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Defend Your Prospect: 2018 NBA Draft Edition

Photo: Bailey Carlin/TKW Illustration

Our writers battle it out, defending the praises of some of their favorite prospects in next week’s draft and critiquing the faults of other soon-to-be pro athletes.

The 2018 NBA Draft is 10 days away—and it’s time to sling mud around.

While the Bridges, Miles and Mikal, remain big favorites for Knicks fans that pine for a wing stud as their team’s next lottery pick, let’s look at some other candidates in the no. 9 range.

Trae Young, Wendell Carter Jr., Collin Sexton, and Michael Porter Jr. all take the stage and vie for the spotlight as our writers defend—and attack—the four prospects New York could draft next Thursday.


Trae Young

Jack Huntley: First, some context, the Knicks are picking ninth, a spot with an expected value that makes landing a role player the most likely outcome, and a star as likely as a bust. Generally speaking, this late in the lottery, upside is counterbalanced by downside.

For me, Trae Young has the most upside of this quartet of prospects and bottoms out as a net-neutral starting point guard who’s as explosive offensively as he is disastrous defensively. With this worst-case scenario, at this point in the draft, it’s a no-brainer.

Michael Porter Jr. is nice, but he’s the poster child of this upside-downside dichotomy; if he falls to the Knicks, there is a reason, and that reason is back surgery before he’s even started his pro career. This is the reddest of red flags. Sprinkle in some character and work-ethic question marks and it’s just too much of a risk.

Wendell Carter Jr. is nice, solid, high character. He can pass a little, shoot a little, rebound a lot. But he’s an NBA center, and at least 90 percent of my Knicks daydreams feature a certain Latvian unicorn tearing teams apart from the five-spot. I don’t want our Latvian son running around the perimeter chasing stretch fours on that pesky ACL.

Sexton is nice, but what is he elite at? He’d be fun to root for, sure, and he’d work his ass off, probably become a fan favorite. But can he shoot? Can he pass? Isn’t that what point guards are supposed to do? Squint and he’s Russell Westbrook but open your eyes and he’s a role player. Could be worse, could be better.

Young is special. He’s 19 years old and is already an offensive stud. He’s not just an elite shooter, but that rare breed who takes, makes, and creates floor-warping shots. Famous for his shot-making, Young’s passing is at least as impressive, with innate court vision and every pass in the pure point guard playbook. Yes, he struggles defensively, just like slender elite point guards Kyrie Irving and Steph Curry did. Struggling defensively as a 19-year-old point guard is the norm—not an outlier—and certainly shouldn’t be the defining factor in evaluating a potentially transcendent offensive talent.

This kid is a foundational offensive talent whose game meshes perfectly with our other foundational offensive talent, Kristaps Porzingis, and whose defensive limitations can be covered up by our foundational defensive talent—Frank Ntilikina. If it’s not a Bridges, it’s gotta be this kid.

Wendell Carter Jr.

Harrison Liao: Let’s not get it twisted. Trae Young has the highest upside of these four. But if there’s anything we just learned for the entirety of the 2018 playoffs, it’s that defensive switchability is the ultimate priority for a non-superstar right now. If you can’t switch onto the other team’s best creator and credibly stand your ground, you will not play in the postseason. No matter how great Young might be at raining pull-up threes and kicking dimes to the corners, would you keep him on the floor against James Harden? Houston would run screen after screen until they got that exact matchup, and they would score every single time.

I know what you’re thinking: Wendell Carter Jr. doesn’t have that in his arsenal, either. And you’d be right. But I think he’s much better defensively than the general consensus on him seems to be due to his poor overall athleticism. He’s a very cerebral defender in the post, almost always in good position on the weak side, and able to contest shots well. Can he move his feet well enough on the perimeter if he gets switched onto someone like Harden? I don’t know. I think he’s got the defensive I.Q. for it, although I’m not sure that makes up for his lack of lateral quickness. There’s just enough potential there for him to be a smart gamble for the Knicks, considering what he offers on offense.

I can’t overstate how developed he is on offense for a prospect in this pick range. He’s not the flashiest guy or a dominant scorer by any means, but he does almost everything you could ask for from a big man with his physical profile. He rebounds the heck out of the ball on both ends, is a phenomenal interior passer, an average outside shooter with the mechanics to become very good, and NBA-ready skills in both face-ups and post-ups. The Al Horford comparisons are a little exaggerated. Horford is a consummate pro with years of experience and game knowledge Carter doesn’t have. He’s also a step quicker than Carter, even at 32 years old. Still, Carter’s versatility and play style are strikingly similar to Horford, and we all saw how useful a big like Horford was in the playoffs.

