Knicks’ Luka Samanic shining in NBA G-League

SAN ANTONIO — It was neat timing for the Knicks that two-way prospect Luka Samanic won G-League Player of the Week honors Tuesday while the Knicks were in Alamo City.

Samanic, a 2019 Spurs first-round pick whom San Antonio cut in training camp, is second in scoring in the G-League at 29.2 points. Defense is his issue, as a very flattering Spurs coach/team president Gregg Popovich alluded to before the Knicks faced the Spurs at AT&T Center.

Asked by The Post how tough a decision it was to cut Samanic in the third year of his rookie contract, Popovich admitted maybe the Knicks got a player.

“He’s got a lot of talent,” Popovich said. “He’s done a good job at this point. The sky’s the limit for him. If he sticks with it and do the things he’s got to do to improve defensively and get consistent. He’s a good kid and has a lot of talent. The future is bright for him.”

Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau, when the Knicks signed 6-foot-10 Samanic to a two-way contract, said it would be just “a G-League thing,” giving no indication he wanted the Croatian power forward with the big club yet.

Luka Samanic
NBAE via Getty Images

But Samanic, 21, is turning heads. Thibodeau said he sees him all the time as the Westchester Knicks practice at Tarrytown. Samanic averaged 30 points, 12 rebounds and three assists this week.

“They practice in the building, so I get the chance to watch a little bit,” Thibodeau said. “He had a good week, obviously. He’s a good young prospect and he has to keep working. I try to watch practice and then I get feedback on what they’re doing. I talk to their coaches, also.”

When the Spurs cut Samanic, character and attitude were cited. One European scout told The Post recently one issue is he doesn’t love the game.

Magic center Mo Bamba fouls then-Spurs forward Luka Samanic during a preseason game, Sunday, Oct. 10, 2021, in Orlando, Fla.
Magic center Mo Bamba fouls then-Spurs forward Luka Samanic during a preseason game in October.
AP

Popovich is friendly with Thibodeau but wouldn’t divulge whether he recommended Samanic.

“Historically we keep our conversations to ourselves and try not to share it with people like you,” Popovich said.

Popovich is leaving his post as U.S. Olympic coach. Thibodeau has Team USA experience but it didn’t sound as if he’s been talking to officials. Asked if he has thrown his hat in the ring, Thibodeau said, “You don’t throw your hat in the ring. They have the ring.”

Popovich said Thibodeau would be a good choice.

“Oh sure, there’s a lot of guys who would be fantastic,” Popovich said. “He’s one. That experience is great. The people we’re looking at are all great candidates. Everyone’s going to be happy about final selection.”

Thibodeau didn’t sound like he’s in USA talks.

“I enjoyed my experience and I’m sure there are a number of great candidates that they have,” he said. “So, anyone that has an opportunity to do it, I would strongly suggest they do it.”