Before the draft board concludes with its final edition, Mike Cortez checks in one last time with the Knicks’ later first-round pick and potential available prospects.
It’s amazing to think that it has only been one month and a few days since basketball was taken from us, and what a month it was. Time has moved at a snail’s pace with weeks feeling months and months feeling like years. And if NBA owners get their way, time is going to feel even slower.
Throughout this sports purgatory we had one beacon of hope, one thing to cling on to for entertainment: the NBA draft. The NBA season was up in the air, suspended until further notice, but the draft was on schedule—that may now change. A recent report by ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski and Jonathan Givony stated that teams want to move the draft back until “at least” August 1.
The request is understandable. If the draft were to take place in late June there would be little to no in-person workouts with prospects, no in-person interviews, and no combine—all essential functions of the whole process. Should the league grant this request, it would align with previous reports of the NBA wanting a champion crowned by Labor Day.
This would leave a major void in action, and extend the pre-draft season even more than it already is. While uncertainty remains about the draft—and the draft lottery, which can also be pushed back as the league figures out what to do with the regular season—the Knicks have a better idea of when they will be on the clock at the end of the first round.
When we last checked in, the pick secured from the Marcus Morris trade with the Los Angeles Clippers was 28th overall with 16 games to play. That allowed us to plan for a pick anywhere in the 25-30 range. As of this writing that pick has landed right in the middle, at 27th overall.
This has allowed us to hone in on a more concrete list of prospects, and introduce some new names. With the rise of Deni Advija and the probability of the Knicks picking in the six through eight range, guard can become a position of interest to address with this pick.
Before we get started, let us remember what the top need is: talent. Positional fit is a misguided trope. The real key is picking the best pieces and having them fit a clear plan the team is pushing for, the plan is where the Knicks have so often fell short.
What type of team the Knicks want to be next season will determine how to use their picks. Do they want an uptempo guard-centric attack or continue to try the slow-plodding bully ball?
There are players that fulfill either role and given the randomness that will be prevalent during this draft, there really is no player that “can’t fall,” hell, even Brandon Clarke went in the 20’s last season despite being a top five player in the draft.
With that in mind, let’s get started.
Current Record: 21-45, 12th in Eastern Conference
Projected Draft Pick: 6th overall, 27th overall
Chance at #1 Pick: 9.0%
Cream of the Crop
Guard, Illawara (via Chino Hills)
Guard, Iowa State
In the Mix
Guard, North Carolina
Guard, New Zealand Breakers
The Other Pick
Saddiq Bey has overtaken Tyler as the top Bey in this class. The Villanova product has not only leapt over the Colorado wing, but risen in enough draft boards that he may now not be an option when the Knicks are back on the clock.
The reason for Saddiq Bey’s rise up boards—now projected as high as 14—is the same reason he would have made for an excellent second first-round pick. Bey is a knockdown shooter with one of the cleanest releases in the draft.
Bey shot 45.1% from deep this season on a healthy 5.6 attempts per game. It was a sharp improvement from his freshman season in which he shot 37.4% on 3.6 attempts. Bey also shot considerably better from the free throw line, improving to 76.9% following 64.4% as a freshman.
Those stark improvements, capped off with a doubled points per game average, is a big reason Bey took home the Julius Erving National Small Forward of the Year Award but also raising the possibility that he will not be available when the Knicks select unless the team were to trade up.
Trading up for a player that you can plug in the lineup from day one is a move that should be heavily considered in this draft. Bey can fill in for Damyean Dotson, who may or may not be on the team next season at the wing. If Bey can shoot near his three-point percentage from Villanova he is a no brainer for the Knicks, who struggled to score points this season, particularly from deep where they ranked 27th in the league at 33.7%.
Kira Lewis Jr.
One major mistake I made when initially approaching this pick was addressing another position like wing or center. Why? The Knicks had a massive void in guard talent this season, taking another guard would be a rational decision and the only logical choice if Alabama’s Kira Lewis Jr. is still available.
