The Knicks severely lacked in size at PF when Julius Randle got hurt but plucking a big body from the Ignite could solve their backup woes.

In March, the NBA announced that its baby-faced G-League Ignite program – an alternative for high school hoopers in the United States and young hoopers, in general, to skip college and go straight into basketball – would be discontinued. They cited a range of moving parts that made the program unnecessary. Still, it was a disappointment to see that a program that had produced such great talents as Jalen Green and Jonathan Kuminga would be shut down. 

As a result, Tyler Smith is one of the last members of Ignite, and he joins a few other draft hopefuls like Ron Holland and Matas Buzelis in vying for a lottery spot with a team this coming week. 

Smith, a 6’10” power forward, is among the more talented of the pool of 2024 draft hopefuls who play the PF position. His shooting, especially from long range, has separated him a bit from the crowd. This coupled with his youth make him a prime target for the New York Knicks, as they look to develop more talent at that position in Westchester to help form a bench behind their starting PF, All-Star Julius Randle. 

Smith averaged 13.7 points per game along with 5.1 rebounds, 1.3 assists, and nearly one block (0.9) with Ignite this past season. Per Tankathon’s stats for his draft profile, Smith also has a projected NBA three-point shooting average of 38 percent — not shabby for a soon-to-be rookie. Additionally, he had a true shooting percentage of .612, meaning he is very efficient from all over the floor. 

He hit 36.4 percent of his three-point shots on four attempts per game this past season, and something important to keep in mind with any Ignite player is that they are playing on an NBA court – so, the three-point line is just as far for him as it is for anyone in the league currently. Shooting at such a clip puts him in the same company as sharpshooters like De’Aaron Fox, Donovan Mitchell, Tyrese Haliburton, and Kevin Huerter. His shot is no fluke, either. He can hit from anywhere, moving surprisingly well from beyond the arc for a guy his size. If he can manage to hit his threes at a same or similar level to what he was doing with Ignite, New York has to open their eyes to the possibility that he can be their answer to their shooting woes off the bench – perhaps sooner than after a year developing up in Westchester. 

Smith can also be explosive at the rim, something New York has missed since the trading of Obi Toppin. That athleticism coupled with his ability to shoot makes his size all the more scary for opposing teams’ defenses. If he could hypothetically form some chemistry with Deuce McBride in pick-and-roll actions or act as McBride’s primary screener off the bench, he could see a ton of opportunities for lobs in the open floor, assuming the Knicks find more shooting for their bench this offseason in addition to someone like Smith. 

A downside to Smith is, surprisingly, his defense. No Ceilings did a great breakdown of his upside here, but, overall, Smith’s inability at times to move his feet and fight through screens and his inability at times to rotate effectively hurt him defensively. These things are extremely fixable, though, and with his size, I’d be hard-pressed to not see how he could be coached up into more of a defensive stopper and less of a liability on the floor. Additionally, if there’s one coach that a player would want to play for to get better defensively, it’s Tom Thibodeau. 

Smith’s fit with this Knicks team is the same fit that would exist for any team in the NBA looking for a competent, young wing – it’s perfect. That’s what makes picking him later in the first round with either of their picks feel a bit impossible. But, if Smith is still around when New York is on the clock, they can take a chance on actually to upgrade at the PF position for a far more affordable price than they would likely have to pay on the trade or free agency market. 

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