The Knicks’ play over the last two months has seemingly ended the tank vs. compete debate, but their draft outlook remains full of intrigue and promise.

The 2022-2023 Knicks season has been a roller coaster of a season, with ups and downs leading to all sorts of thoughts from the fan base. While some fans wanted to fire Thibodeau, trade Randle, and start looking to the future, others wanted to make win now moves and try to complete in the playoffs. At the start of the new year and a new winning streak, the latter looks more likely than the former, but the trade deadline still looms over the next month.

While the winning and losing streaks have varied throughout the year and roster changes could dramatically change outcomes, right now, we can assume the Knicks will be sitting somewhere in the middle of the draft order. If the draft order was finalized today, the Knicks would be the owners of the 21 and 22 pick of the loaded 2023 draft. The 21st pick is their own, and the 22nd pick is courtesy of the Dallas Mavericks via the Kristaps Porzingis trade.

The Knicks do own various other protected draft picks, both in this year’s draft as well as future drafts. The Pistons pick, protected 1-18, should be mathematically impossible to convey this year, especially given Cade Cunningham’s season-ending tibia injury, and while the Wizards currently sitting on the seventh pick does not seem great for the Knicks, who hold a top-14 protection, the congestion in the middle of the Eastern Conference hierarchy does technically make a play-in appearance, and a conveyance of their pick, a possible if unlikely scenario. While the Wiz would have fairly good odds with the ping pong balls on lottery night, a few wins in the play-in would guarantee the Knicks end up with that pick wherever it lands. The Wizards are only 1.5 games out of the 10 seed right now and if they can sneak into the play-in tournament, they can play themselves out of the lottery and into the Knicks’ draft capital.

Therefore, the likeliest scenario is that the Knicks will end up with two draft picks in the late teens or early twenties. In what is being looked at as a historic draft class, there are worse places to be than owning two (or three) picks in the first round. Even if they do not have any second round picks this year, Leon Rose has shown the ability to wheel and deal on draft night and move picks around whether to move down, up, or drop out entirely to get his guy.

Even if I have personally been burned and disappointed in the recent past by watching months of draft coverage go up in smoke as the Knicks punt on draft night for future assets, it has put the Knicks in a good position to make moves this June. The Knicks’ draft record under Rose has been successful and one can believe that in a class this stacked, there would be a variety of guys available for them to take a shot on.

When looking at the recent draft picks of the current Knicks front office regime, it is hard to get an exact idea of what they look for, other than prioritizing their guys no matter what they are valued at in the mainstream media. While sometimes that may be taking a big swing, the Leon Rose-era clearly prioritizes specific skills and getting two-way role players that can help.

While this draft is mostly going to get looked at for the potential stars at the top of the draft, there is a depth to this class that is more impressive than most. There are players that are rising throughout their respective seasons, whether it is college basketball or overseas. There is a variety of reasons for guys to jump off the draft boards but the common trait these players share is one or two elite traits likely to translate to the NBA.

So, let’s take a look at who are some of the guys that may be realistic targets in that 15-25 range for them to take a chance on:

Gradey Dick

The 6’8 Kansas freshman is the de facto best shooter in the class and his performance in Lawrence is certainly confirming that. The Kansas native is a big part of the returning champs’ success early in the year as he as contributing a wildly efficient 14.7 points and 5.3 rebounds for the Jayhawks. Shooting 47.9% from the field one thing, but Dick is also shooting 48.2% from beyond the arc on a healthy six attempts per game, including a remarkable 60.8% on non-corner three-pointers, per CBB Analytics. With a lightning quick release and limitless range, Dick should immediately be able to contribute and provide spacing at the NBA level.

