The majority of potential future Knicks are out of the tournament, but our number-one option fights on to play in the Final Four this weekend.
And just like that, March has essentially come and gone. March Madness thus far certainly lived up to its name, with a tournament that threw more curveballs than a season from The Wire. With the season over for most of our prospects, we can start to dissect their full body of work.
As we head into April, the Knicks’ season is also coming to a close. That means draft gossip will start to ramp up. Up until this point, scouting college prospects has been nothing more than speculation. Now we will see who the front office has had their eye on.
Since our last edition of the board, a few good things have happened. Frank Ntilikina has been awarded more minutes and has delivered. His aggressiveness on offense gets better each game and his defense has not slipped. The Michigan boys, Tim Hardaway Jr. and Trey Burke, have also hit their stride. Hardaway Jr. has been consistently solid on offense as has Burke. Even more interesting is how good the two have been while sharing the floor.
There appears to be some chemistry in the numbers when Tim Hardaway Jr. plays with his former college teammate Trey Burke pic.twitter.com/dUUO9uLUii
— Knicks Film School (@KnickFilmSchool) March 24, 2018
With that in mind, the chief priority for the Knicks remains finding a wing. Courtney Lee has seen his role diminish significantly as of late. Chances are he will be gone in the summer. That leaves Lance Thomas as the only small forward on the roster. Jeff Hornacek has already mentioned it’s a major need to address.
The Knicks are locked into the ninth spot. A few wins has not done anything but ensure they will not catch the Bulls for eighth. With everything all but locked in (barring lottery luck of course), let’s break down what we saw from the tournament.
Current Record: 27–48, 11th in Eastern Conference
Projected Draft Pick: 9th overall
Top Priority: Wing Depth
The last man standing in the tournament. Mikal remains the 1A option with Miles Bridges as the 1B option. One of the bigger surprises for me about Nova’s Final Four run is that Mikal hasn’t been their best player. His tournament has had its peak and valleys. One of his peak showings came against fellow prospect Collin Sexton and Alabama, a game in which he erupted for 23 points including going 5-for-8 from deep. It was the quintessential game that Mikal supporters will be quick to point to. He was hitting from outside, moving without the ball, and playing excellent defense.
While the Alabama game sticks out, his most impressive performance was against West Virginia. Facing the Mountaineers is a strong test of will. Early in the second half Mikal, and Villanova as a whole, were put in a straitjacket. Mikal recovered from getting Carmelo’d by Sagaba Konate (someone worth targeting in second round if he declares for draft) to hit what ended up being the go ahead bucket.
GUYS MIKAL!!! pic.twitter.com/2CbmmSmASf
— Matt Spendley (@mattspendley) March 24, 2018
That play is a microcosm of why I want Mikal. You see a variation of that same play in the NBA at a nightly basis. I can clearly see him filling that role not just for the Knicks, but for any team, and that is why I like him a bit more than Miles.
Sure, he is the oldest of the bunch, but has age been a negative for Kyle Kuzma? What about Draymond Green, also 22 in his rookie season? If a dude can play, you take him. Look at it this way; if Mikal were to hit his prime at 25 or 26, the Knicks would have him under contract at a great price.He may possess lower star potential than Kuzma or Draymond, but there is value in knowing exactly what you’re getting.
Forward, Michigan State
Although his tournament run was cut short, Miles Bridges did not lose any ground. I still like Bridges—maybe not as much as this guy—but would absolutely satisfied if he ends up being the pick. He opened up the tournament by dicing Bucknell. He hit from anywhere he damn pleased, and is always good for a rim rocker once in a while:
In his second game, Syracuse’s zone stifled him as he resorted to hoisting threes over the defense. Things didn’t work out as he shot 3-for-12 from three and totaled just 11 points in his final college game. Despite the abruptness of his run, his status as a worthy selection remains legitimate.
The sheer energy he puts out on the floor would be a sight for sore eyes. How many times have there been stretches when the Knicks are flatter than old soda? Too many to count. Miles can immediately start at small forward next season. One advantage he has over Mikal is his considerably larger frame. At a solid 230 pounds, he can slot in as a small-ball four in certain lineups as well. The way Michael Beasley has been used this season is a good blueprint for predicting his place on the team.
He had to carry a large load for Michigan State, leading the team in scoring while also picking up tough defensive assignments. If he were to land in New York, he’d have Frank to protect the defense, Hardaway on offense, and Porzingis for everything else. A reduced role might be just the thing to unlock his potential.
Kevin Knox jumps back over Collin Sexton for a couple of reasons. Off the top of my head, I can think of 40 reasons the Knicks think they could be okay at guard—at least for next season. Burke and Ntilikina sure seems like a solid guard foundation to build with. The Knicks also still possess the Bulls’ second-round pick to use on a guard, should they choose to go that direction. The other reason for the leapfrog by Knox is this tidbit from Ian Begley:
Jeff Hornacek told reporters that SF is a need for NYK this offseason. So it’s worth noting that members of the organization earlier this month viewed Kentucky’s Kevin Knox as a potential draft target, per sources. As noted earlier, some are also fans Mikal Bridges, Miles Bridges
— Ian Begley (@IanBegley) March 23, 2018
If you remember last season, another Kentucky Wildcat had the attention of the organization: Malik Monk. The Knicks ended up picking Ntilikina instead, but Knox could find his way to New York thanks to something Monk lacked most—size. As mentioned previously, at 6’9”, he has the requisite size to succeed in today’s NBA. His spot-up shooting has been remarkable:
His tournament run was all over the place. He opened with a nice 25-point outing against an inferior Davidson squad. Against Buffalo, he was nonexistent thanks in large part to foul trouble. In UK’s final game of the tournament against Kansas State, Knox left a promising impression. He only finished with 13 points and eight boards, but in the second half, you saw him catch a rhythm from the midrange. For now, that looks like where his bread will be buttered. He didn’t hit his first three of the tournament until that second half of the K-State game, so the shot is not consistently there yet.
