The Knicks could use one of their three picks in the 2021 NBA Draft and invest a pick for the long-term. BJ Boston, a Kentucky swingman, could be that talent.
Before the University of Kentucky put together its most forgettable season of the John Calipari era, Brandon “BJ” Boston Jr. was a projected lottery pick in the 2021 NBA Draft. Boston, one of Coach Cal’s blue-chippers, had a forgettable season himself, and as the unwritten rule in sports goes, if you’re the team’s best player and your team stinks, it is largely your fault that they stink. Boston definitely bore the brunt of a down year in Lexington.
Boston’s only season at Kentucky was not worth reminiscing on. In his only season as a Wildcat, the 19-year-old averaged 11.5 points, 4.5 rebounds, 1.6 assists, and 1.3 steals per game, with shooting percentages that were not much better: 35.5% from the floor and 30.0% three.
To make matters worse for Boston, Kentucky’s other blue-chipper, Terrence Clarke, only played eight games. Point guard Devin Askew, who reclassified from the 2021 to 2020 class, made a mistake moving up and was not an effective lead guard. Boston, a 6-foot-7 wing, was unable to make up for the myriad of misfortunes. He struggled to score, and Kentucky struggled to win. The Wildcats finished 9-16, missed the tournament, and Boston’s final game was a zero-point outing.
It was not a shock to see Boston cascade down draft boards as the season progressed; he plunged from the top-10 preseason to now a potential second-rounder.
William Wesley and Leon Rose built a nice collection of Kentucky Knicks in year one with strong results. Julius Randle made an All-NBA team and was the Most Improved Player. Immanuel Quickley was a top rookie, and Nerlens Noel played a key role in the Knicks’ defense, being among the best in the league. Even Kevin Knox had moments early in the season before Tom Thibodeau moved on.
Should Wesley and Rose look to bolster their collection of former Wildcats, Boston is a prime candidate. A Boston selection is more of a Knox pick than a Quickley selection, as he is unlikely to impact day one. Patience is a prerequisite to selecting Boston, and the hope is that the wrongs the front office did with Kevin Knox can be corrected to develop someone with a strong foundation.
Despite the sharp slip in stock, BJ Boston has tremendous talent and could become a lethal playmaker on the wing given the proper time to develop. The Knicks have a gaping hole on the wing, evidenced by the team’s struggles to score in their first-round playoff matchup against the Atlanta Hawks.
Given the gluttony of picks the team has, should they use all three? One pick should be allocated towards an investment? If that does materialize, why not keep the UK-to-NYK pipeline going? Boston should be looked at as an investment, not an immediate contributor. The greater question is the wiry shooter worth the pick?
As the great Bronx philosopher Desus Nice once said, “gotta hear both sides,” so let’s see if BJ Boston is worth the investment.
The Bull’s View
In draft speak, the term “potential” is the polite way of saying a player did not show much tangible evidence that they are, in fact, good. In the case of Boston, he indeed showed little, yet it’s hard to imagine that every scout that watched him before college got him wrong. Even with his lackluster stat lines and shooting percentages, there is clearly a good player within Boston.
As discussed, that potential remains untapped. Boston was never able to get into a consistent groove at Kentucky, but there were flashes.
hello bj boston pic.twitter.com/oNbF847m1i
— Mike Cortez 🇵🇷 (@CortezEra) November 29, 2020
After a decent start to his college career with 15- and 20-point outings through his first two games, it appeared as if Coach Cal had another lotto pick. Then Boston hit a cold spell like no other and shot 31.8% from the field and 21.1% from three from December first through mid-January.
But like I said, there were flashes.
Brandon Boston Jr has some crazy skill in using his fakes, whether it's pump fakes or pass fakes. Here's an example of a neck-turning fake pass, and he turns it into an and-1 pic.twitter.com/2dp6XJDzos
— Mavs / Magic Draft (@MavsDraft) July 5, 2021
Those flashes were not exclusive to scoring the basketball, either. Boston, with a 6-foot-10 wingspan, showed signs of being a hawk in the passing lane. He had 33 steals on the season, and a few were instances where he was able to show off good anticipation.
Brandon “BJ” Boston plays the passing lanes very well and does a good job of forcing turnovers. Probably his best day-one defensive skill pic.twitter.com/QlQzMH80QQ
— Mavs / Magic Draft (@MavsDraft) June 28, 2021
He also had some good highlights as a point-of-attack defender that should excite teams interested in him. If Boston could hold his own at his current frame, with some added muscle, he could become a solid defender. Throw Tom Thibodeau’s tutelage into the equation, and it is close to a guarantee that Boston will be an average defender at the bare minimum.
The piece of the equation that makes these flashes intriguing is Boston’s work ethic. Coach Cal spoke about why he stood by Boston despite his struggles in his lone season in Lexington.
Calipari cited that the source of Boston’s problem was physical limitations, not the mental part of the game or a willingness to put in the work. Boston is in the gym and has a noticeable understanding of what he needs to do to succeed. There is time to add muscle; understanding the game and wanting to put in the work are tougher to teach.
Given the right situation, Boston could realize that potential. And that right situation could include some former Wildcat players and coach Kenny Payne to bring that potential out of him.
