The advice comes like a shower raining from every direction. It comes after practice, after shootaround, on the way to the team bus, on the team plane. Anywhere and everywhere.
Sure he’s a rookie, and learning is what rooks do. But Knicks point guard Jerian Grant is no stranger to learning. He starred at Notre Dame. His father is former NBA player Harvey Grant. His uncle is former NBA player Horace Grant, who won four world championships between the Chicago Bulls and Los Angeles Lakers. He’s had mentors his entire life.
With that kind of pedigree, Grant knows how to take instruction. With the Knicks, he and teammate Langston Galloway are getting plenty of it, from all corners of the locker room — from Carmelo Anthony, Arron Afflalo, Derek Fisher, you name it — someone’s had a piece of advice for the two young point guards. And Grant and Galloway seem to be good students.
In stark contrast to the poisonous atmosphere that hovered over the Knicks locker room in 2014-15, the new roster Phil Jackson has brought in — including fellow rookie Kristaps Porzingis — has engendered a new, nurturing and mentoring environment.
For Grant, who was acquired by the Knicks from the Hawks in a 2015 draft-night trade, much of that mentoring has come from a curious source — his chief competition for playing time: veteran point guard Jose Calderon. That’s how it has been for this new-look Knicks, and they like it.
“[Calderon]’s so open, anything you want to bring to him, he’s going to give you advice on it,” Grant says.
A kinder and gentler New York Knicks squad? Maybe the Zen Master’s powers are finally rubbing off on his team.
Starts with “team” guys
Creating a good environment was paramount for Jackson after last season’s 17-win campaign. So far, so good.
For Calderon and his young charges, their positions on the depth chart have no bearing on their relationship.
“I’m trying to make [Grant’s] jump into the NBA as comfortable as possible,” Calderon says. “It doesn’t matter who plays at the end of the day. I’m not happier because I’m starting on the Knicks. I could be starting, I could be coming off of the bench, and I’d be the same way. It’s important to be in a good environment.”
“[Calderon’s] been in the league for 10 years, so if I can learn anything form him then I want to learn. At the same time, when we step out on the court, we compete against each other in practice, we’re going to compete as hard as we can. But when we have time to help each other out, that’s what we do.”
It’s only three days into the season, but the 2015-16 Knicks appear to like one another. More important, they appear to want to play for one another. Wednesday’s 122-97 win over the Milwaukee Bucks seems indicative of that.
However, if New York falls 15 games under .500, let’s see if it’s still all Kumbaya.
For now, however, it’s working and the Grant-Calderon relationship typifies that.
“[The young guys] ask a lot and they listen, that’s all you can ask for,” Calderon says. “There are some guys in the league who, you try to say something, they don’t accept it and you have to walk away. But I think these guys are great.”
So, who should start?
Knicks fans are already debating who should be the starting point guard. Calderon started the season opener for New York, but there is a loud and growing contingent who want to see Grant with the first unit.
They might get their wish sooner than they expect.
In Wednesday night’s opener, Grant logged 24 minutes, going 4-for-7 from the field for 10 points. Galloway, however, scored 16 points on 5-of-10 shooting, including 4-for-5 from 3 in 25 minutes. Calderon started, though, playing 18 points and scoring only three points.
Consider ESPN Insider Bradford Doolittle’s scouting report on the 34-year-old Calderon: “a formerly efficient scorer who increasingly struggles to finish inside the arc.” Ouch.
On the other hand, Doolittle says the 23-year-old Grant, is a “dogged competitor who brings a mix of tangible and intangible qualities” to the Knicks.
Still, Fisher seems committed to starting Calderon early in the season. But he hasn’t closed the door on the possibility of inserting Grant.
“Whatever is the best for the team, that’s ultimately what I’ll do,” he says. “But at the moment, I’ll start Jose.”
A valuable relationship
When and if that changes is an open question at this point. But there’s no doubt Fisher has been pleased by the dynamic he sees between Calderon and Grant.
Fisher, a point guard himself for 18 seasons, has been on both ends of that veteran-rookie mentor relationship. He remembers being tutored by Byron Scott and Ron Harper, among others, while with the Los Angeles Lakers.
“Obviously as my career went on, I became that guy who was building relationships with younger players,” Fisher says. “So that’s the benefit of having returning players. … I think in our game, when you can have a returning player who understands what you’re trying to do, that speeds up the learning curve for the rest of the guys, especially if they play the same position. So we think Jose can play a really valuable role for Jerian, for Langston, for many of our guys.”
It helps that Grant has been extremely coachable. The Knicks’ staff has been impressed by the rookie’s acumen and ability to learn the triangle offense.
But ultimately, Grant wants to play.
He is fully aware he is competing for his job each and every time he steps on the court, whether it’s against an opposing guard or against Calderon in practice.
“[Calderon’s] been in the league for 10 years, so if I can learn anything form him, then I want to learn,” Grant says. “At the same time, when we step out on the court, we compete against each other in practice, we’re going to compete as hard as we can. But when we have time to help each other out, that’s what we do.
“We’re a team at the end of the day, even though we’re competing at the same spot.”