Tank SZN is going according to plan for the Knicks. Things fell off course a bit on Tuesday night by beating the bipolar Pacers, moving the team down to the seventh spot in the lottery. Think of that as a minor detour. Every game moving forward will be against a team fighting for playoff position.
That means a lot of losses. A lot of losses equal a lot of pong balls. A lot of pong balls equal a better chance at landing the best possible pick. If there was one draft worth tanking for it is this one. The pool of point guard talent is as packed as it will ever be in a draft with possibly three or four All-Star caliber talent available. The Knicks need a guard badly. They have had four All-Star point guards in franchise history (Walt Frazier, Michael Ray Richardson, Mark Jackson, and John Starks).
Assuming Derrick Rose is gone the starting point guard heading into next season is Chasson Randle. Nothing against Randle, who has played well since he was brought back, but if he’s your starting point guard you’re in trouble. The free agent market seems promising until you realize the top names–Stephen Curry, Chris Paul, Jrue Holiday–are all likely to re-sign with their current teams or not giving the Knicks a second of their time.
Having said that, March Madness is here. Knicks fans, scouts, and personnel should use this tourney not just as entertainment, but as a scouting opportunity. The great thing about the postseason in college is that it gives us a realistic sample of how these players handle NBA life.
We see how they perform playing back-to-backs. It allows us to see who can execute in a do-or-die situation. Who can right the ship when everything has gone to shit. How quickly does it take for them to adjust to the flow of the game.
This year’s tournament is missing some of that elite talent that will be available at the end of June. Consensus top pick Markelle Fultz of Washington and Dennis Smith Jr. of NC State will not be in the field. But there are still guys worth keeping tabs on.
The speed demon from Kentucky could have easily been a first overall pick in a different draft class. He’s lighting fast with the ideal size you want for a point guard, standing at 6’3 with a wingspan hovering around 6’6. When UK is at its best Fox is torpedoing through the lane and kicking it out to the open shooter or finishing at the rack.
This season he’s averaging 29.5 points, 8.8 assists, 7.5 rebounds and 2.6 steals per 100 possessions. The underbelly of Fox’s game is his jumper. His overall 47.4 field goal percentage isn’t bad. Shooting 24.2-percent from three-point range is.
If you’re jumping between games and see Fox shoot you would not think he’s bad shooter. In fact you might think he’s a good shooter. The problem is he doesn’t seem to trust it yet. He attempts 3.5 three-pointers per 100 possessions which tells you all you need to know about his confidence in that shot. Despite that he should still be at the top of the Knicks’ draft board.
His quickness and defensive play make him look like Gary Payton compared to whatever the hell Rose thinks this is. While he gains confidence in his shot there are few players that can stay in front of Fox who has the speed to keep up with the likes of John Wall, Kyrie Irving, and maybe even Russell Westbrook.
His ability to blow by defenders will make him a nice fit alongside Kristaps Porzingis in the pick-and-roll and especially the pick-and-pop. He figures to be in the five to eight range come draft night and if he is on the board when the Knicks select it would be a wise choice.
Keeping things in Lexington you can’t not talk about Malik Monk. Ideally the Knicks want a point guard to distribute the ball, but above all they need good young players. Monk fits that description. John Calipari has had some talent at shooting guard (Devin Booker, Jamal Murray), but no one has put up numbers like Monk. He doused UNC for 47 points this season and possess that microwave scoring that can turn even the sanest fan into Dick Vitale.
Much like his backcourt mate Fox, Monk is a talent that figures to adjust to the NBA well. He is a shooting guard in a point guard’s body (6’3 with a 6’6 wingspan), but as Jalen Rose says, positions were only created so a novice can follow the game. No matter what position Monk ultimately plays when he gets to the NBA, just know he will get buckets.
Calipari has a reputation of holding his uber-talented players back but don’t tell Monk that. This season he’s averaging 34 points per 100 possessions while shooting 40-percent from three and 50-percent inside the arc. The rest of his game is average from a numbers standpoint (4.2 rebounds, 3.9 assists, 1.7 steals per 100), but when he’s pouring in points who the fuck cares?
He comes with the typical pitfalls of explosive scorers, cold streaks. The main “problem” with him going cold is that he doesn’t do much else yet. He is prone to taking silly shots and does not play much defense (which should make him feel right at home in New York).
But he is just 19 years old. His ability to explode for 30 points at the drop of a hat is not common for guys entering the league. If you’re looking for a player of reference look at someone like Jamal Murray who has been really good for the Nuggets. As his body fills out and his scoring repertoire grows Monk will end up being one of the better players in this class.
Lonzo Ball figures to be off the board whenever the Knicks choose. However, at the rate his father LaVar is yapping nonsense it would not surprise me to see some teams pass on the impending headache. LaVar wants his son to go to the Lakers. That sounds nice but calling Magic Johnson’s (among other NBA legend’s) son “wack” will not make that dream any easier.
Fatherly shenanigans aside, Lonzo is a certified maestro on the court. He inserted life into a dead UCLA team. Joining a supporting cast that was mediocre last year, Lonzo (and fellow freshman T.J. Leaf) transformed UCLA into one of the better watches in college basketball this season.
With Lonzo running the show the Bruins became the best offense in the NCAA (averaging 90.3 points per game). They’ve done it by with constant ball movement that becomes infectious when you see the kind of passes Lonzo makes. His superior height for a point guard (6’6 with 6’8 wingspan) allows him to see over a majority of his defenders.