Knox would be a mini project at the very least. One intriguing scenario that has been floated on Knicks Reddit and Twitter has been the Knicks trading back. What if the Clippers—who own picks 12 and 13—want to move up? Knox and another lotto pick (Trae Young?) would be a nice move if the goal is to toss away the season. The Westchester Knicks have been the best thing about the organization lately. If Knox is able to spend some time there, the Knicks could be welcoming a beast to the main roster in 2019 when the team should be wrapping up the rebuild.
This has more to do what’s going on with the Knicks right now than it has to do with Collin Sexton’s play since we last checked in. Sexton remains the best guard in the draft and someone that could thrive alongside Hardaway and Frankie. The problem is Burke is already playing well with Hardaway and Frankie. Mudiay still has time to figure out where he fits. Adding Sexton to that mix would mean one guy is being relegated to the bench at best.
Sexton’s two games in the tournament highlighted what we already knew. He can score at will and is going 110 percent at all times when he’s on the court. I believe the Knicks found the type of guard to put alongside Frank and Hardaway. Sexton brings the speed that Mudiay does, but has the significantly superior offensive arsenal. His potential in the open court and drive-and-kicks with both Hardaway and Frankie would be something to watch. He does come with some deficiencies, mainly ball security and three-point shooting.
Wendell Carter Jr.
Before we go any further, Wendell Carter Jr. was robbed. That was not a blocking foul and it should not have been the way his college career ended. Such is life. That Elite Eight game was the rain on an otherwise strong tournament from the Duke big man.
Ironically enough, his best game was the Sweet 16 game against Syracuse. Carter and Marvin Bagley III stomped that Syracuse zone. Carter gobbled up 12 rebounds, added 14 points, and chipped in a block and a steal for good measure to lead the Blue Devils to victory. For the tournament, he averaged 11.5 points, 7.0 rebounds, 1.0 blocks, and 1.3 steals. He’s solid across the board, and if this draft weren’t so loaded at his position, Carter’s skill set would shine through.
The freshman remains a solid option if the Knicks want to pair Porzingis with another young big. He reminds me of Kyle O’Quinn in the sense that you know you’re getting a big who can put the ball on the floor, pass effectively, and finish on his own.
Michael Porter Jr.
Michael Porter Jr. continues to slip down the mock draft. When we first started doing the board, he was projected to go within the top five. Since then, he has slowly moved down one spot at a time. The only games we have seen from him have not shown us a ton of what he can truly do.
He posted a double-double in his lone tournament game against a solid Florida State squad. It was clear Porter was never 100 percent this season, with the most notable instance of that being his short three-point shot. I know a lot of stock shouldn’t be invested into YouTube highlights, but I’ve seen enough tape to know Porter is a better three-point shooter than the 30 percent he shot in three college games.
The fact does remain that he presents the most risk. Joel Embiid entered the draft with a back injury and it took a while before he found his legs. He found them this season, and the result has been franchise changing in Philly. If Porter happens to slip through the cracks, the Knicks should scoop him up and pray to hell they hit gold. It’s worth the risk; the only question is will he even be on the board by that time.
Let’s make everyone claro—I’m only covering him because his name has been linked to the Knicks recently. Trae Young appeared on First Take and had some positive things to say about possibly coming to NYC:
“I feel like what I went through this year with the media, the criticism and the ups and downs, like that prepared me for if I was in a situation like that and how I’d be able to handle it,” Young said of the pressure of playing in New York.”
Young has highlighted something, but it’s easy to deduce that the media pressure got to him. He went from being universally adored to universally ridiculed in a span of five months. He was a revelation in November, but is now having his legitimacy as a pro questioned. To put some respect on his name, he did lead the NCAA in points and assists despite having zero help. And when I say zero help, I mean like “post–Melo trade with Jared Jeffries starting in a playoff game” type of situation. His skills as a passer stick out:
The good news is Young learned how to make lemonade out of some dud lemons. He dragged that Sooner team all season. I definitely do not see Stephen Curry 2.0 and do think Frank is already on pace to be as good a distributor as Young. Having said that, if the Knicks cannot help themselves and select Trae Young, I will be happy to be proved wrong.
OTHER NOTABLE NAMES
Luka Doncic, Guard, Slovenia
Jaren Jackson Jr., Forward/Center, Michigan State
Mohamed Bamba, Center, Texas
Marvin Bagley III, Forward, Duke
DeAndre Ayton, Center, Arizona
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Guard, Kentucky
Be sure to continue to check out my guy, and TKW Associate Editor, Matt Spendley on Twitter for videos and breakdown on the top college prospects.