Lewis is a blur of a player, one of the fastest players in this draft if not the fastest. His speed is on a whole other level. The only other guard I can compare seeing Lewis to is John Wall or De’Aaron Fox. He also has the handle to go with that speed and the shiftiness to make the best of wing defenders hit the deck.
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
That person kissing the hardwood is Isaac Okoro by the way, one of the best players in the draft and one of the top perimeter defenders in college this year. Didn’t matter.
In two seasons at Alabama, Lewis averaged 15.9 points, 4.0 assists, 3.6 rebounds, and 1.3 steals per game and shot 44.7% from the field, 36.2% from deep and 79.3% from the free throw line. What is noteworthy is the difference in systems he played in those two seasons. As a freshman he was confined by Avery Johnson’s sluggish system and freed as a sophomore under Nate Oats, leading the fourth-fastest offense in college.
Speed is Lewis’ selling point and the skills that come with it. He sees the court well on defense as well as offense, making for a deadly combo on both sides of passing lanes.
Kira Lewis left hand dart to Petty he has everything you’d want from a lead PG!! PnR creation upside, Reliable pull up jumper,Blur in transition. Just so fun to watch. pic.twitter.com/x8rwgpiYZ8
— Trent Williams (@BballEval) April 12, 2020
Kira Lewis nabs the steal and coasts in for the dunk pic.twitter.com/nwM9P1VaGj
— Jackson Frank (@jackfrank_jjf) November 27, 2019
Few people are seeing Lewis in an open court sprint, making him a major asset in transition, an immediate common ground with R.J. Barrett, a player Lewis would have to mesh well with to see court time.
If Lewis is able to replicate his college shooting numbers he is an immediate upgrade from Dennis Smith Jr. as the energy off the bench. Lost within Smith’s dreadful season was the inability to at least be that guy off the bench to provide a jolt to the offense or simply maintain a lead.
Lewis is more than equipped to fill that role, and if he can hit shots like this it’s a surefire useful selection.
Kira Lewis Jr. is pretty darn hard to defend when he's hitting this pull-up three. Threat of drive forces defender to go under the screen and Lewis makes Georgia pay for it. pic.twitter.com/jAF9V2zULo
— Precision Scouting (@precisionsc0ut) April 12, 2020
Plug Lewis in with Frank Ntilikina, Mitchell Robinson, and some shooters and enjoy the show. Fran Fraschilla has gone as far to say the Knicks could steal him at the end of the first round, and he’s not wrong—if Lewis is there.
No draft combine could be a blessing in disguise here. Lewis fits the profile of someone who would have a jaw-dropping combine, which in this draft could have vaulted him into the lottery. Since there will not be a combine this season Lewis can slip between the cracks and into New York’s laps, giving them a guy that can at least come off the bench, but also challenge for a starting job.
Precious Achiuwa is a microcosm of this enigmatic class. Some mocks have Achiuwa going as low as 29, while others have him going in the lottery. Where Achiuwa actually goes is anyone’s guess. One school of thought in the pro-Achiuwa camp is his defensive versatility.
Achiuwa can call the 4 his main base of operation, but the key to his potential is at the 5, where Achiuwa can be an explosive small-ball center, thanks in large part to his massive 7’2” wingspan. The Knicks did not go small often this season, mostly due to the fact they spent $42.8 million on three frontcourt players.
Hopefully that logjam at the 4 and 5 will no longer exist, making way for Achiuwa to be an out-the-box plan at backup center and defensive menace off the bench. Achiuwa’s offensive potential remains as questionable as his true position. He shot 59.9% at the free throw line; however, his final month at Memphis was reason enough to hope, improving that percentage to 63.5% on the same volume.
It is unlikely that Achiuwa develops into a knockdown shooter in his NBA career but when he can wreak havoc in other ways you learn to live with his shortfalls.
