Can Knicks expect anything from Rokas Jokubaitis in 2023-24?

Rokas Kokubaitis Knicks
Knicks draft pick Rokas Kokubaitis playing for Zalgris in 2021 (wikimedia commons)

The 2021 NBA Draft was a success for the Knicks, drafting Quentin Grimes with the 25th pick and then taking Miles McBride late in the second round. However, the production from that draft could get even better as the future of 22-year-old Rokas Jokubaitis comes into question. 

Selected by the Knicks with the 35th pick in the draft, the young point guard came into the 2021 NBA Draft with a fair amount of hype around his future. 

He made his Lithuanian National Team debut at age 19 in February 2020. He was named the 2020-21 EuroLeague Best Young Player winner, as voted on by the EuroLeague Players Association, and was also the runner-up for the 2020-21 EuroLeague Rising Star Award, voted on by EuroLeague coaches for best under-22 player.

The scouting report on Jokubaitis was that he was a combo guard with clear offensive instincts. He had the makings of a solid shooter from both long-range and mid-range and had outstanding court vision. He was billed as a high-IQ player who made good reads and was effective in pick-and-roll situations.

So far in his professional career, much of that scouting report has proven to be correct, except that Jokubaitis seems to be developing into more of a pure point guard rather than a combo guard. 

After the 2021-22 season, the Knicks’ draft pick earned the EuroLeague Rising Star Award, averaging 7.2 points and 2.8 assists while shooting 59% from behind the arc. The win put Jokubaitis in a group with previous honorees like Luca Doncic, Ricky Rubio, and Danilo Gallinari. He was the first Lithuanian-born player to earn the award. 

Rokas Kokubaitis Knicks
Knicks draft pick Rokas Kokubaitis playing for Zalgris in 2021 (wikimedia commons)

Rokas Jokubaitis is currently in Spain, playing with FC Barcelona of Liga ACB for the past two seasons. This season, he helped his team make the EuroLeague Final Four, where they lost to Barcelona’s main rival in all sports, Real Madrid.

The Knicks’ guard struggled a bit in that big showdown, finishing with six points, two rebounds, and three assists in just 12 minutes, while also suffering a broken tooth. 

On the season this year, Jokubaitis averaged 7.5 points, 2.1 rebounds, 3.8 assists, on 51% from the field in 19.5 minutes per game. However, he took a step back from behind the arc, knocking down just 30.2% of his shots. 

In two games with the Lithuanian national team at the World Cup, he averaged 9.0 points, 3.5 rebounds, and 7.0 assists while shooting 4-of-9 from deep, so the shot is certainly there, but the consistency needs to come. 

Previously, Jokubaitis had played for the Knicks summer league team back in 2022 and head coach Tom Thibodeau liked what he saw from the young guard in those games.

“It would be more a question for the front office,” he said to Mundo Deportivo when asked about the young guard coming over to play for the Knicks, “but we liked it a lot when he played the Summer League. I hope he has a good season, and then in the summer, we’ll see. But yes, I would like to see him.”

Unfortunately, with Jokubaitis not taking a major step forward this season in Barcelona, it feels likely that the Knicks would choose to let the 22-year-old spend one more season honing his game abroad. His pass-first game would make him a pure backup point guard to Jalen Brunson, which would be beneficial to have another ball-handler in the rotation, but the Knicks’ primary concern right now is floor spacing and perimeter defense, which are not areas where Jokubaitis would be a clear upgrade right now. 

That would also allow the Knicks’ front office to figure out the best direction for their young team. With the futures of Immanuel Quickley, Quentin Grimes, and Miles McBride all up in the air in regard to trade rumors and contract extensions, there could be a few guard spots in the rotation open by the start of the 2024-25 season. 

So while it’s too early to lump Jokubaitis in with former failed Knicks’ draft-and-stash prospects like Ognjen Jaramaz, Maciej Lampe, and Mindaugas Kuzminskas, it feels unlikely that the franchise sees this draft pick pay off next season. 

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Rokas Kokubaitis Knicks
Knicks draft pick Rokas Kokubaitis playing for Barcelona in 2023 (wikimedia commons)