6 Intriguing 2017 NBA Draft Prospects for New York Knicks

Kelly Scaletta@@KellyScalettaFeatured ColumnistMarch 17, 2017

6 Intriguing 2017 NBA Draft Prospects for New York Knicks

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    The New York Knicks are lottery bound after another disappointing season in the Big Apple.

    There are a lot of things we don’t know about next year’s version of the Knicks. There will be a ton of holes to fill in free agency. We don’t know if they’re going to trade Carmelo Anthony.

    We do know that they're probably not going to keep Derrick Rose around (based on the fact they shopped him at the break, per Marc Stein of ESPN), but we don't know if they're planning on recruiting someone else to take his place or get their point guard of the future through the draft. 

    We do know two things, though:

    1. Kristaps Porzingis is a part of the Knicks’ future.
    2. They need help pretty much everywhere else.

    With apologies to Willy Hernangomez, who has exceeded expectations and could very well work himself into a fixture in the rotation, he’s probably not going to blossom into an untouchable All-Star. The Knicks need help everywhere.

    In exploring the Knicks’ draft options for this year, I will first address where the biggest needs are, then look at which players are likely to be available to them in the draft who can help New York the most.

What Do the Knicks Need?

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    To further narrow down the search, I looked at several factors on both offense and defense to highlight areas where the Knicks are in need. I acquired these rankings from NBA.com, and they are current through games of March 15:

    Factor

    Rank

    Effective Field-Goal Percentage, Offense

    24

    Turnover Percentage, Offense

    15

    Offensive Rebound Percentage

    5

    Free Throw per Field-Goal Attempt, Offense

    26

    Three-Point Makes per Game

    20

    Assist Percentage

    24

    Fast-Break Points

    24

    Catch and Shoot Effective Field-Goal Percentage

    15

    Pull-up-Shooting Effective Field-Goal Percentage

    15

    Points off Drives

    26

    Mid-Range Field-Goal Attempts

    1

    Effective Field-Goal Percentage, Defense

    9

    Turnover Percentage, Defense

    27

    Defensive Rebound Percentage

    30

    Free Throw per Field-Goal Attempt, Defense

    18

    Opponents Three-Point Makes per Game

    16

    Opponents Fast-Break Points

    22

    The only thing the Knicks rank first in is mid-range attempts, which is not a category in which you want to lead the league. Other than that, they only rank in the top 10 in two areas: defensive effective field-goal percentage and offensive rebound percentage.

    New York needs help at just about every position and in almost every area, but there are some spots where it needs help more than others. Based on the above rankings (and watching any Knicks game this year), here are areas this franchise could address in the draft.

    1. A shot-creating point guard: So many of the Knicks’ struggles come from not having a point guard who can generate points for himself and others. You see this reflected in New York’s rankings in points off drives, free throws per field-goal attempt, assist percentage, three-point makes and the volume of shots taken from mid-range.
    2. An athletic wing: An athletic wing could also address some of those areas, playing either the 2 or the 3, especially if they can push the tempo and help get more fast-break points. While the Knicks will want to prioritize point guard, depending on where they pick and who is on the board, there are a couple of options they might consider with their first pick. Also, they may decide to fill the need through free agency.
    3. A rebounding big: They won’t want to use their first-round pick here. According to RealGM.com, they don’t have their own second-round pick, but they do have the Chicago Bulls’ and Houston Rockets’ selections. Those should be near the middle and end of the second round, and the Knicks could find rebounding help there.

    Based on that, let’s look at how the Knicks might be hoping to spend their pick.

Second-Round Pick: Kyle Kuzma, Utah

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    Kyle Kuzma is averaging 16.3 points and 9.0 rebounds per game for the Utah Utes this year. He’s 6’9”, according to DraftExpress.com. He’s not a knock-down shooter, but he is hitting on 32.1 percent of his threes. He described himself for Basketball Insiders:

    My versatility and my rebounding ability, I think, is pretty special. I can get rebounds and push it down the break and crash the offensive boards. That just comes with the motor that I have.