Just your casual Precious Achiuwa warmup dunk……
— Devin Walker (@Devin_Walker2) October 28, 2019
When #Memphis freshman Precious Achiuwa is keeping things simple as a slasher, throwing his 6-9 + 225-pound body around on the offensive glass and playing with a high motor defensively, he really stands out
— DraftExpressContent (@DXContent) December 2, 2019
Tyler may be the second favorite Bey, but that does not mean he is a consolation prize. Bey has not played since we last checked in, which begs the question how can he fall from number one down to four?
The simple answer is the other options are better. In reality it came down to Bey vs. Achiuwa, and the latter has the superior versatility and higher ceiling. Bey is defensively versatile in his own right, with the ability to guard 1 through 4, but believing in his offense is a sizable leap of faith.
Bey’s pathway to playing time is tough to determine, as his main skill right now is doing stuff like this on defense.
Tyler Bey shutting down a 3 on 1 break. By himself pic.twitter.com/wJiCZ4iZ5z
— Max Carlin (@maxacarlin) February 21, 2020
Offensively, rim runner and lob catcher are his best use right now. His 41.7 three-point percentage is a bit misleading, he shot 31 total threes this season but plays like these are reasons to be intrigued.
Colorado BLOB, flex counter for Tyler Bey pic.twitter.com/4yitvd4KOt
— Jordan Sperber (@hoopvision68) March 27, 2020
Bey is one of the more likely prospects to be on the board at 27. His age (22 years old which in NBA draft terms is akin to a late-30’s bachelor) isn’t a turn off, and you can never have too many wing defenders.
There are endless possibilities on what to do with this extra pick, including a backup big. In the second edition, Duke’s Vernon Carey Jr. filled that role. Carey is a talented player, but Maryland’s Jalen Smith is a much more modern big that can help address the team’s outside shooting concerns.
Ignore the X-Ray vibes he’s got going on—focus on the ferocity.
— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) March 19, 2020
JALEN SMITH WITH NO REGARD FOR HUMAN LIFE pic.twitter.com/d9d5QjjpxL
— Terps Watch (@TerpsWatch) February 5, 2020
That was a year ago.
A year later, Smith remained a cog for the Terrapins averaging 15.5 points, 10.5 rebounds and 2.4 blocks per game. He vastly improved his three-point shot on a flat rate increase, beefing that percentage up to 36.8% after shooting a cool 26.8% as a freshman.
If this becomes a shot Smith can hit with some consistency he becomes infinitely more attractive a prospect.
Jalen Smith apparent DHO -> PnR as Tillman goes under, hits the pull-up jumper pic.twitter.com/qSRo90QHjL
— Max Carlin (@maxacarlin) February 18, 2020
Jalen Smith is more than just a stationary C&S shooter – Maryland has shooting off pindowns, DHOs, and PnPs (where he is 16/45 on all Js, 14/42 on 3s). Though the shot has to get more consistent, there is good reason to buy the shot.
1 of 5 players 6'9+ with 7.5BLK%+ and 25 3PM. pic.twitter.com/S9NVkeSAwd
— Spencer (@SKPearlman) March 9, 2020
At 6’10” Smith can play the 4 or 5, but his best use would be as Robinson’s backup. He is capable of running the floor and cleaning the glass, which is the bare bones stuff you need from a backup big. He offers more versatility that a polished post scoring specialist like Carey, while providing similar production protecting the rim and pulling down boards.
Steady faller to keep tabs on: Nico Mannion
While Jaden McDaniels has settled comfortably at the end of the lottery/mid-first-round range, Mannion continues to slide. It is still ambitious to believe Mannion will be there at 27 right now.
But as I said at the top, this draft is so random no one is prone to slipping—a slip from lottery pick to 27 however remains a steep one, but one of major interest. If a talent like Mannion continues to be mocked in the 20’s you can bet it is someone the Knicks should take a hard look at.
Other names to keep tabs on: Isaiah Stewart, Tyrell Terry, Vernon Carey Jr., Reggie Perry, Cassius Winston, Jahmi’us Ramsey
The TKW Draft Board will return…