Collin Sexton

Nick Scolaro: Sexton is, without a doubt, the most explosive athlete of the four prospects being discussed. He is a dynamic player with good length and elite leaping ability—two things that make up for the fact that he is only 6’2”. Throughout his time at Alabama, he showed no fear of getting to the hoop, and rarely shied away from contact while attacking the rim with ferocity. His craftiness and athleticism helped him finish over the top of bigger players, along with a cold-blooded killer mentality that has drawn countless Russell Westbrook comparisons. Sexton’s toughness and effort will never come into question, and he is a player who wears his emotions on his sleeve, sometimes to a fault. He might drive some fans crazy with his outward expression of emotion during games. He might pick up some techs early on, but his heart and desire to win are there.

Undoubtedly, Sexton’s shooting is still a work in progress, as he does have an awkward/deliberate motion and is the epitome of a streaky shooter. However, he has improved his shooting as the season went on and will continue to put in the work to be a well-rounded offensive threat. Despite only being 19, Sexton’s court vision is that of an experienced veteran. Although he is a score-first point guard, he’s aware of where his teammates are at all times, and is a good passer for someone with his experience.

Defensively, he might run into some trouble defending taller guards, but Collin is agile enough, and does a great job of buckling down and keeping guys in front of him. His wingspan, along with his quick hands, allows Sexton to get into passing lanes and accumulate steals. He’s also not afraid to mix it up on this end of the floor and get under the skin of an offensive player.

To me, Sexton is the most likely to maximize his excellent potential. He possesses some incredible physical tools, and his natural intangibles separate him from the other prospects in this discussion. Additionally, none of the other prospects in discussion possess the well-rounded skill set of the young Crimson Tide star. 

Trae Young, despite being a marksman from the perimeter, is the least physically imposing player projected to potentially going to the Knicks. Personally, I don’t think Young’s high-level shooting ability is enough to put him ahead of Sexton in terms of best fits for Knicks. In comparison to Sexton, Young is an inferior athlete, finisher, and defender. The Knicks are in dire need of a guy who takes defense seriously, and can use his athleticism to make plays. Fortunately, Collin Sexton fits that bill perfectly. 

And while Wendell Carter Jr. is a solid all-around player, nothing truly excites me about his game. He projects as more of an average role player, and, at least to me, not worthy of a top-10 selection. Carter Jr. benefited greatly from being surrounded by stars on a stacked Duke team, and was given many easy opportunities with defenses putting most of their focus on Marvin Bagley III. There are much better options here than taking an undersized, unathletic big man devoid of an NBA-ready jump shot and an occasional tendency to take plays off. 

Finally, we have Michael Porter Jr., who we barely even got to see play because of his unfortunate back injury. No doubt about it, Michael has an elite skill set, and is one of the most complete prospects we’ve seen coming out of high school. He almost reminds me of Kevin Durant. The one knock against Porter Jr. is that he isn’t very durable, and can be somewhat of a ball stopper, opting to take low-percentage shots rather than swing the ball for a better shot. His slender frame and skinny legs make him vulnerable to injuries, and allow him to get pushed around on both ends of the floor. The Knicks have had experiences with tall, slender players getting injured, (cough, KP, cough) and they should be wary of taking another guy with potential injury issues. 

Collin Sexton is the most polished prospect, and he’s ready to make an immediate impact.

Michael Porter Jr.

Peter Saclarides: Out of these four prospects, Michael Porter Jr. is up there in terms of upside. Although the Missouri forward missed nearly his entire freshman year after undergoing back surgery, he still represents huge potential for any team willing to take the risk on him. While the lower back injury should certainly be a warning sign for teams considering drafting him, his potential to become an elite scorer is there, and the Knicks should take a chance on him if he falls to them at nine.

Entering college, MPJ was the consensus number one ranked high school prospect, and for good reason. Porter Jr. is both a gifted scorer and solid defender, and at 6’10″ can handle the ball very well. I could see New York selecting MPJ at nine because they have time to allow him to develop. Having missed almost a full season his only year in college means that there will certainly be some growing pains for Porter Jr., but the Knicks can weather them. For New York, this is a rebuilding year, so early struggles are to be expected.

Additionally, neither Trae Young, Wendell Carter, nor Collin Sexton really make much sense for the Knicks. Young, while he has tremendous upside, wouldn’t fit well into the New York’s system as a ball-dominant, undersized player with limited defensive capabilities. After the emergence of Trey Burke, and the selection of a point guard just last season, it would be questionable to use the pick on another lead guard. The same argument can be made for Sexton, the 6-1 attacking point guard out of Alabama. Why spend the pick on a point guard when the team has other, more pressing needs? As for Carter Jr., he simply doesn’t match the potential of MPJ. Not to mention the fact that he’s a center, and KP could very well be playing that position soon. All things considered, picking Porter (if available) at no. 9 would be the all-around smarter move. 

A new coaching staff, no Kristaps for a good amount of the season, and a general lack of talent means the Knicks probably won’t be doing much in 2018–19, regardless of their draft pick. With that being said, why not take a chance on MPJ?

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