    Rebounding is one of the forgotten things in basketball that you don’t really talk about. Everybody really talks about how many points you score and the assists you have or whatever. What if your shots aren’t falling? You can always rely on rebounding and that’s one thing I definitely take pride in.

    Kuzma would bring a presence to the defensive glass and help the Knicks push the ball. He should be available in the middle of the round and could be there near the end. Draft Express had him going 51, but the deeper you go, the less predictable things are.

Second-Round Pick: Thomas Bryant, Indiana

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    Thomas Bryant is 6’10.5” with a massive 7’5.5” wingspan. He’s averaging 12.6 points and 6.6 boards for Indiana this year. The potential he has with that length is more incentive to draft him than his actual play this year, though.

    Chad Ford of ESPN offered this analysis:

    Bryant is a loooooong (7-foot-6 wingpsan) big man who plays with a ton of energy on both ends of the floor. He had a very solid freshman year for Indiana where he showed off myriad skills on both ends of the floor. His slow feet and lack of elite athleticism are hurting his stock somewhat. But I know some scouts who think he could have a much bigger year. 

    "I really like his attitude on the court," one scout said. "He works really hard, and I think he played with a high level of efficiency as a freshman. He's not explosive at all, and that scares me, but he has the potential to do everything else." 

    Ford has him ranked 51, but he’s 39 on Draft Express’ big board. The Knicks can hope he’ll be there for the mid-40s pick.

    That length is not the sort of thing you can teach. And it's an issue that in spite of it, he doesn't have better rebounding and blocking numbers. 

    However, you're talking about a mid-second-round pick, and if you can develop something with that length, 15 feet of wingspan between him and Porzingis working together could be pretty intimidating. And it certainly could help bump up that defensive rebound percentage. 

Second-Round Pick: Wesley Iwundu, Kansas State

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    If the Knicks opt to go with a wing, Wesley Iwundu could fill a lot of holes. With his 7’1” wingspan, work ethic and developing skill set, he could be one of this year’s second-round sleepers. Cody Porter from Draft Express scouted him:

    What stands out about Iwundu offensively is his playmaking ability from the wing position. He was one of only two players in the Big 12 last season to average more than 4.5 assists and 5.5 rebounds per-40 minutes. A major share of his half-court offense was centered around him being the ball handler in pick and roll situations. He is very comfortable handling the ball with either hand, and has a variety of shifty dribble moves including an in and out crossover that he uses to get by his defender.

    Iwundu is adept at handling ball screens for a player of his size, and does a good job keeping teams off balance by rejecting screens, and tilting the defense into difficult rotations. He uses his size well to make passes over the top of the defense, but also does an excellent job finding the open man once he has gotten into the paint and caused the defense to collapse.

    A secondary shot creator who can play either wing position, create for himself and his teammates and has a versatile offensive skill set sounds like a nice fit for the triangle.

    The passing ability is really what sticks out here. The Knicks wouldn't necessarily need an elite scorer (which you're not getting that in the second round without some severe defensive liabilities anyway) out of this pick, just a capable one who can play both ways. 

    My general philosophy is that the second round is a crapshoot anyway, so you're best off going for the player with the highest upside, and with Iwundu's measurables and commitment to improvement, he has great potential to exceed his draft position. 

First-Round Pick: Malik Monk, SG

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    Ideally, the Knicks draw a top-three lottery ball. If they do, they will probably just go chalk with Markelle Fultz, Lonzo Ball or Josh Jackson in that order and for all the obvious reasons with those three being the consensus first off the board.

    However, according to Tankathon.com, the Knicks have just 15.7 percent chance of getting one of those spots, so there’s not much reason to discuss them other than to say the Knicks should do the obvious if they get lucky.

    But what do they do in the 84.3 percent chance they don’t have a ball drawn? Most likely, they’d be picking somewhere between sixth and ninth if that is the case. That means they should get one of their top three backup choices, as not every team is looking for the same things the Knicks are.

    There is some chance that the Knicks intend to fill the point guard position through free agency and are looking for a pure scorer to pair with Porzingis in the draft. Or, they might just take the best player on the board, and if they do, there’s a good chance that’s Malik Monk, who is eighth on the big board for Draft Express and seventh for Ford.