The 19-year-old sharpshooter will be able to help teams as a rookie due to the shooting, but he can bring more to the table than just being a spot-up threat. While his shot is quick, fluid, and extremely accurate, his ability to get that shot off comes from more than just the fast release. At 6’8 he is able to shoot over defenders, and his off-ball movement and motor allow him to get score at all three levels. Not to be too cliche when talking about a white basketball player from Kansas, but Dick has a high basketball IQ and is smart with his movement around the court. He is shooting nearly 62% around the rim due to the smart cutting and easy baskets those lead to. Parlay that movement and court awareness with surprising, some might even say “sneaky,” athleticism (cannot talk about a white American basketball player without it) and an above-averaging layup package and finishing ability and you get the start of a really dangerous three-level scorer at the NBA level.

Along with the shooting availability that Dick’s size gives him, it also gives him valuable skills defensibly as well as with rebounding. As a freshman, he averages five rebounds a game and while he is not an elite defender due to a lack of lateral quickness, he is still a valuable team defender and should, in time, help on that side of the ball. His size allows him to help with weak side rim protection, and his continuous motor helps him to impact the game by getting back on defense and pushing tempo immediately off rebounds. There are plenty of things to like on both sides of the ball with Dick, plus who doesn’t want to draft someone that is willing to do gymnastics on Tik-Tok?

Max Lewis

It feels like every year, we get a mid-major prospect jumping up the ranks throughout the regular season. Last year Jalen Williams skyrocketed all the way to the 12th pick of the draft out of Santa Clara in the WCC, and now Maxwell Lewis is trying to do the same thing out of the same conference. Pepperdine’s sophomore scorer is taking the league by storm in a bigger role for the Waves. The sophomore from Phoenix has nearly doubled his averages this year given the opportunity to be a starter in the WCC. As a freshman, he averaged 11 points, 3.2 rebounds and 36.3% from three, now as a sophomore he is up to 20.2 points, 6.2 rebounds and 42.2% from deep on five attempts a game.

After recovering from injury, Lewis has more than taken advantage of the opportunities available to him out in Malibu. While he did not come in as a heralded prospect in the way that many of his contemporaries in the first round of the draft, he presents as much skill scoring a basketball as just about anyone. There are few players in college basketball as efficient offensively as Maxwell Lewis. One issue you sometimes see with low- and mid-major prospects is a reliance on tough shots due to the attention they receive from defenses, leading to low field goal percentages and inefficient scoring. That is certainly not the case at Pepperdine; while Lewis does have a tendency to take tough shots, he is an elite finisher. He can create separation and space at a high level and uses fancy footwork to create openings to score at all three levels.

Offensively, it is hard to find a weakness in Lewis’ game, as he can create space and opportunities for himself as well as others. He is a solid passer that can facilitate in a secondary role on a regular basis, as well as get to his spot at all three levels. He is one of the better attackers in college basketball and is shooting a mind-boggling 75% at the rim. Along with the ability to get to the hoop, he can just straight up shoot the basketball. 42% on five three-point attempts is impressive enough but when you look into those numbers, they are even more impressive. He is hitting 49% of his catch-and shoot-jumpers and a sweltering 73% when uncontested from beyond the arc. That is just somebody that you cannot leave open from deep and makes defenses take him seriously. He can clearly shoot and can score off ball, but he is also one of the best in the country off the dribble and converts 39% of his pull up jumpers off of a seemingly never-ending arsenal of dribble moves.

You may assume that a player with this level of offensive weaponry is a defensive liability, but Lewis is averaging over a steal and a block per game. There are questions about his effort defensively but that may speak more to the amount of effort that is needed to shoulder the load offensively. He still projects to be a good defender based off his frame, athleticism and physical ability, which is more than enough when you consider the fact that he is an absolute offensive dynamo that projects to score in every way in the association.

Brice Sensabaugh

Few players are soaring up the ranks so far in the college basketball season more than Ohio State’s freshman sensation Brice Sensabaugh. The 6’6 freshman from Orlando is a bit of an anomaly in the modern game as he moves around the paint like an old school big but shoots and passes like a modern guard.

