Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau finally met new signee, Argentinian combo guard Luca Vildoza, on Thursday and watched him workout for the first time live in Tarrytown, The Post has learned. According to...
Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau finally met new signee, Argentinian combo guard Luca Vildoza, on Thursday and watched him workout for the first time live in Tarrytown, The Post has learned.
According to a former popular Knicks point guard, Pablo Prigioni, Thibodeau is going to fall for his Argentinian countryman.
Prigioni, who played on the Knicks’ last playoff team in 2012-13 as their playmaking point guard, is assistant coach for Minnesota.
“He’s really, really good,’’ Prigioni told The Post in a phone interview. “I really like him. Very talented, got a great shot and knows how to pass. I’m really excited to see Luca next season with the Knicks. Tom’s going to like him.’’
Prigioni was Vildoza’s head coach for one month in Baskonia in 2017-18 when Vildoza first left Argentina as a 21-year-old for the Spanish League.
Prigioni helped Vilodoza’s transition then and hopes to aid him again. They’ve been on the phone since Vildoza flew in two weeks ago.
“For sure I tried to help him in that transition [to Spain] and I’m trying to do the same thing now this summer,’ Prigioni said. “I’m trying to stay close to him. Even though I’m in the Minnesota organization, I’m trying to help if he needs anything. I’ve said to some of the guys in the Knicks organization, you guys got to take care of Luca. As they say, once a Knick always a Knick.’’
While Vildoza weaved a solid Baskonian career, Prigioni resigned during his first season as didn’t want to pass on an opportunity to coach in the NBA. Prigioni accepted the Nets’ assistant position in 2017 then moved to Minnesota in 2019-20.
“Luca was 20,’’ Prigioni said. “I really had a good time with him. I threw him into a game In Israel, a Euroleague game, we were behind and he had a huge game. It was a turning point for him. After that he played more and more and he became really big for Baskonia.’’
Vildoza was on Baskonia’s title team in 2020 with Facundo Campazzo, who is thriving in Denver.
Vildoza followed Prigioni’s exact path – Argentina to Spain to the NBA. Vildoza, 25, is making the jump a lot younger. Prigioni was 35 when he joined the Knicks in 2012.
“I came older, but it was pretty clear he was ready to make that jump,’’ Prigioni said. “Last season he was huge in winning the title with Baskonia. He was doing really well this year. You knew the next step would be the NBA. The Knicks were following him, other teams were following him as well. I’m not surprised.’’
The Knicks gave him a contract for this season at $3.4 million to ward off any free-agent competition.
“I would say he’s more talented than me, to be honest,’’ Prigioni said. “I came in with more experience — knowing exactly what I can do for the team to have an impact. He’s younger and more talented. He has a really nice shot. You’ll see. He can score the ball from 3. He’s a good passer.
“He got good legs to [kneel] down and guard. I had instincts playing defense and getting steals and playing smarts, and that’s something he’ll get with age and years. We have some similar but I’d say he’s really more talented.’’
Thibodeau declined to integrate Vildoza for the playoffs, and he kept away from the club in the final two playoff contests after quarantining.
Thibodeau has admitted he didn’t know much about Vildoza, saying “our scouts liked him.’’ He was abrupt in his answers, kept calling the signing “a next-season thing,” though Vildoza took up a roster spot.
Since the season ended Wednesday in a five-game wipeout by Atlanta, Vildoza has met the front office and future teammates.
“He’s a very lovely kid, easygoing guy,’’ Prigioni said. “ It’s not easy to walking into an [NBA] locker room coming from Europe when the English is not great. He’s still a shy guy and could take time to get with you in the interviews in English.’’
In 58 games split between Euroleague and Spanish League, Vildoza averaged 10.5 points, 3.5 assists and shot 36 percent from 3-point land. The Knicks are desperate for point-guard help next season with Elfird Payton, Derrick Rose and Frank Ntilikina all free agents.
Knicks president Leon Rose was not made available for comment after the season to talk about team’s future.
“I’m excited because he’s coming at the right time for the Knicks,’’ Prigioni said. “It’s exciting time for the team and fans. Its good timing for him. There’s a mix of young guys and old guys — a good mix for him.’’
Vildoza will play for the Argentinian Olympic Team in Tokyo and perhaps in the Las Vegas summer league. The Olympic quarterfinals are Aug. 3. The Knicks’ summer league starts Aug. 7.
Vildoza’s deal won’t become guaranteed until the day after the season opener.
“I can’t tell that,’’ Prigioni said when asked if he can start. “He has a long way to go to get to know the system the coach, the league. I don’t know if he’s ready to yet to start but whatever the role they have for him, he should perform well and help the team win. ‘’
This story originally appeared on: NyPost - Author:Marc Berman