The New York Knicks‘ Euro Unit is one of best combinations that head coach Jeff Hornacek has at his disposal off the bench.
The New York Knicks have an influx of new faces this season. There are nine new players on their 15-man roster including three starters. Barring injury, the starting lineup is pretty much set in stone.
An issue for head coach Jeff Hornacek is coming up with the right combination of players off the bench. One lineup that has worked the best for New York is known as the “Euro Unit.”
Hornacek’s game plan seems to be to play as few minutes as possible without at least one key starter on the floor at all times. One way to do this is by staggering the minutes for Carmelo Anthony and Kristaps Porzingis. The way this has been working out is that Porzingis is usually the first player subbed out after the game has started and in the third quarter.
Anthony plays the entire first and third quarters before resting to start the second and fourth quarters. Most of the time this is when Porzingis returns to the game. He, along with three other European-born players and a player who played overseas, make up the energetic and productive “Euro Unit.”
Brandon Jennings is the point guard of this reserve unit. Jennings was the first high-school player to skip college and play his mandatory one year overseas before entering the NBA Draft. He is returning from an injury that derailed his 2015-16 season.
During free agency, Jennings bet on himself and signed a one-year, $5 million contract.
So far this season he is averaging 7.7 points, 5.2 assists, 2.8 rebounds and 1.0 steals in 22.9 minutes per game. He is knocking down 77.5 percent of his shots from the foul line and 29.3 percent from behind the three-point arc. His energy on defense and fast-paced offense sets the tone for this unit and some nights the entire team.
Sasha Vujacic is considered the elder statesman and mentor to this group of youngsters. The 32-year-old shooting guard brings a high basketball IQ, hustle, and a championship pedigree to a unit — and honestly a team — that does not possess much of that.
His 8.0 minutes per game are the least amount of minutes of anyone in this unit. The two-time champ is mostly used to provide a spark off the bench with his tenacity on defense and his ability to knock down the open shot.
Another player that can hit the open shot is the 27-year-old rookie, Mindaugas Kuzminskas. He is only considered a rookie based on NBA standards. The 6-foot-9, 215 pound forward spent the last seven seasons playing professionally over in Europe.
Kuzminskas is averaging 4.5 points, 1.5 rebounds, and 0.9 assists in only 11.4 minutes per game this season. The sharp shooting Lithuanian is shooting 40 percent from the floor. He is also connecting on 83.3 percent of his foul shots and 37.5 percent of his threes.
Another player who gained international playing experience before coming over to the states is Willy Hernangomez. The 6-foot-10, 249 pound center was chosen in the second round of the 2015 NBA Draft.
The Philadelphia 76ers traded his rights to New York on draft night but he played an extra season overseas before joining the Knicks in 2016-17 as a rookie. Hernangomez is averaging 5.5 points, 4.3 rebounds, and 0.4 blocks in 13.1 minutes per game. The 22-year-old Spaniard possesses arguably the best footwork of any big man on the Knicks roster.
The final piece to this unit is the most important, Kristaps Porzingis. He’s the superstar and the offensive focal point. Porzingis is averaging 19.7 points, 7.5 rebounds, 1.3 assists and 1.7 blocks in 34 minutes per game. The Latvian standout is also shooting 78.3 percent from the free-throw line and 37.2 percent from the three-point arc.
There will be factors that will cause Hornacek to have to go away from this unit from time to time. This group currently has the highest field goal percentage differential (+.167) of any five-man rotation that the Knicks have used this season. Their +21.7 assists differential is also the highest of any combination as well.
This may be only the fifth-most used five-man combination but, if the New York Knicks are in need of a spark, the “Euro Unit” is the way to go.