Elite footwork is really what allows the Buckeye star to get to his spots and be one of the most efficient offensive players in college basketball He provides a mid-range arsenal and scoring package that NBA teams dream of, and brings a touch and feel for the game around the basket that translates to scoring in just about every way that you can think of from inside the arc. That touch, feel, and footwork is enhanced by an NBA ready frame and great athleticism, making him a remarkable scoring threat. His game is going to be compared to fellow Buckeye Malachi Branham or Moses Moody as examples of guys who have old school games and use strength and footwork to get to their spots, but with more athleticism and plus passing, it is an extremely dangerous offensive game.

I know it is easy to say that the mid-range game is dead in the NBA but that is just not true, when you watch close games and elite players, the mid-range is where they are going to create for themselves. The spacing and tempo of the game allow players who can create and score in isolation situations to feast in those moments, and that is exactly what Brice Sensabaugh does. He is able to create space and attack mismatches at such a high level that allows him to be efficient in his scoring opportunities from all over the court, including shooting 45% from downtown. The shooting allows Sensabaugh to utilize his wild footwork and wizardry to get to his spots and use his strength to body his defenders. His frame and athleticism also allow him to go by people and shoot over them, making him dangerous any time he has the ball in his hands.

Jett Howard

The son of the Fab Five star is another high raiser in this year’s draft class, coming from out of nowhere to being a potential lottery pick. Technically, I guess, you can’t exactly come out of nowhere as the son of your college coach and a major basketball family, but still….

“Shooting versatility” is probably the term that you are going to hear the most when you are reading up on Jett Howard. What that means is that there is no one way that the freshman phenom can get his shot, but there is no one way that he cannot either. The Michigan Wolverine may not be labeled as one of the best shooters in the draft class like Gradey Dick, but he certainly gets his shots off easier than just about anybody else. There is no shot that Howard doesn’t like and that is certainly not a bad thing when he possesses the ability to hit them from anywhere on the court, no matter who is guarding him.

Jett is putting up 14.3 points a game for his father’s team while taking 6.5 threes a game. His shooting has fallen off a little bit from the beginning of the year, but his efficiency has remained the same. His offensive versatility extends beyond just shooting threes at a high volume, his pull-up game translates well to the mid-range as well. At 6’8, the size that Howard possesses make him more dangerous as a ball handler with solid passing chops. Howard is able to handle the ball in a pick and roll and create space for himself with a variety of dribble moves and get to pull-ups and step-backs at all levels.

There are many things to like about Howard’s game offensively as an off-ball scorer with elite movement and impressive secondary passing. Howard is another player that can get his shot off quickly over defenders given his size and the point of release. However, when you are looking at the freshman’s offensive game, his slashing ability is another highly transferrable skill that NBA front offices must be licking their chops when looking at. He is a really smart cutter off-ball, but also a high-level ball handler in his own right. He is able to get to the basket and create space using his dribble moves, where he can either get to his shot in the mid-range or attack the basket as an above average finisher.

Kris Murray

If Kris Murray, the 6’8 wing from Iowa sounds familiar, you may be thinking of his brother Keegan. It is not deja vu, this is simply the twin brother of last year’s number three pick of the Sacramento Kings. Keegan averaged 23.5 ppg as a sophomore at Iowa, Keegan this year as a junior is averaging 21.3 ppg. Keegan is not the level of college basketball player, nor prospect as his twin brother, but he is still pretty dang good. The shooting gene is certainly prevalent in the Murray household, the lefty wing is shooting 38.2% from deep on 6.2 attempts per game.

The biggest difference between the Murray brothers is that Kris benefits mostly off the ball and lacks his brother’s on the ball prowess. However, that does not prevent him from being an impactful offensive player, it just puts him into a different role, albeit one that is extremely valuable as a big shot-maker and off-ball scorer. He has taken a bigger role in his junior season at Iowa and has stepped into it effectively and is averaging more points per game than anyone in a Power Five school not named Zach Edey.

