In a preseason full of questions surrounding the Knicks' bench, Mindaugas Kuzminskas has provided some refreshing stability.
When the Knicks signed Kuzminskas to a two year, $6 million contract this past summer, one had to wonder if it would truly be worth it. Many international players take time to adjust to the NBA game. Would he be able to do it in two years time? All the while, would he be able to make an impact as a member of the team's second unit, or would he simply just ride the pine as New York oversaw his development at a slower pace?
Upon signing, Kuzminskas drew early comparisons to, and was regarded as a potential replacement for Derrick Williams. As the regular season steadily approaches, it's finally easy to see why.
Kuzminskas can produce instant offense. Averaging 10 points in just 13 minutes per contest, it's clear he can fill it up. While not quite as explosive as Williams, he still has excellent slashing ability and can cut through the lane with quickness. At 6'9" and 215 pounds, the international veteran's skinnier frame isn't all that imposing against other fellow NBA forwards. Still, he manages to absorb contact pretty well and finishes around the rim. Kuzminskas' long rage prowess still leaves a bit to be desired, but his overall versatility makes him a convenient complement to Lance Thomas off the bench.
Whereas Thomas is more of a endless force of hustle and gritty defense, his own ability to shoot the corner three helps the Knicks spread the floor. Kuzminskas could learn from his teammate's work ethic as he looks to hone a similar skill set in his arsenal. In the meantime, he can do what he already does well: attack, run the floor, and help keep his teammates' energy up in transition. With sufficient playing time and confidence from his coaching staff, Kuzminskas has the potential to become one of the more efficient players in his rookie class.
There's nothing quite like a first impression, and Kuzminskas is hitting his out of the park. At 26 years old, he has already been playing professional ball for five seasons. Perhaps that, coupled with an eagerness to learn and plenty of friends around him already on this team, will go a long way towards easing the transition many fellow rookies seem to struggle with.
Fortunately for the Knicks, Kuzminskas isn't your everyday rookie. This is a team that hopes to compete and create a special culture. He has the opportunity to fill a very important role right off the bat.