While running the show for the Bruins Lonzo is averaging 22.3 points, 9.4 rebounds, 11.8 assists, 3 steals and 1.2 blocks per 100 possessions. His shot is unorthodox but he manages to post a true shooting percentage of 66.7.
His main point of struggle is in the half court where only his only weapon is his three-point shot. He is shooting 71.7-percent from two-point range this season, but that’s due to him taking less shots inside. Per 100 possessions he averages 8.3 attempts beyond the arc versus 6.4 attempts inside. That will have to change when he graduates to better defenders who will close out on threes.
From all accounts he is the ideal point guard Jeff Hornacek wants. He plays uptempo and gets everyone involved. Slotting him alongside Porzingis and Willy Hernangomez would be fun to watch. All three are skilled passers and would turn MSG into a passing clinic. Knicks fans deserve to watch fun basketball and adding Lonzo to the core of KP and Willy would be the best show on Broadway.
As mentioned before there are a couple prospects not featured in this year’s tournament. Instead of scrolling through your Twitter timeline for redundant observations go to YouTube and throw some tape on of these guys.
It’s pronounced Frank Nee-lee-KEE-na (Jonthan Tjarks from The Ringer got us covered.), you might want to make a mental note. Ntilikina is this year’s European Man of Mystery who can only be scouted via YouTube and DraftExpress.
What we know about Ntilikina is that he is 6’5 with a rubberband wingspan of 7’0 making him the lankiest of the bunch. He currently plays for Strasbourg in France where he averages 15.5 minutes per game. This is not uncommon for teenagers especially when they are playing in a top division like Ntilikina. But his lack of playing time makes his stats borderline irrelevant forcing us to rely on video and interviews.
The most common footage you will find on Ntilikina is from the 2016 FIBA U18 European Championships. Ntilikina played extremely well as he led his French squad to a gold medal. You will also see that he went off from three even pulling up from well beyond NBA range.
Ntilikina’s coach for both Strasbourg and the French national team, Vincent Collet, says the 19-year-old already has a better jumper than Tony Parker (who Collet also coached) had at the same age. Right now that jumper is the only offensive weapon Ntilikina possesses.
As Tjarks of The Ringer perfectly summarizes “if guys like Dennis Smith Jr. and De’Aaron Fox are sports cars, Ntilikina is a Kia.” What Tjarks is getting at is Ntilikina’s inability to beat anyone off the dribble. Even when switched on to bigs he does not have the blow by speed many of the league’s top guards have. He also does not have the aggressiveness he should have for a player his size.
That aggressiveness was present during the U18s, but not as much when he’s with older guys in Strasbourg. Ntilikina’s teammate (and former high school teammate of LeBron James) Romeo Travis sees great potential in the young gun.
“He has everything: He has height, athleticism, ball-handling; he can shoot. So I’m just trying to give him that push, that confidence that he can be anything he wants to be.”
The Knicks have had success dipping into the European well of talent. Their scouting in Europe is one of the team’s only strengths and has helped bring Porzingis, Hernangomez and Mindaugas Kuzminskas. If they end up selecting Ntilikina, who figures to be on the board, expect the Knicks to give him serious consideration.
Dennis Smith Jr.
Dennis Smith Jr. is also likely going to be off the board by the time the Knicks pick, but let’s just play the cockeyed optimist. Smith Jr. came into the season as the second point guard to take in the draft prior to Lonzo Ball hijacking his spot. While Ball was busy transforming UCLA into an offensive nightmare Smith Jr. was toiling away on an underachieving Wolfpack team.
The lone bright spot of the season was beating Duke at Cameron Indoor. In that game Smith Jr. put on a showcase that cemented his top ten status. He flashed his athleticism, his ability to shoot and his potential to be a gnat on defense.
In the midst of a lackluster season that saw head coach Mark Gottfried get axed Smith Jr. continued to play a cut above. Per 100 possessions he averaged 29 points, 7.3 rebounds, 9.8 assists and 3.1 steals in his lone season.
“Derrick Rose is somebody I watched a lot of, and I got a lot of respect for him. I definitely could [see myself playing in New York City]. It would be great.”
The respect for Rose is not surprising. Pre-injury Derrick Rose was one of the most athletic point guards we will ever see. Smith Jr. possess that same potential and faces the same pitfalls as Rose. If DSJ can improve his jumper, specifically his three-point shot, then the sky’s the limit.
There is no way in hell Markelle Fultz plays for New York. The Knicks would have to win the lottery (figuratively and literally) to land the cream of the crop, but as the case with Dennis Smith Jr., it never hurts to do some research.
Fultz is the safest bet to be an All-Star and could be the only franchise worthy point guard. When you watch tape on Fultz two things pop off the screen–he’s really fucking good and his facial expression never changes. No matter what is going on Fultz has a stoic demeanor about him.
At only 18 years old Fultz already knows how to control the flow of the game. He never seems to be moving too fast and always seems to get the shot he wants. He was the best kept secret in college basketball. It’s a crime that he is only known for being the guy at the top of every mock draft. At Washington Fultz was a silent assassin. He averaged 35.7 points, 8.8 rebounds, 9.1 assists, 2.4 steals and 1.8 blocks per 100 possessions.
Even with him going HAM every night Washington only amassed a dreadful 9-22 record. Credit that to subpar supporting cast and questionable coach. If the hoop gods have any mercy Fultz will go to a stable organization. But if he happens to be given the tall task of saving the Knicks he will be well equipped.
**All stats used from sports-reference.com and accurate up to 3.16.17**