The Knicks own another first-round pick this year. It’s time to narrow down the best possible candidates for the no. 27 in the NBA draft.
All good things must come to an end, and the 2020 draft board is no exception to the rule. As I said in Part I, this year’s board has been a wild ride. Typically the board is like a Fast & Furious drag race—we get off to a flying start, level out, then hit the NOS at the tail end.
No games since mid-March has prevented us from getting into another gear, which is what the conference and NCAA tournament provide under normal times. That has forced me, and countless others who carry interest in the draft, to pivot and split hairs.
The gift and the curse of the 2020 class is how even the playing field has been. There is no Zion Williamson, no Anthony Davis, no John Wall—but there are plenty of players who can turn into something.
With a heavy reliance on scouting, it is only natural that the key to a lot of these prospects amounting to anything is a given team’s ability to develop. That is why a larger amount of consideration is on a player’s ability to become the player they showed shades of in college.
There is a strong argument for the Knicks to use this extra first-round pick acquired in the Marcus Morris trade to move up in the draft, perhaps for a famous name, but the team can also use this pick to address an area of concern.
Unlike the lottery, where BPA (best player available) reigns supreme, this pick can start to address needs. The format from Part I will remain the same, but the context of the argument will weigh specific needs a little more than the lottery guys. Right now those needs reside mainly on offense—more specifically, guard play and shooting. The prospects that best address those areas were ranked higher than the others.
Fair enough? Sweet, let’s bring this unusual journey home.
Current Record: 21-45, 12th in Eastern Conference
Projected Draft Pick: 6th overall, 27th overall
Chance at #1 Pick: 9.0%
The Other Pick
Best draft argument: Marksmanship
Saddiq Bey has been a fixture at the top of the board the entire time, and for good reason—he can shoot the lights out from deep. Bey’s 45.1% from three-point land feels like a farce, it has to be due to something, maybe low volume, right? Nope.
Bey’s sterling shooting from beyond the arc is believable—he averaged 5.6 attempts per game this season at Villanova and launched 175 three-point attempts total. His ability to shoot from three will be vital at the next level, Bey already has the size (listed 6’8” and 216 pounds) to survive from the wing. It’s that Buddy Hield–like quickness to his release that can make him a rotational player early in his career.
Villanova F 6-8, 216
Another fantastic performance by Bey tonight with 23 PTS + 5 REB + 2 AST. Now shooting 45.7% from three. The sophomore forward continues to climb NBA Draft boards + has a great opportunity to be a RD1 pick in June. @ProBBallCombine 1⃣? pic.twitter.com/0RUrbYPkns
— Derek Murray (@dmurrayNBA) January 29, 2020
The Knicks have been maligned with shooting woes since the days of Steve Novak and J.R. Smith. Bey is a step towards getting back to strong outside shooting. Strong shooters tend to fit in well with whoever they play with, and in Bey the Knicks would have a sniper who can also play either forward spot if needed.
Best “pass” argument: Defensive potential
The tongue-in-cheek argument for not wanting Bey would be that he might not be around if the Knicks remain at the end of the first round. The professional answer is his defense.
Bey can grow into a lethal 3-and-D player once he shores up the latter of what’s required to be an effective 3-and-D wing. The “D” is where Bey lacked all the flashes of an NBA player. He doesn’t rebound particularly well, he averaged a meager 4.7 per game this season with 8.0% rebound percentage. He doesn’t generate steals, nor does he really block shots.
When matched up on quicker assignments, the end result could be less than stellar.
Just some Saddiq Bey’s passing flashes. He is obviously not a creator, but is aware of the gravity he has, and is able to take an advantage (2,4 APG, 14,9 AST%). Not a creative/talented passer, but this ability gives value to his NBA projection (same for Josh Green) pic.twitter.com/kdbRkmC4tP
— Marino Pergher (@marinopergher) May 10, 2020
This isn’t something that should kill Bey’s climb up boards. In this class, a sure thing carries more weight than it might in other drafts. We know Bey will be a good shooter, for a lot of teams that security is enough.
Kira Lewis Jr.
Best draft argument: Provide much-needed guard depth
Lead guard isn’t the only position that needs to be addressed. The guard position overall needs a renovation. The Dennis Smith Jr. experiment was a failure on two fronts: the first at the lead guard position, the other as the first guard off the bench.
A problem the Knicks had this season were stretches of stagnation. This problem was perpetuated by poor shot selection, but this was not the root cause—poor guard play was. This is where Kira Lewis Jr. can shine.
Even if the Knicks go with a guard in the top 10, Lewis would still be a solid selection. Lewis is a blur on the court which can be dangerous if he checks in against tired legs or simply gives the opposing team a different look.
