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NBA Daily: Ignas Brazdeikis Still Waiting For An Opportunity

Despite being squarely in the middle of a rebuild, the New York Knicks haven’t given Ignas Brazdeikis a real look through their first eight games. Drew Maresca examines why Brazdeikis isn’t receiving playing time and how he’s dealing with his new surroundings.

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The New York Knicks have lots of youngsters on their roster, including their 2019 second-round pick – Ignas Brazdeikis.

Many felt that Brazdeikis played well enough to earn a real look as a rotation player during the summertime. Provided, it’s mostly rookies and second-year players — but Brazdeikis averaged 18.0 points per game and dropped 30 points in a single game against the Phoenix Suns. So it’s understandable that some felt he might carve out a role on the Knicks.

But that hasn’t happened as expected. Quite the opposite, actually.

Considering the Knicks’ roster and the lack of expectations, many fans hoped that the franchise would dedicate themselves to a youth-centric rebuild. Now it was never assumed that he’d be the focal point of a new direction, but he’s 20 years old, signed for three years at approximately $4 million means he should be given at least a look.

Instead, Brazdeikis played his first professional minutes against the Sacramento Kings on Sunday — in what was ultimately garbage time — seven games into the season. In only four minutes of action, Brazdeikis scored four points. But that’s not what fans were looking forward to as of only a few short months ago.

His second box score looked similar to the first. He didn’t score a single point, played less than four minutes and posted a plus-4 — as opposed to a minus-2 in his action against the Kings.

On the bright side, Brazdeikis has played in each of the last two games as of Friday – so he’s trending up, right? Maybe. But the downside of his playing in the last two games is that both were 20-plus point blowouts and his presence can be written off as protecting the rotation players.

So what’s the hold-up? And why isn’t Brazdeikis being given a shot on a team that should prioritize and develop its youth instead of its veterans, most of whom are on expiring deals?

Well, first of all, head coach David Fizdale doesn’t seem inclined to play younger players. If you examine his lineups, the three most frequently used ones feature at least three veteran players at 24 years or older. Worse, that comes during a year in which the Knicks boast the youngest total roster at 23.4 in the entire league with eight players at 23 or younger.

That’s not exactly a new phenomenon, either. Lest we forget last season when Fizdale elected to play Emmanuel Mudiay over Frank Ntilikina, plus DeAndre Jordan over Mitchell Robinson, which was a clear preference of immediate success over team development. Of course, playing veterans gives the Knicks a better chance to sneak out a few extra wins — but shouldn’t the goal be improving your roster?

A second issue might be that Brazdeikis’s skill set is better suited as a first option. Remember, he was the focal point and leading scorer for Michigan during his lone season in college basketball.

As a freshman, Brazdeikis averaged 14.8 points per game for the school last year and led the Wolverines to a birth in the Sweet 16. Unfortunately, the Knicks have a significantly higher-profile rookie – RJ Barrett – who they already expect to play a big role. And they signed Julius Randle – the team’s de facto first option – this past offseason. So maybe they simply haven’t seen enough from him in other areas to justify playing time.

But either way, Brazdeikis is squarely focused on his day-to-day development, and not on how much or well plays this year. “It’s good. I love it,” Brazdeikis told Basketball Insiders.

“I get to play basketball every day,” he said. “It’s my dream come true. Working hard every single day, being patient, waiting for an opportunity and learning as much as possible – from vets and coaches.”

And Brazdeikis hasn’t shied away from putting in work in the film room and practice either.

“Developing everything in my overall game (has been my goal),” Brazdeikis said.

“(Fizdale has been) preaching to keep working hard every single day. He wants me to continue to develop and work even harder,” he elaborated. “Defensively, he’s given me tips on how the defense works here. Offensively, he says to shoot when I’m open.”

It’s not that Brazdeikis isn’t learning quickly enough or working hard with the coaching staff, but he might be assigned to the G League affiliate – the Westchester Knicks –for a while in order to get him more reps. According to Marc Berman of the New York Post, the Knicks plan to send Brazdeikis to the affiliate club potentially as soon as this Saturday for their season opener.

But Brazdeikis won’t be offended by being sent to the G League. Instead, he’ll keep working just like he’s always done.

“I’m taking everything day-by-day,” Brazdeikis said. “Not looking ahead, not looking behind. I just want to go out and do what the team needs me to do every single night.”

One positive for Brazdeikis’ fans: NBADraft.net compared Brazdeikis to Dillon Brooks and Kyle Singler just prior to the 2019 NBA Draft. Provided, those comparisons can be badly off base. But Brooks averaged 15.1 points per game last season and Singler averaged 6.5 points per game over six NBA seasons. So if the comparisons are to be trusted, Brazdeikis has a place in basketball.

Based on the work ethic and attitude exuded by him, it’s hard not to believe that Brazdeikis has a long career ahead of him in the league – but, hopefully, the Knicks can figure out how to use him sooner than later.

Basketball Insiders contributor residing in the Bronx, New York.

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