While the New York Knicks continue to take stock of their failed season, a recent draft and stash prospect is starting to flourish and is making a name for himself in the European leagues.
Rokas Jokubaitis was selected with the 34th pick in the 2021 NBA Draft and was instantly sent back to Europe to continue his development with one of the best teams outside of the United States: FC Barcelona.
Throughout the season, the 21-year-old Lithuanian prospect averaged a respectable 7.2 points, 1.6 rebounds, and 2.8 assists per game while boasting shooting splits of 55.6% from the field, 59.5% from deep, and converting 75.7% from the charity stripe. After a string of impressive performances, Jokubaitis found himself earning admirers around the European basketball community and quickly established himself as one of the better young prospects in the EuroLeague.
So, it should come as no surprise that the Knicks’ young draft prospect was recently named the Euroleague’s Rising Star, recognizing his development and future potential. Furthermore, Jokubaitis is the first player of Lithuanian descent ever to win the prestigious award.
Knicks fans should be very excited by the young guard, as according to a EuroLeague press release, Jokubaitis finished ahead of European phenom and future NBA star Victor Wembanyama in the voting process for his award.
Who is Rokas Jokubaitis?
Jokubaitis started his career with Žalgiris during the 2018-29 season and ended his rookie year having participated in 12 games, averaging 2.6 points, 0.5 rebounds, and 0.6 assists per game.
Over the next four seasons, Jokubaitis continued to improve, earning himself admiring glances from NBA front offices as a player to watch for the future. Of course, if you want to ensure that player eventually ends up on your team, you need to own their NBA rights, which is where the Knicks came into the equation on draft night.
According to NBADraft.Net, Jokubaitis is an athletic guard who is at his best in the open floor. However, he can also operate as an off-ball shooter, slasher, and play finisher while on the defensive side of the court; his six-foot-four frame and athletic ability ensure he’s an NBA-ready defender once he makes a move Stateside.
The fact that Jokubaitis is even earning minutes for a stacked Barcelona team should also be an encouraging sign for when he eventually joins an NBA roster. Nikola Mirotic, Dante Exum, and Nigel Hayes are all former NBA talents that currently reside on Barcelona’s roster, along with a string of experienced European talent. Barcelona also made it to this year’s EuroLeague final four, so it’s safe to assume their strength in depth means that playing time isn’t given, but earned instead.
Knicks Youth Movement is Smartest Play
Despite all the rhetoric around the Knicks potentially making a big splash during the summer, it’s becoming increasingly clear that their best chance of building a sustainable team capable of challenging for a championship is through developing the vast amount of young talent at their disposal.
RJ Barrett, Obi Toppin, Immanuel Quickley, Quentin Grimes, Miles McBride, and Jokubaitis are all exciting young talents. Sure, there is some overlap between a few of the prospects, but there’s always the chance of trading for other young talents further down the line.
The Knicks only need to look at the Boston Celtics for an example of a team that has successfully built through the draft and found success to see that it’s a viable option for them moving forwards. There’s also something to be said about having a team full of homegrown talent and how it projects stability within an organization – something the Knicks are in desperate need of.
Of course, the front office will make the moves they deem best for the franchise’s future, but with so many young and talented prospects roaming the hardwood of Madison Square Garden, the future looks incredibly bright for the Knicks.