Playing in a faster system this past season at Alabama, Lewis proved he can score, dish, and play defense effectively. He averaged 18.5 points, 5.2 assists and 4.8 rebounds per game. Lewis had a noticeable bump in steals, too, doubling his total steals from 28 as a freshman to 56 this season.
You combine Lewis’ speed with increased defensive instincts and suddenly you have a scary player on your hands and a lot of fast break points.
Kira Lewis is a different animal.. wow pic.twitter.com/qfaDJba6Y0
— Clint Lamb (@ClintRLamb) March 1, 2020
Lewis could be retained Knicks general manager Scott Perry’s redemption for the Smith project gone awry, giving the team much needed depth at a position on which they have so often whiffed.
Oh, and it’s obligatory that whenever talking about Lewis’ positives to show this clip of him introducing top 2020 prospect Isaac Okoro to the floor.
Kira Lewis just ended Isaac Okoro's basketball career. I'm sorry. But there is no coming back from this. pic.twitter.com/4T0vkHwrXW
— Aaron Torres (@Aaron_Torres) January 16, 2020
Best “pass” argument: Defensive discipline
There aren’t many warts to Lewis’ game. If given the right minutes and freedom to run, he will be a good player. He is quicker than a red light on 42nd St., a respectable shooter, and showed improvement on the playing the passing lanes on defense.
If you had to split hairs on why to leave Lewis on the board, which at 27 would make zero sense, defense would have to be the reason. Lewis doesn’t have the reputation for putting opponents in straitjackets. His athleticism will serve him well in the NBA, but against craftier players he will have to be patient, even when he has the speed advantage.
Tyrese Haliburton uses Lewis’ aggressiveness against him here to generate an open shot.
Watch Haliburton turn Kira Lewis around from a standstill lol pretty crafty pic.twitter.com/h3ct6JD97v
— The Halfcourt Press (@THalfCourtPress) April 7, 2020
With better discipline Lewis has the potential to suffocate his opponent on defense, and if his progress this season continues, he just might get there.
Best draft argument: Untapped defensive potential
James Wiseman missing out on his one year in college could have ended up being a blessing for Precious Achiuwa. While Memphis became considerably less entertaining without Wiseman, it gave us a look at what can make Achiuwa special at the next level.
Achiuwa is as unique a prospect as there is. He is simultaneously an enigma and a player you can vividly see thrive in today’s game for specific reasons: he’s a kraken on the defensive end.
In his lone college season Achiuwa averaged 10.8 rebounds, 1.9 blocks, and 1.1 steals per game. At 6’9” he has the body of a wing but his freakishly long wingspan opens the door for him to be a menace as a small ball center.
Achiuwa has the weight to bang down low in spurts, but that ability to swat shots or shrink the floor with his arms is what really matters. And when he does generate a turnover, the team can go zero to 100 really quick.
This defense➡️offense sequence from Precious Achiuwa in the first half…
It was good. Real good. pic.twitter.com/hIptgOLyi3
— Kyle Boone @ ? (@Kyle__Boone) January 10, 2020
When you say “I’m going to address the backup center position” typically you do not mean to take a player like Achiuwa. But his combination of speed, strength and God-gifted physical tools make him an unconventional choice for the job.
Best “pass” argument: No offense
Achiuwa is black and white on offense: he can’t shoot. If a defender wants to stop Achiuwa all they have to do is stay in front of him and keep him on the ground. If you force Achiuwa to shoot the basketball or earn his points at the free throw line you have done your job.
As impressive as his rebounding numbers were at Memphis, his shooting splits percentages were vile. He shot 49.3% from the floor, sure, but a lot of those shots were from point blank range. Achiuwa shot a whopping 40 of his 369 total attempts from beyond the arc, hitting on 13 of them, misleading folks who don’t take a closer into believing he is a modest three-point shooter at 32.5%.
His free throw shooting is the true indicator of his shooting. Achiuwa shot an unimpressive 59.9% from the charity stripe on a healthy 6.0 attempts per game. If he could fix one area of his shooting, the free throw line would be it.
Best draft argument: Defensive menace
Tyler Bey is a tale of two prospects in a sense: he is an electric defender who, when disciplined, can wreak havoc on passing lanes and protect the rim. This season Bey had a 3.1 steal percentage and 4.2 block percentage.
The wrap on Bey from those who have had the chance to watch him closely is that he gambles a lot. Those gambles are not reflected on the stat sheet, however. Bey averaged just 1.9 personal fouls per game and his team sported a strong 85.7 Defensive Rating with the 22-year-old on the court.
