, as if he doesn't realize his team trails by double digits.
“That’s Thanasis,” then coach Kevin Whitted says after the game. “He wants to get up into you. He’s a guy who wants to defend. He was just trying to initiate pressure and create some excitement from a defensive standpoint. We don’t really have a problem with that.”
They certainly don't. In fact, the Knicks welcome it.
Both the D-League team and the NBA team are enamored by Thanasis Antetokounmpo's rare blend of speed, size, athleticism and assertion. It’s why Phil Jackson decided to draft Antetokounmpo -- the older brother of Milwaukee Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo -- late in the second round of the 2014 draft.
Somewhat surprisingly, Antetokounmpo decided to turn down a two-year, $550,000 deal overseas last summer to play for the Knicks’ D-League team, which paid him $25,000.
A conversation with Jackson helped convince Antetokounmpo to choose a future in the NBA over immediate financial gains.
"That was major," Antetokounmpo said.
Now, Jackson and the Knicks have another decision to make on Antetokounmpo.
Antetokounmpo’s agent, Tim Lotsos, told ESPN.com in a phone interview last week that Antetokounmpo’s “first goal” is to come back to the Knicks. But he’s also looking for an NBA contract. So the Knicks will have to decide if they want to give him a roster spot on next season’s team.
New York can also offer him a tender and retain his rights for next season, but Antetokounmpo could then choose to play overseas rather than play another season for low wages in the D-League.
Lotsos said the Knicks have indicated that they want to sign Antetokounmpo to an NBA contract and give him a spot on the roster.
“There is nothing on paper yet, but those are the intentions,” the agent said, adding that Antetokounmpo plans to play on the Knicks’ summer league team.
If the Knicks are looking to fill roster spots with a few young players who need time to fully develop, it would make sense to sign Antetokounmpo. But if they are looking for a finished product for each roster spot, then they may have second thoughts on inking the soon-to-be 23-year-old.
Antetokounmpo put up strong numbers this season, scoring 15.1 points and grabbing 6.8 rebounds per 36 minutes. But scouts who watched Antetokounmpo regularly say he isn't ready to contribute consistent minutes at the NBA level yet. They point primarily to inconsistencies with his jump shot.
Antetokounmpo shot just 21 percent (39 of 185) on shots outside of eight feet this season. And that was a regression from the previous season, when he hit 33 percent of those shots.
“It’s been a whirlwind for him at times,” said Westchester Knicks coach Craig Hodges, who took over for Whitted late in the season. “We’ll see big upsides, and then we’ll see some plays that are marginal, to his own admission.”
There’s no denying that Antetokounmpo brings a defensive energy that could help the Knicks next season. New York finished 28th in defensive rating last season, after all. Teammate Darnell Jackson marveled at Antetokounmpo's energy level over the past season. He would often participate in morning shootaround after getting little to no sleep the night before.
“I’ve never in my life seen someone with so much energy,” Jackson said.
Coaches see Antetokounmpo as a player who can guard multiple positions and stay with quicker perimeter players. Antetokounmpo's size may allow him to switch easily between defending a wing and a guard on pick-and-roll plays, a valuable skill in today’s NBA.
“He has some things you can’t teach,” Hodges said. “You can’t teach his defensive presence, his defensive aggression. From that standpoint, in the next two or three years I think he’s going to be a good NBA player.”
The question for the Knicks is if they want him to learn on the job with the NBA team this season, or if they’d rather see him develop for another year in the D-League. Antetokounmpo says his time with the Westchester Knicks was valuable because it allowed him to see the game at a slower pace.
For what it’s worth, he also isn't overly concerned about his future with the Knicks.
“I don’t really worry about that,” he said. “I just worry about day by day getting better. Getter better, that’s it.”
Garden honors Gallatin: Madison Square Garden on Monday morning inducted Hall of Famer Harry Gallatin into its Walk of Fame.
Gallatin was a key member of the Knicks’ three straight Eastern Division championship teams from 1951 to 1953 and played in 610 consecutive games – a Knicks record that has stood for nearly 60 years. He also ranks fourth on the Knicks' all-time rebound list.
Gallatin was inducted along with Hall of Fame Rangers goaltender Eddie Giacomin, the Grateful Dead and award-winning photographer George Kalinsky.
Question: Do you think that the Knicks should sign Thanasis Antetokounmpo to an NBA contract this season, or should they give him another season to develop?