Role Player Watch: Mindaugas Kuzminskas

The New York Knicks are having a turbulent season, but Mindaugas Kuzminskas has become a steady contributor off the bench.

Right now the New York Knicks are unravelling in front of our eyes. Derrick Rose is going AWOL, Carmelo Anthony is talking about being traded and the team is losing games.

In fact, they’ve dropped eight of their last 10 to fall out of playoff contention for now.

All is not lost however, as they actually have some nice role players on their roster, something that has not always been the case with this team.

Courtney Lee and Brandon Jennings are two such players, while Kyle O’Quinn is flat out underrated.

It goes deeper than that however, as rookie Mindaugas Kuzminskas has become a reliable contributor despite playing limited minutes for this team.

In many ways, the 27-year-old is exactly the kind of player the Knicks need. He runs both ends of the floor dutifully, never demanding the ball.

But he forces his defender to stick close to him, as he has developed a knack for knocking down three-point shots.

So much so in fact that he’s shooting 37.5 percent from long range, a healthy number. With guys like Kristaps Porzingis and Anthony getting attention, his job is to knock down open looks.

This is exactly what Kuzminskas brings to the team, as he has an effective field goal percentage of 54.1 percent (all video via 3ball.io).

As you can see from the clips above though, he’s more than just a long-range shooter.

It is his constant movement around screens or away from the ball to create space which leads to cleaner offensive sets.

It’s not enough to get the Knicks out of the Knicks-ian funk they’ve once again slipped into, but it’s something.

In that terrible home loss to the Orlando Magic on Jan. 2, Kuzminskas had nine points in 15 minutes, going a perfect 3-for-3 from long range.

Two nights later in another loss, this time to the Milwaukee Bucks, it was 15 points on 6-of-10 shooting.

They’re not mind-blowing numbers, but that’s not what he’s on the team to do either. Kuzminskas averages 12.3 minute a night and for the most part he’s taking advantage of that time.

His offensive plus-minus of 1.6 illustrates this point further, as he is a positive influence on a team that can see the ball stick too often when the likes of Anthony or Rose get involved.

Perhaps even more impressive is his Player Efficiency Rating (PER) of 14.8 (league average 15). The number itself is not the noteworthy part.

It’s putting up a near-average number in limited minutes, usually in a lineup that features players with high usage rates (Anthony, Jennings).

It’s hard to be a positive influence and quantify your worth to a team when you don’t post big numbers or have heavy involvement on the offensive end.

Yet if you watch Kuzminskas play, he doesn’t shy away from shooting, but does so in such a way that it doesn’t feel like he’s forcing a shot (even if he is).

His defensive numbers need to improve (minus-2.1), and yet I’d argue that they do not accurately project the impact he has on that end.

He’s not the tallest, quickest or even capable of always staying in front of his man. But he’s always trying and that’s more than can be said for somebody such as Anthony.

So while he can be at fault on that end, when he’s at least tying to be a positive influence in this area too.

I may have a bit of a soft spot for the guy, but it’s no secret that you’re only going to get so far in the NBA as a rookie approaching your late 20s.

But there’s much to like here, and that continues with a free throw percentage of 80 percent.

Kuzminskas certainly doesn’t look like the court at any time, despite being listed at 6’9″, so his 4.4 rebounds a night is an encouraging number.

It’s also further proof that, even if his shot isn’t falling or he isn’t seeing the ball, he’s crashing the boards and trying to make something happen in this area.

The corner has proven to be a comfort zone–47.4 percent of his three-pointers made have come from there, proving that he’s already developed a go-to shot in the pros as well.

Mindaugas Kuzminskas is lost in a sea of big names and bad vibes with the New York Knicks right now.

But he’s actually a part of one of the better benches in the league today (eighth, with a plus-minus differential of 4.5).

His spacing, shooting and all-around hard work is a part of this and it shows no signs of stopping.

It’s fair to say that Kuzminskas would likely struggle on a rebuilding team, where his contributions would be counted upon a lot more than they are in New York.

But it is also true to say that on a contending team, he could be even more valuable than he already is.

Continue to sleep on him if you dare, he’s closer to having a breakout game for the Knicks than you think.

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