What the tapes do show is a player with the potential to stop fast breaks on his own, protect the rim like a big, and jump passing lanes like 2009 Darrelle Revis jumped routes.
39 seconds of Tyler Bey doing things on defense pic.twitter.com/U9Rr6nIKe9
— Tyler Sandora (@tyler_sandora) April 25, 2020
Bey is the type of defender the Knicks have rarely had at their disposal. A closing lineup of Bey, Frank Ntilikina, and Mitchell Robinson shrinks the floor considerably and reduces the chances of heartbreaking losses down the stretch.
Best “pass” argument: Offensive enigma
Bey looks the part in clips. Since I did not watch much Colorado, last night a lion’s share of my initial research was done by watching 30-second clips and YouTube scouting. Watching in such short spans can lead you to make certain assertions about a player that simply aren’t there.
For example, if you watch this clip, you would think Bey is a 3-and-D monster just sitting there for the taking.
I know many people, including myself, wish Tyler Bey would shoot more. When you see him shooting off pindowns & PnPs, you really wonder why he's not shooting more.
It might be a comfort thing or just Colorado really playing to his strengths, but selfishly, I want more jumpers. pic.twitter.com/PzQ632t2Ka
— Spencer (@SKPearlman) February 21, 2020
But as the tweet itself says, Bey does not shoot enough to believe that shoot potential is viable. In his final two college seasons Bey averaged at least 26 minutes per game and failed to crack double-digit shot attempts. This season he took just 31 three-pointers, hitting on 13.
The tools for Bey to be a 3-and-D are right there, and shooting off the catch is the key to all of it coming together.
Tyler Bey does not take many 3s, but there is reason to buy C&S potential going forward (stationary, at worst):
(1) 76% over last two years on 330 FTA
(2) TINY sample size from 3 13/31 (41%) this year
(4) movement shooting flashes (and coach entrusting him to take them) pic.twitter.com/uJboniTzbc
— Spencer (@SKPearlman) April 16, 2020
The evidence to say that Bey will never shoot enough to have an impact is also there, and could be the reason teams may be tepid to select him. The reason for hope in his shot lies at the charity stripe, where Bey hits a respectable 74.3%. Still, unless Bey can convince teams he will become a confident shooter, his draft slot remains clouded.
Best draft argument: Strong fit
The Bobby Portis experiment largely stunk, just not for the reasons we think. A player with Portis’ stretch-five potential complements the rim-running Robinson or Julius Randle (assuming Randle remains with the team). Think of Jalen Smith as a step closer to finding the perfect backup for Robinson.
Smith offers a nice blend of defensive tenacity, rim-rattling ferocity, and most recently a respectable scoring range. Smith improved his three-point percentage by 10 percent up to 36.8% this season on similar attempts. If that improvement holds, the Knicks will have a player like Portis at a fraction of the cost.
His ability to hit from deep will allow Smith to use his full bag, which is impressive for a near-seven-footer.
Jalen Smith has legit perimeter skills, aside from the shooting there's handling coordination and finishing like this attacking a close. Near 7 footers with perimeter skills like this are rare and it gives him value over other bigs: pic.twitter.com/HEy3Re1roT
— Ben Pfeifer (@Ben_Pfeifer_) March 4, 2020
And unlike Portis, Smith is effective on both sides of the floor. He pulled down 10.5 rebounds per game this season and blocked 2.4 shots—both improvements on from his freshman season. His 8.2 block percentage is perhaps the most impressive stat, which puts him in the neighborhood of Onyeka Okongwu’s 9.8%.
Backup center isn’t the sexy pick, but it is an area that should always be filled with a capable player—we saw firsthand what happens when the middle is a soft spot and Smith is a player a coach can trust to do something good when he is on the floor.
Best “pass” argument: More pressing needs
There is not much better you can do at no. 27 than drafting someone like Smith. The only reason you would pass on a guy who showed significant improvement in one year and possesses special athleticism for his size is to address another area of concern.
Smith is the most likely to be on the board when the Knicks select at 27, which is why he is lower on the board. I know, doesn’t make sense when you read it like that, but hear me out: if a Kira Lewis or Saddiq Bey are available, it will be difficult to let talents like that slip any further.
As great as it would be to use this pick to solidify the center position, the team can accomplish this task through other avenues or with other picks. Landing good guards and wings is tougher to accomplish, which is why there is a path to Smith being squeezed between the sides.
And just like that, another year is in the books. A huge shoutout to my editors and wordsmith consiglieres, Reid Goldsmith and John Priest. I would also encourage you to follow closely (if you aren’t already) the rest of our draft coverage. Our team has been putting out prospect profiles and will continue to do so.
Until next year.