With the NCAA Tournament starting this week, the time to search for the perfect prospect is now.
Let the real games begin. It is officially crunch time for the top prospects and scouting season for everyone else. By now, we know what each guy is capable of. From here on out we get to see how they react with the stakes raised. Not to demean the regular season for these players, but there’s not a lot of pressure when you’re facing DePaul in January.
With the stakes cranked up a notch during the conference tournaments, we get to see each prospects’ true colors shine through. There is not much time to rest and refocus. As mentioned in the previous edition, this is where we get to see these guys on a professional schedule with a high volume of games in a short window.
Right now, the Knicks remain in lottery purgatory. They are all but locked in at the nine spot, but have a chance to catch the Bulls who play some fellow lottery members to finish the season.
Knicks Lottery Tracker:
The Knicks draft position could be decided over the next week. Two of the teams ahead of them in the lottery standings will visit the Garden.
The strength of the Knicks remaining schedule is weighted by having 5 home games against lottery teams. pic.twitter.com/ihQej5IsSo
— Knicks Film School (@KnickFilmSchool) March 12, 2018
New York’s needs have not changed. The depth at the wing remains one of the worst in the league and should still be the chief priority heading into the draft.
What has changed, however, has been the general acceptance of perhaps adding another guard. When Emmanuel Mudiay was added to the roster, the thought of adding another guard made little sense, and justifiably so. But in his time with the Knicks, Mudiay has not exactly lit the world on fire. He hasn’t been a trainwreck, but averaging 10.1 points, 5.0 assists, 2.8 rebounds, and 2.8 turnovers isn’t going to win any fans over.
There is one positive to Mudiay’s arrival. It has confirmed what we pondered in the first edition of this draft board: Frank Ntilikina is better as an off-ball guard. Mudiay himself might not be the answer, but a player with a similar arsenal is what Frankie needs next to him.
Before we dive in, just know that the wish list remains the same, but there has been some shuffling. The conference tournaments provided some guys a bump while not doing much for others.
The big dance is set to tip off tonight with the First Four. The real action will kick off on Thursday, and the great news is that a lion’s share of the guys the Knicks are interested in will be front and center. A lot can change over those two weeks just like a lot has changed since we last checked in. So, without further ado, let’s dive in.
Current Record: 24–43, 11th in Eastern Conference
Projected Draft Pick: 9th overall
Biggest Need: Wing Depth, Point Guard, Big Man
The Bridges’ remain 1A and 1B, but I will admit after watching Mikal this week I am smitten. To no fault of Miles, who we’ll get to in a second, Mikal has turned it up a notch at the optimal time. Since our last edition of the board, he has been on an absolute tear.
Over the last four games, he has averaged 22.5 points, 7.3 boards, and has shot a scorching 48.3 percent from deep and 68.0 percent inside the arc. He remains the safest pick of the bunch, but has begun to separate himself from Miles just a bit thanks in large part to his consistency and clear role.
To cap off his crescendo he put the Big East title on ice with this dagger:
That shot assured me that while Mikal may not project as the star someone like Luka Doncic projects to be, he is still someone the Knicks desperately need. He would bring much needed outside shooting and defense, and he doesn’t need the ball to be effective. Saiyans are jealous of Bridges’ stamina.
During the Big East tournament, Bridges averaged 33 minutes and played 41 minutes in the title game. To be able to play major minutes while still remaining just as effective is a skill that does not get the proper kudos it deserves. The Knicks already have their guy in Kristaps Porzingis, so Mikal wouldn’t have to be the main scoring load. Bridges may never be your best player, but that’s not what the Knicks need. What they need is a grinder, which is the exact role that he would serve.
Now the only issue is will he play himself into the top seven (or even five) of the draft as the tournament kicks off.
Forward, Michigan State
Miles had the advantage of getting the spotlight to himself thanks to the Big Ten holding their tournament a week early. He got a taste of life in MSG and the results were encouraging. He handled the first option duties well and flashed the athleticism we’ve been obsessing over and coupled it with some nice marksmanship from outside:
In his first game against Wisconsin, he racked up 20 points, nine boards, and a pair of assists. The stat line was impressive, but watching how he accomplished all of that within the flow of the game was what should catch scout’s eyes. I felt like I was watching an under control version of Michael Beasley. He was able to generate his offense off the dribble, off the catch, beyond the arc, and on the block.
What makes him different from Beasley is his ability to consistently make good reads. The main point of frustration at times for Beasley is that he gets tunnel vision. Bridges is consistently aggressive while not forgetting about the other four guys. As we have seen this year when the ball isn’t sticking, the Knicks are a decidedly better team.
Against Michigan, we got a glimpse of what he looked like when everything went downhill. Being able to weather the storm when you’re struggling is important, and to Bridges’ credit, he helped keep his team in the game while Jaren Jackson Jr. struggled from the floor.
MILES BRIDGES HESI DRIBBLE AND OOOONE
— The Knicks Wall (@TheKnicksWall) March 3, 2018
I walked away with a feeling of solidified confidence that if Miles is the Bridges the Knicks decide to roll with, he would be able to fulfill a litany of tasks with equal effectiveness.