Not only is Murray averaging over 21 points a game, but he is averaging nearly 10 rebounds as well. Murray is 16th in the country as an offensive rebounder, averaging 3.5 o-boards a game. His size and athleticism help him be a decent defender and really good rebounder for his size. It is not hard to imagine Murray grabbing a rebound, pushing it up to a point guard and trailing him for an open three when he gets it back on the other end.

The really big improvement that Murray is showing in the bigger role this year is the improved attacking and facilitating. As the season has gone on and Murray has had the opportunity to play against quality Big 10 competition, he has increased his assist total and usage rate without increasing his turnover rate. He has shown the ability to attack off the dribble and shoot off of a few dribbles, but if he is able to attack closeouts and beat guys off the dribble on a regular basis, he can really change how he is looked at as a prospect. Not only is the attacking an improvement he has shown, but impressive passing chops with creative passes that can open up opportunities thanks to the gravity his shooting creates.

Other names to watch:

Taylor Hendricks

Another riser this year is UCF freshman Taylor Hendricks, who was not on anybody’s big board going into the year. The 6’9 freshman has an NBA ready frame, projects to be a high-level switchable defender and is shooting 39.7% from deep on nearly five attempts per game. In the modern NBA, what more can you ask for from a an athletic big?

Hendricks has showed some additional pull-up and off-dribble scoring ability to add to a very strong physical profile and defensive-minded game. He is putting up an efficient 14.6 per game down in Orlando and is able to get jump shots off due to his size and athleticism. The release point of his jump shot is nearly unblockable due to the height which allows him to get his shots off over defenders off the dribble.

The real selling point for Hendricks is his defense. He is going to be a legit switchable defender at the NBA level with the length and strength to defend bigs but the quickness and athleticism to stay in front of guards. He is able to stay low and rotate his hips to guard smaller and faster guards without giving up any of the space that he cannot make up with his length and athleticism. That level of defensive prowess will really highlight his ability as a prospect; you can expect to see him continue to rise thanks to the versatility on both sides of the ball as well as the show stopping blocks.

Colby Jones

The 6’6 20-year-old junior guard brings a veteran presence and mature play-style that translates to an archetypal older guard prospect. Colby Jones is a versatile guard that contributes to winning in a lot of different ways and really fills out a box score. He is averaging 14.1 points, 5.7 assists and 5.1 rebounds per game in his junior season after improving on his scoring and facilitating each year. He has made significant growth in his three-point shooting as well as his free throw shooting and has a really pure stroke to the eye test. His game is solid and may not be flashy, but he is a winning player that impacts the game in many different ways.

It is easy to say he is a safer “high floor” type of pick who can impact the game immediately akin to players like Tre Jones and Andrew Nembhard in previous years that are looked at as ready to go bench guards. What makes me push back on the “low ceiling, high floor” stamp that is being given to Colby Jones is the passing touch and vision that the Xavier guard brings to the table. He is one of the better passers in the draft class and is able to fit into tight windows and hit shooters and scorers exactly where they need to get it to be in the best position to score.

Rayan Rupert

The 6’6 18-year-old Frenchman is one of the younger players in the draft class and has followed his fellow countrymen Ousmane Dieng and Hugo Besson from last year in leaving France to join the New Zealand Breakers. Rupert may be a stash guy for next year given his youth and inexperience, but the reported 7’3 wingspan and elite athleticism give you more than enough of a reason to take a chance on the young wing.

The jump shot is not there, but the signs show that it might be there one day as he has good touch around the rim and is a good free throw shooter. While the shot may take time, his ability to attack the rim and get to the basket is unquestionable. While he took time off in the NBL season due to injury, he appears to have worked on his left hand during his injury recovery and has showed good early returns on being able to attack off the dribble with either hand to get to the rim.

