Two days ago the New York Knicks officially signed three rookies, all of who went undrafted this past June. All three players have signed partially guaranteed deals. Those three are Wesley Saunders out of Harvard, Darion Atkins out of Virginia and Travis Trice from Michigan State.
From my ventures on social media the most common comment seems to be “who the (expletive) are these bums?” I’m here to give some background information on these three supposed ‘bums’.
Firstly, why are fans mad?
New York already has a full roster which means none of these three will make it past training camp. It would seem logical that they would land in Westchester and play for New York’s development league affiliate – a la Langston Galloway. This is a common practice in the NBA, all thirty teams do it, and it is designed to give players of all ages an opportunity.
For example, if an injury occurs a team can sign a player who they have faith in and that they know has talent.
So, who are these three guys trying to get their chance in the NBA?
Wesley Saunders: Shooting Guard/Small Forward, Harvard
Wesley Saunders attended Harvard University from 2012 and graduated this year. Over his career Saunders posted 12.6 points per game, 4.1 rebounds per game, 3.2 assists per game and 1.5 steals per game. He had a very decorated collegiate career as he was named to the All Ivy-League First Team three times and this past year he was awarded the Ivy League’s player of the year.
Saunders played for the Jazz in the summer league, but was not offered a contract by Utah.
Saunders is a two guard who can handle the basketball and he’s an effective pick and roll player. He is able to come off screens and hit the shot, penetrate and pull up or dish it off to the open man. The 22-year-old makes a concerted efforts of get his teammates involved – 5.7 assist per 40 minutes.
Saunders vastly improved his long range shooting in his senior year, converting 44% of his attempts which was 17% better than his junior year. Saunders has the potential to be a great defender at this level or a source of frustration; he moves his feet well laterally, can contain penetration with his strength and contest shots with his long arms.
Saunders can handle the ball but he isn’t very creative and heavily relies on his right hand. The Harvard product also lacks athleticism which makes it hard for him to get to the rim and finish – 49% as a senior at the rim.
Saunders, once again, leans on his right hand as he struggles to convert at the basket using his left. He did improve his jumper in his final season but he has inconsistent mechanics that aren’t all that pretty and on a regular basis there is an ugly hitch. Saunders goes about the game of basketball with a very relaxed attitude and this can be to his detriment on the defensive end – when focused he’s great, when unforced he’s frustrating.
Darion Atkins: Power Forward, Virginia
Atkins spent four years at Virginia and he did not receive decent minutes until his senior year – 27 starts in 33 games, 23.9 minutes per game. In his final season Atkins posted 7.6 points per game, 6 rebounds per game and 1.1 blocks per game. Atkins was named to the ACC All-Defensive Team and he was also received the honours of being the ACC’s Defensive Player of the Year.
Atkins joined the San Antonio Spurs for the 2015 Summer League but he was no offered a contract.
Atkins likes to use his big body to bully opposing offensive players down low while also displaying the ability to rebound and block shots. The 22-year-old’s athleticism is unquestioned and he is arguably the most athletic player outside of the lottery. Atkins has a high motor; he can keep going and going.
The former Cavalier is a hustle player and he regularly dives for 50/50 balls, he seemed focused on doing the little things that would get his team over the line. Atkins may not take many shots but he makes the most of his opportunities, converting 52% of his shots.
Atkins relished the opportunity to bully others in college but it’s unclear if he’ll be able to do the same in the NBA; considered by many to be undersized at 6’8. He has no offensive game other than shots around the basket, he very rarely attempted jump shots and Atkins shot a poor 57% from the free throw line.
The 22-year-old is a tease due to his inconsistency. Atkins has the potential to make it in the NBA but due to not having a consistent offensive game and being undersized there is no guarantee he will make at the highest level.
Travis Trice: Point Guard, Michigan State
Trice spent four years with the Spartans in East Lancing and he steadily improved each season. In his senior year the 22-year-old broke out and put himself on the map by averaging 15.3 points per contest and 5.2 assists per game while shooting 37% from long range. This led to him being named to the All Big Ten Third Team and in the NCCA tournament he was named as the East Region’s most outstanding player as he led the Spartans to the final four.
Trice played for the Miami Heat in this past summer league but like the others he was not offered a contract
The Ohio native is excellent off the dribble as he is able to get inside due to his quickness and finish over bigger defenders or pass it to an open teammate. Trice is also a good shooter off the dribble, the reason why he’s so effective is because he can switch gears.
He is great on a fast break due to his vision, passing ability and shooting ability and he could be quite successful in a high-paced environment. Trice is a great ball handler and he rarely turns the basketball over – 3.03 assist / turnover ration which led the conference. The 22-year-old can shoot the ball as he shot over 40% during his four year collegiate career.
Defense is an area of Trice’s game that needs improvement and most concerns people for his transition into the NBA. Due to being undersized, Trice frequently gets blown by or outmuscled by his opponent on the way to the basket. Trice can also zone out on the defensive end and he gets beaten back door when this happens.
One thing that does bode well for him is that he is extremely quick and agile. Trice’s shot selection can be questionable at times and he had periods where he settled for jumpers rather than getting to the basket which is his biggest strength.