Talk about having yourself a weekend. Sexton’s Alabama team was on the bubble heading into the conference tournament. In the debut board, I came out with a hot take, comparing Sexton to Russell Westbrook. After watching Sexton take on the world in the SEC Tournament, that take is a lot cooler. His tourney run was extremely Westbrook-ian:
— FOX Sports (@FOXSports) March 8, 2018
Sexton was a one-man wrecking crew for Alabama as he hit the above game-winner in their first game (to go along with 27 points). His encore performance was even better as he served rival Auburn 31 points in a big win that included a career game from beyond the arc (six-for-eight). To round out the tournament, Sexton put up 21 points in a loss to Kentucky.
A majority of mock drafts have the Knicks selecting Sexton, and it’s not difficult to figure out why. As mentioned in the intro, Mudiay’s presence in New York has made Frankie’s future much clearer. Sexton possesses a similar skill set to Mudiay, only his jumper is considerably more promising. Sexton’s aggressiveness would be the perfect complement to Frankie’s passiveness. His ability to get to the rack opens up looks for everyone else. No one improved their stock more than Sexton, which is why he represents the best option if Scott Perry and company are not blown away by the wing options.
Before the SEC Tournament, Knox had the best opportunity to make a surge. Instead, it was Sexton who used the showdown to his advantage, but that does not mean Knox is not worthy of consideration from New York come June.
His SEC tournament performance was nothing to gush over—14.7 points, 6.0 rebounds, 40.0 percent from three, and 41.5 percent from the field. He played well in all three games, but has yet to replicate the type of performance we saw in West Virginia. I still believe a beast rests within him. The question is how to get that beast out every night, and how to have him show a reliable skill set night in and night out.
Here's the Kevin Knox we know! pic.twitter.com/cVmnnblh3y
— The Knicks Wall (@TheKnicksWall) March 10, 2018
Knox remains the most intriguing option out of the bunch. The team would be getting a 6’9” blank canvas. His body type and skill set allow him to fulfill any role the team would need at forward. Once he bulks up, he can seamlessly move from the three to the four whenever needed. As the real tournament starts, it will be interesting to see if Knox becomes the alpha for UK or if he finds a place in line and becomes a key role player.
Wendell Carter Jr.
It was not the strongest close out to the regular season for Wendell Carter. I still believe the presence of Marvin Bagley III hides how good Carter is, but a lackluster conference tourney didn’t exactly help his case. Foul trouble made him a non-factor in Duke’s opening game against Notre Dame (four points and four boards in 17 minutes). Against UNC, he fared much better. He shot 57.1 percent from the floor and added four blocks to his usual near double-double line.
The key thing to remember is to turn down the recency bias. In the case of Carter, he’s one of many chefs in a crowded kitchen at Duke. He is still a tremendous talent that can bring a lot to the roster. Earlier in the season, someone like Carter didn’t look like a perfect fit for the Knicks. Times have changed, and the Knicks frontcourt depth to start next season may only consist of Enes Kanter, Luke Kornet, Isaiah Hicks, and, though he assuredly won’t be with the team, Joakim Noah.
Carter’s greatest assets are his dominance down low coupled with his vision. If Kyle O’Quinn is not around next season, Carter would be an ideal replacement. He can do the things that K.O. does, and maybe even a little better.
Wendell Carter will NOT have this weak stuff in the paint pic.twitter.com/swNp3UJaig
— The Knicks Wall (@TheKnicksWall) February 24, 2018
Given K.O.’s seamless fit with the Knicks right now, there is no reason Carter could not simply be plugged right in if he falls to Scott Perry and company.
Michael Porter Jr.
To be perfectly clear, this is still an “MJ at the end of Space Jam” type reach for the Knicks. Michael Porter Jr. finally gave us something other than YouTube mixtapes to look at as he returned for the SEC tournament. As expected, MPJ was rusty in his college debut. He shot 5-for-17 from the field and early on looked like someone who had not played at game speed in a while:
Okay yes Michael Porter Jr. is rusty can confirm pic.twitter.com/TrKjT7SEmn
— Matt Spendley (@mattspendley) March 8, 2018
As the game progressed, however, you began to see where the buzz was coming from. He looked more comfortable, and down the stretch, Mizzou looked to him to take them home. Unfortunately he came up short on the final shot, but it was obvious Porter is a talent every team covets.
Within this current roster, he could play a majority of his minutes at the three, but given his size (6’10”) he can also play the stretch four. The one area of his game that looked the least rusty was his shooting. The numbers won’t back it up right now, but if you watched him you caught a glimpse of the sniper he could be.
In terms of fit within the current Knicks core, it’s a no brainer. Just think of what either Bridges can bring and amplify it. He can set up outside if KP chooses to live from the free throw line on down. When KP sits, Porter can have the whole court to himself. As covered in previous boards, the work ethic and overall demeanor of Porter is already at the professional level. The fact that he was able to come back from a spinal injury in the same season already tells you that. If by the luck of the draw he is on the board when the Knicks are on the clock, there should be little debate.
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
Trae Young, Guard, Oklahoma
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. He’s been crushing it every Saturday and will be your source for highlights as we race towards the finish line of the season.