Kevin Knox was New York’s first-round selection in the 2018 draft, but it’s not inconceivable to think these three names could have been wearing Knicks orange and blue.
The first entry in our draft “what-if” miniseries, we look back at last year’s NBA draft and see where the team would be if they selected someone other than Kevin Knox with the ninth pick.
Once upon a time, the Knicks weren’t the worst team in the league.
They were (arguably) the ninth worst.
Last year, the Knicks found themselves firmly out of the Luka Doncic sweepstakes—something that certainly wouldn’t be the case this year—after they put together a somewhat competitive first half of the season prior to Kristaps Porzingis’ injury. They finished the season 29-53, which, compared to this season, makes last year’s ragtag squad look the 2016 Golden State Warriors.
While the Knicks didn’t position themselves to land a Trae Young, Luka Doncic, or Deandre Ayton, they did still manage to make the lottery in a pretty deep draft. As you all know (unless, for whatever weird reason, this is the first piece of New York Knicks content you’ve ever consumed in your entire life), the Knicks selected Kevin Knox out of the University of Kentucky with the aforementioned ninth-overall pick.
Knox had an up-and-down first season in New York, but looks like he can develop into a nice player for the Knicks. His rookie year, for all intents and purposes, should be considered a success, as there was noticeable improvement in his overall game by the end of the year.
Still, with one of the biggest free agent summers in recent memory coming into focus, it’s possible to play the “what if” game with the Knicks’ latest lottery selection. The 19-year-old Knox looks like he’ll be a solid, maybe even All-Star-caliber player for New York, but with the Knicks possibly being major players in free agency, it’s fair to wonder if they could have selected players who more closely mirror a win-now approach; not to mention mask some of their roster’s major flaws.
So let’s take a look at some alternate selections the Knicks could have chosen in a draft re-do, and their potential fits on a competitive Knicks team going forward.
Mikal Bridges—who seemed to be the favorite amongst fans for the Knicks’ selection in last year’s draft—didn’t have as good of a statistical season as Kevin Knox, but could be a better fit on a “win-now” roster if the Knicks do indeed land a couple of stars this summer. Bridges was selected 10th overall by his hometown Philadelphia 76ers before getting traded just a few hours later to the Phoenix Suns for Zhaire Smith and a 2021 first-round pick.
In his rookie season, Bridges averaged 8.3 points on 43% shooting from the field and 33.5% from deep to go along with 3.2 rebounds and 2.1 assists in 29.5 minutes of action per game. His ceiling may not be nearly as high as Knox’s, but he’s already the better defender, averaging 1.6 steals his rookie year, and he checks the boxes for a prototypical 3-and-D player in today’s league.
While he actually shot slightly worse than Knox from three, one could make the argument that Bridges projects as a better fit on a playoff roster, as his skill set was somewhat diminished on a similarly inept Phoenix Suns team. He isn’t as adept at creating his own shot, but playing next to a point guard who can penetrate—something he didn’t have in Phoenix—could unlock his full skill set.
Other than just plain talent, the two biggest needs for the Knicks going into next season—especially if they do land big-ticket free agents—are shooting and perimeter defense, and Bridges certainly passes with flying colors.
Another “bridge” New York could have crossed (reaching…) would have been that of the other Bridges, Miles, who went 12th overall to the Charlotte Hornets. Miles wasn’t projected to be as polished an offensive player as Villanova’s Mikal, but his numbers on that end were arguably more potent than the slightly more acclaimed Bridges.
In just 21.2 minutes of action per game, Miles averaged 7.5 points on 46.4% shooting from the field, along with 4.0 rebounds and 1.2 assists. He also shot 32.5% from three—a mere percentage point below Mikal, who was known mostly for his shooting out of college. Miles also projects to have a higher ceiling than Mikal and is a more versatile player, spending time at both the 3 and the 4.
For a Knicks team almost totally devoid of defensive talent, Bridges would have been a good fit at both the wing and as a small-ball 4. His ability to switch on to smaller guards could have given Fizdale’s defense a much-needed boost. Between Miles, Damyean Dotson, Frank Ntilikina, and Mitchell Robinson, the Knicks could have played four versatile, “position-less” defenders who mirror the heavy-switch concepts Fiz wants to run on that end of the court. The Knicks don’t have a true starting four on the roster, so Bridges could have rounded out a nice young defensive frontcourt next to Robinson.
Wild Card Selection: Shai Gilgeous-Alexander
The New York Knicks, having just drafted Ntilikina the year prior, didn’t appear in the market for a point guard; unless of course Trae Young somehow managed to fall in their lap, which clearly wasn’t the case.
However, close to a year later, we now know the Knicks might not have been as opposed to the idea as we thought. At least, if you think the acquisition of Dennis Smith Jr. is any indication of their search for a point guard.
Right now, it appears David Fizdale considers Ntilikina a rotational wing player who can guard multiple positions—not a traditional lead guard. With rumors Frank could be shopped at this year’s draft, it appears the Knicks have all but given up on Frank as their starting point guard.
I think I can speak for most Knicks fans here—we should get a chance to see Ntilikina and Dennis Smith Jr. together in the backcourt. But that might not ever happen.
With the acquisition of Smith Jr., it’s fair to wonder if the Knicks would have selected Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, the starting point guard on a playoff team, had they had any indication he’d be this effective in year one.
Gilgeous-Alexander looks like he’ll be a solid player for years to come. He can play both guard spots, defend on the perimeter, and help set up a halfcourt offense.
In 26.5 minutes per game this past season, Gilgeous-Alexander averaged 10.8 points on 47.6% shooting from the field, and an impressive 36.7% from deep. He also chipped in 2.8 rebounds, 3.3 assists, and 1.2 steals per contest. A scrappy, versatile player, Gligeous-Alexander could have fit in well alongside Ntilikina, Dotson, and Robinson, giving the Knicks another willing, disruptive defender, and an efficient offensive playmaker on the other end.
It wasn’t clear what type of player Gilgeious-Alexander would be out of college, and many thought the Clippers reached for him with the 11th pick, but the 6’6” guard with a 6’11” wingspan proved this season he could have been an impactful addition for the Knicks’ porous defensive backcourt. Watching him and Frank get into the passing lanes with their length and size could have formed a formidable, defensive-oriented duo in the backcourt. He almost reminds me of Malcolm Brogdon, a non-flashy player who displayed his immense value to the Bucks in the midst of an impressive 50-40-90 campaign.
From the looks of it, however, the Knicks probably took the best player on the board in Kevin Knox. But it’s not a stretch to think they could have had any of these three to round out their roster next season.