    Ford observed:

    Monk may be the best scorer in this draft class. He's an electric athlete with elite finishing ability at the rim and a volume 3-point shooter. He can get his shot off against anyone.

    However, he can be terribly inconsistent, scoring two points one night and 30 the next. His lack of size for his position is the biggest concern for scouts, but in a league where 3-point shooting is king, Monk is an attractive prospect.

    I would add, in a league where three-point shooting is King, having Monk and Porzingis together is an even more attractive prospect.

First-Round Pick: Frank Ntilikina, PG

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    At a minimum, New York should be able to get Frank Ntilikina as its point guard. Bleacher Report’s Jonathan Wasserman projected him going to the Knicks in his latest mock draft: 

    Defensive-minded, versatile, a promising shooter, mature—everything about Frank Ntilikina makes sense for the New York Knicks.

    That may be a reason to project them taking someone else, given management's track record of defying logic. But based on who's available, the team's need for a guard and the flexibility he offers in free agency—Ntilikina plays both backcourt positions—a puzzle-piece fit should convince team president Phil Jackson to draft an international prospect once again.

    Unselfish and coachable, with a knack for making plays within Strasbourg's sets (not one-on-one), the Frenchman could also be viewed as an ideal cog for Phil Jackson's triangle offense.

    Mike Schmitz and Bogdan Karaicic of Draft Express offered this:

    Ntilkinas (sic) 31-point outburst against Lithuania in the finals reminded NBA scouts why the Belgian-born Strasbourg product is considered a lottery-level prospect in the 2017 Draft. The long-armed, versatile guard was tremendous defensively and answered a lot of questions about his outside shot, scoring a ridiculous 1.727 points per possession (22 attempts) on pull up jumpers, far and away the best mark in the tournament.

    Even if it’s the worst-case scenario, Ntilikina could end up offering the Knicks more immediate help than those above him on the big board. While he's only 18 years old, he's been playing pro ball since he was 15, according to Jonathan Tjarks of the Ringer.

    The other thing that's nice about him as that at 6'5" with a "near 7' wingspan" (per Tjarks) Ntilikina would stifle opposing point guards as well. 

    Considering how the Knicks have as many issues as they do, having one player who can resolve a lot of them on both sides of the ball makes a lot of sense. 

First-Round Pick: Dennis Smith, PG

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    If the Knicks want to build around Porzingis (and they should) Dennis Smith could be a high-quality pick-and-roll partner for him. Zach Harper has an extensive scouting report on Smith for FanRag Sports. First, he addresses Smith’s scoring on such plays:

    Smith ranks 10th in the country in points per possession generated (minimum 270 PnR including passes possessions). He clocks in at 0.971 PPP and 11th in effective field goal at 53.2 percent, according to Synergy Sports. A big part of that production for Smith is his ability to shoot in those situations.

    Then he also drives the lane:

    Smith’s driving lanes open up completely in the PnR too. The defense has to be aware of the jumper and aware of roll man Abdul-Malik Abu, which means Smith’s lightning first-step is even more lethal. He’s so strong attacking the basket with either hand and can finish on both sides of the rim with the left or the right. These drives to the hoop are where you can see the (Steve) Francis comparisons shining through.

    He also passes, but not always cleanly:

    As a passer in the PnR, Smith is good but also needs to clean up some of the sloppiness. He appears to have good vision, and he seems to know which passes to make. But the physical act of completing that pass can get bobbled. In college, you can get away with that sloppiness a lot of the time (28th out of 51 in turnover rate). At the pro level, NBA players will take advantage of these slow passes and take it the other way.

    While he still needs to develop—and what 18-year-old player doesn’t need work—he seems to have the makings of the perfect partner for Porzingis.

    Smith's addition would help in many of the areas where the Knicks are struggling. His ability to drive the lane and break down defenses would obviously help there. But in doing so, he could create more open threes for his teammates, especially Porzingis, in pick-and-pops. 

    That would in turn give the Knicks a higher percentage of their shots from more efficient areas and cut down on the mid-range shots. All that would help the Knicks to boost their effective field-goal percentage. No one player is going to fix the offense by himself, but Smith would fill a lot of holes.