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Knicks’ hidden draft gem could find way into rotation next season

“Draft and stash” players rarely pan out. It’s not that there is something inherently flawed with players who prefer to continue playing elsewhere. It’s that most draft and stash guys aren’t top-flight prospects. And second-tier players from around the globe can make more money elsewhere if they fail to secure a guaranteed contract in the NBA. So, many don’t even come to the United States. But when they work out, they work out well. Why? Because they are more developed as players and people upon joining their NBA team. This is extremely relevant for the New York Knicks right now. Why? Because the Knicks selected Rokutis Jokubaitis in 2021 in hopes he would develop. And that might pay off next season, as the Knicks could possibly use his skillset.

Who is Knicks’ Rokutis Jokubaitis?

Jokubaitis was the Knicks’ 2021 second-round pick (34th overall). The still 23-year-old point guard has played with FC Barcelona, which is in the EuroLeague, for the past few seasons. He signed a four-year deal with his current club in 2021, but there is an opt-out for 2024. Meaning he is eligible to join the Knicks for the 2024-25 season.

Jokubaitis appeared in 28 games for Barcelona, averaging 5.7 points, 1.8 rebounds, 3.2 assists, and 0.3 steals in approximately 17 minutes per game. He also impressed last Summer at the 2023 World Cup, averaging 12.6 points, 5.8 assists, 2.3 rebounds, and 1.3 steals per game.

Why would Rokutis Jokubaitis join the Knicks now?

There are two important reasons why Jokubaitis might entertain coming over this season. First, the Knicks are probably interested in seeing what he can do. A guaranteed contract would go a long way in convincing Jokubaitis to join New York. And the idea of keeping Jokubaitis was mutual, as New York didn’t have a need for him until recently.

There’s also the fact that the Knicks are competitive now, which is probably alluring to a player looking to make a name for himself. In 2021, the Knicks were just beginning the process of establishing an identity. It’s conceivable that Jokubaitis understood the concern with joining a flailing franchise, thanks to an incredibly well-established pipeline of European players. At that time, the Knicks simply hadn’t done enough to convince anyone that they were serious contenders. Well, they are clearly contenders now. And winning in the NBA is obviously a major motivator.

What role might Rokutis Jokubaitis play?

Cleveland Cavaliers guard Ricky Rubio (13) shoots over Atlanta Hawks guard Vit Krejci (27) in the second quarter at State Farm Arena
© Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

First of all, let’s be clear. Jokubaitis will absolutely play in the 2024 Summer League. So, it’s been made clear that he wants to pursue the NBA, and now.

He was described as creative and unafraid of the moment by DraftExpress, and that was in 2021. He is a skilled passer, a tough shot maker, and a willing competitor on the defensive end of the floor. Much of the criticism of him had to do with his lack of athleticism given his limited size. He was only six-foot-two in 2021. Well, he’s now six-foot-four. Those two inches make a monumental difference in the NBA.

So, how does his game project? That’s unclear right now. But considering that he’s had a good amount of success in the most competitive league in the world outside of the NBA, he should skip many of the typical growing pains. Other European point guards like Ricky Rubio and Goran Dragic were relatively successful despite unimpressive stat lines in the EuroLeauge. So, it’s fair to assume that Jokubaitis might also translate positively.

And he projects to be a backup next season, as Jalen Brunson is the obvious starter. So, playing 10 or so minutes per game is a nice transition into the most competitive league on the planet. Miles McBride’s presence could complicate the role that Jokubaitis plays. But McBride showed the ability to play alongside Brunson, meaning he could be used off the ball moving forward, too. And there was an obvious need for someone else to initiate the offense in the playoffs against the Indiana Pacers. So, there shouldn’t be much of a problem finding minutes for Jokubaitis.

Ultimately, the Knicks’ rotation looks pretty set for next season save for a few upgrades here and there. But good, low-usage point guards are hard to come by. And that’s exactly what Jokubaitis should become. Before we get ahead of ourselves, though, let’s see what he can do in Summer League. Fingers crossed.

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