While offensively there are question marks about Rupert that may take time to develop, defensively is the selling point for taking the chance on the 18-year-old. The length really creates issues for guards as he is able to pester and get his hands on balls and create chaos for opposing ball handlers. The athleticism and the length make the New Zealand Breaker a really intriguing prospect, but we will see if he ends up in the lottery like Dieng or the last pick of the draft like Besson.

Andre Jackson

The University of Connecticut is a borderline blue blood but still has been one of the surprises of college basketball. Andre Jackson has had a disappointing year to some given the lack of growth coming off the pinky fracture, but the raw skill set still is intriguing to the NBA. Even if he has not improved in his junior year as much as you would have liked, Jackson does a lot on the basketball court that is intriguing from a prospect perspective.

Andre Jackson may be the best athlete in the draft class that does not have the last name Thompson. He is going to immediately be able to compete at the NBA level just because of the combination of speed and explosion that he has. While the complete absence of a jump shot (he is a now improved 29.2% from three) hurts the offensive game, the straight-line speed still has a place in the NBA. Whether it is moving in transition, getting downhill off a pick and roll, or just breaking a press with incredible speed, Andre Jackson can run.

There is a flare to Andre Jackson’s game that makes him just immensely watchable. You can watch a UConn game and notice him every possession down the court and realize after the game that he finished with six points and four assists. Whether that is a good or bad thing is up to you; the 6.4 points, 4.8 assists and 6.3 rebounds per game speaks to the versatility and total impact but also shows a lack of game-in and game-out production. What he does however, he does with a sense of style and intensity that you cannot help to be impressed by.

At 6’6, Jackson’s long arms and high-level athleticism allows him to snag 1.5 steals per game and consistently bother opposing ball handlers. He is able to grab steals and create deflections and run and turn that into instant offense and fast breaks on the other side.

Leonard Miller

Last year’s mystery man was Canada’s Leonard Miller, who appeared out of nowhere during the draft cycle and made quite an impression on draft twitter. Miller shocked everyone by joining the draft combine instead of keeping the aura of mystery that surrounded him and that proved to be a mistake. During the combine it was clear that the young Canadian was not strong enough and not ready for the step up in competition compared to his high school opponents in Canada. The raw skills of the 18-year-old were always impressive as a near 7-footer taking step back threes and initiating offense as if he was Kevin Durant (hint: he’s not). Instead of entering the draft last year, the Canadian mystery man joined the G-League Ignite team playing alongside Scoot Henderson and that proved to be the right decision as his stock has continuously risen as he has corrected some of the concerns that were brought upon him last draft cycle.

It’s still a wonder to watch Miller roam around the basketball court with the size and long strides of a gazelle. He is up to 15.1 points and 8.6 rebounds on the Ignite as their third leading scorer beyond de factor number-2 pick Scoot Henderson and OAKAAK New York Knick John Jenkins. The willingness and quickness to get his shot off compared to what he showed at the combine last year has been night and day. He no longer looks scared or hesitant when given contests or close outs but instead shows the ability to shoot quickly or attack a closeout.

The concerns about Leonard Miller last year were largely built around the lack of competition that he had faced in Canada but the way he has treated his body and showed improved strength and athleticism has been a huge improvement that he needed to show in order to improve his draft stock.  He was unpolished when we saw him last summer, but he showed glimpses of what he could be. The G-League has given him chances to work on those flaws and expand on the grab and go rebounds and flashy self-creation moments that made him such an intriguing prospect to begin with.

The Knicks will almost certainly be missing out on the cream of the crop in this year’s stacked upper lottery, but with two-to-three bites at the apple, they’re almost certain to have a chance to land a high-level prospect who can fill some of their remaining needs. Whether that player will be able to see any court time is a question for another time, but with March Madness and a potential playoff berth looming on the horizon, there’s plenty for Knicks fans of all credos to be looking forward to this spring.

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