It sounds silly to say that the one thing Boston did well last season was shot well from deep when he shot 30.0%. Please take this into account, though, Boston shot 39.0% from three on 4.9 attempts in his final 12 regular-season games.
As the season progressed, he looked comfortable moving without the ball and firing away off the catch. In his best scoring performance as a Wildcat, Boston showed a bit of everything, but most importantly, showed the one skill that would make him a contributor right away is spotting up from beyond the arc.
The Bear’s View
At first glance, Boston’s lanky frame made him look like a miniature Brandon Ingram. Boston was not nearly as effective a scorer as Ingram was at Duke. Boston had to rely so heavily on his jump-shooting to carry him because he was not strong enough to get to the rim. Boston’s scoring outbursts were the games he shot lights out from deep.
When his jumper was not falling, things got ugly. In eight games where Boston failed to score 10 points, he shot 21.7% from the field and 11.1% from three. The overreliance on jump-shooting was a result of ineffective driving due to his small frame.
If Boston’s size was an issue in college, use your imagination to guess the problems his small frame would pose in the NBA. Adding muscle should be Boston’s priority, and the good news Boston is well aware of his greatest area of improvement.
“I’m focused on gaining weight, gaining muscle, getting stronger, being a consistent shooter,” Boston said last month at the NBA Draft Combine, via Kentucky Sports Radio. “I take pride in my shooting, so I wake up every day and try to get 1,200 makes a day.”
Boston could crack a rotation being a spot-up shooter off the bench, but there seems to be much more he can offer. He has a good handle for someone his size and knows how to use pump fakes to get himself open. Additional strength seems to be the clearest path towards Boston, putting it all together and reaching his zenith.
Lacking in Playmaking
Boston did not show much when it came to getting his teammates involved. His 1.6 assists per game are not encouraging. Boston played off-ball and was the unquestioned top option on offense—an offense that was not very good.
Kentucky struggled on offense as a team, ranked 197th in the nation in points per game, with Boston as the team’s leading scorer at 11.5 points per game. There were not many assists found on that roster; however, 40 assists feels a little light even for a secondary playmaker.
Culture Shift to the Rescue?
This is more about the Knicks than it is about Boston. The last time the Knicks used to G League to develop a prospect was Damyean Dotson. It was one of the rare occurrences where the organization smartly saw that Dotson could get minutes with Westchester without losing his standing at the end of the bench for the main roster. Dotson did develop into a serviceable player.
On the other side of the spectrum are Frank Ntilikina and Kevin Knox, who will likely become cautionary tales on how not to develop project picks. Ntilikina and Knox collected dust far too often; in the case of Knox, it was at the order of Scott Perry, who thought of the possible G League stint as a demotion.
Thankfully, Tom Thibodeau has a more modern approach towards utilizing G League.
“I think game-time is important,” Thibodeau said during his introductory Zoom call last August. “So if a young player is not getting the appropriate amount of time to develop, we’ll utilize the G League. That’s become an important part of our league. We’ll certainly take advantage of that.”
There are quite a few G League successes. If the Knicks wish to make an apples-to-apples comparison for what could await Boston as a rookie, look at Kentucky alum and current San Antonio Spurs forward Keldon Johnson. Coming out of college, Johnson was slightly undersized but had a nice offensive game.
The Spurs spent Johnson’s first season adding 10 pounds and spending his time in Austin with the Spurs’ G League affiliate. Johnson appeared in 31 games and averaged 20.3 points per game. The year of development paid off. Johnson arrived for his second season looking like he got a fresh dose of super-soldier serum, and he logged 28.5 minutes a night.
How the Spurs onboarded, Johnson should be a blueprint for Boston in New York. A year in Westchester where Boston can have the ball a lot, work on his three-level scoring on defense, and above all, add some weight could have a large payoff.
Wing depth is paramount in the current league climate, as is the need for outside shooting. Boston is already a shooter worthy of believing in, with the potential to be more. But if he can develop a well-rounded scoring attack and sharpen his defense, the Knicks could have the type of outside playmaker R.J. Barrett and Julius Randle desperately need.
So far, the Rose regime has followed through on its promise to change the MSG status quo. BJ Boston could be the latest example of that shifting culture when it comes to development.
There is no doubt Boston will be on the board when the Knicks are on the clock at 19, 21, and possibly 32. The team is known to be on the prowl for star talent, so this could all be meaningless speculation. But if the team holds onto their picks, Boston fits the patient rebuild timeline.
Assuming Boston makes zero improvements to his game or adds any weight, he can still be as effective as Reggie Bullock. Barrett and Randle will always need spot-up shooters flanking them, and spot-up shooting is one thing Boston looked good doing in Lexington.
The more ambitious view of Boston is the Keldon Johnson scenario. A bulked-up Boston could unleash a three-level scorer on the wing that can alleviate pressure off the Knicks’ driving-centric stars and give the team a nice blend of wing talent between him and Barrett.
Following the disappointing development of Frank Ntilikina and Kevin Knox, it is easy to want to steer clear of any other project picks. But that ignores how important last season was. Last year proved the Knicks could change and did change for the better. The next frontier the Rose regime can conquer is the development of a project pick.
In his first draft, Rose opted from NBA-ready guys and could still use his earlier picks on players of similar readiness. Boston is not like those guys, but he could become as valuable to the team’s success as a first-rounder given the proper time and treatment.