Ian Begley, SNY.tv | Twitter |
Ignas Brazdeikis was the 47th pick in the NBA Draft, so the casual fan may have been surprised to see him knocking down threes, executing spin moves and finishing around the rim in the Summer League.
But those that know Brazdeikis well weren't.
"He's always been able to score," Andrew Saulez, Brazdeikis' coach at Holy Trinity High School, says. "…. Some of the stuff that you saw at Michigan and at Summer League, the buckets that he gets at weird angles, using the glass, getting into the lane, spinning and scoring -- he's been doing that since Grade 6 or 7."
Brazdeikis averaged 15.4 points, 5.2 rebounds and 2.0 assists for New York in the Summer League. He also knocked down 11 of his 22 three-point attempts. It was only Summer League, so those who are penciling Brazdeikis in as Rookie of the Year are getting ahead of themselves.
But Brazdeikis' performance in Las Vegas showed that Knicks GM Scott Perry may have made another strong second-round selection.
The University of Michigan standout showed some solid instincts on defense. And he played with the kind of confidence that can only help a late second-round pick carve out a career in the NBA.
"My confidence never wavers. I'm a guy who always believes in myself fully," Brazdeikis said after scoring 30 points against the Suns. "Every time I step on the court I feel like I'm the best player. There's no doubt in my mind."
Some might see the statement above as cocky or brash. But those around Brazdeikis say that his inner confidence is a product of the thousands of hours he spent training to reach this point in his career.
"He was just a relentless worker. He wasn't the type of kid to talk about it, he just went and did it," Saulez says. "…. That swagger that he plays with -- the money symbol and the flexing and stuff like that -- he plays with a lot of confidence. Off the court, you'd never know (it). He's confident in his abilities but he's not a super cocky guy. He's really level-headed and focused, polite, grounded. When he gets out on the court, he's just supremely confident in his own talents…. He's worked so hard to get there that he believes (he belongs)."
Saulez has known Brazdeikis since he was in 5th grade because Brazdeikis' school fed into Holy Trinity. He coached Brazdeikis as a freshman and sophomore at the Oakville, Ontario school. He was the only freshman in school history to play the Canadian equivalent of varsity basketball at Holy Trinity and, yes, he could score back then.
"He wasn't big when he played for us. We always said he hopefully gets to 6-7, 6-8 because then the sky's the limit for him," Saulez said. "He was just over six feet when he played varsity with us in grade nine. So he had to find creative ways to score. So that's always been a strength of his."
That growth spurt eventually came. And over time, Brazdeikis -- now a 6-7 forward -- improved his athleticism and strength. Those gains were due in part to workouts with his father, Sigis Brazdeikis, who fought mixed martial arts while in Lithuania. Brazdeikis also shot 400-to-500 shots a day for four days a week before school started in the basketball offseason. Saulez traces the 20-year-old's work ethic to his family.
"His dad's a worker. He's a tiler here. He gets up in the morning and he goes to work. Those values are ingrained in him," he says. "He's not a kid that's just had everything given to him. He's worked for everything."
We'll find out in the coming years if Brazdeikis can thrive in the NBA. He signed a three-year deal with New York for $4.2 million with two fully guaranteed years. In the best-case scenario, Brazdeikis establishes himself in the league during that time and the Knicks can add him to the young core they hope to build around, which includes RJ Barrett, Kevin Knox, Allonzo Trier and Mitchell Robinson.
That would give the Knicks three solid second-round picks/undrafted free agents since Perry was hired as GM (Trier and Robinson being the others).
Of course, as the 47th pick in the draft, the odds are against Brazdeikis carving out a long NBA career.
And if you're looking for any bold predictions about what Brazdeikis will be in the NBA, you won't get them from Saulez. He's not an NBA talent evaluator.
But it's worth noting that the coach believes Brazdeikis has all the intangible qualities needed to succeed.
"They've got a good one," Saulez says of the Knicks. "Family, work ethic, passion for the game, (he's) level headed. He's not the kind of kid that's going to go off the rails with success. Hopefully he ends up being good enough basketball-wise to make an impact in the league. But all those other intangibles, that kid has every one of them."