Draft Lead

Analyzing the Knicks’ Top Draft Targets

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With the NBA’s new lottery odds in place, the Knicks’ league-worst 17-65 record is slightly less valuable than in recent years. The Knicks, Cavaliers and Suns are the bottom three teams, respectively, and each organization owns a 14 percent chance at the No. 1 pick in the draft. These new odds increase the amount of draft targets that Knicks fans should follow. The only advantage the Knicks have is that they’re locked in as a top-five pick, while the Cavaliers are top-six and the Suns top-seven.

via Tankathon

Until the May 14 draft lottery, there’s going to be uncertainty surrounding who and where the Knicks will draft in the top five. Knowing the Knicks have secured a top-five selection, I’ll lay out who the Knicks should watch at each prospective pick.

No. 1: Zion Williamson

This is a no brainer for the Knicks. Zion Williamson was far and away the best college basketball player during the 2018-2019 season. Williamson was deservedly recognized, collecting the Naismith Award, Wooden Award, ACC Player of the Year award, and a spot as a Consensus All-American.

Williamson was the third freshman ever to win the Naismith Award, joining Anthony Davis and Kevin Durant. The Duke forward averaged 22.6 points per game (PPG), 8.9 rebounds per game (RPG), 2.1 steals per game (SPG) and 1.8 blocks per game (BPG) with an incredible 70.8 effective field-goal percentage and 40.8 player efficiency rating (PER).

The Knicks have struggled to find their identity in the past few years without a prominent star. Kristaps Porzingis was set to take on this role following the Carmelo Anthony stint, but the Latvian was shipped to Dallas in a blockbuster trade. Williamson would be the most potent player to rep the orange and blue since Patrick Ewing in the ’90s.

No. 2: R.J. Barrett

Imagine averaging 22.6 PPG, 7.6 RPG and 4.3 assists per game (APG) on 45 percent shooting from the field and not being the best player on your team.

Well, that’s the reality for R.J. Barrett, as Williamson stole the show at Duke this year.

Barrett entered the year as the top player in the ESPN Top 100 rankings of 2018. He was the consensus top choice in preseason NBA mock drafts.

In drafting Barrett, New York will add a much-needed offensive star on the wing. He will be the focal point of the offensive system, as his playmaking and scoring abilities are impressive and projected to improve immensely.

Taking the 6-foot-7 shooting guard with the second pick is controversial since the consensus No. 2 prospect is Murray State’s Ja Morant. Trading down to the third pick to take Barrett is very much a possibility. New York would acquire another asset and get a player that complements Dennis Smith Jr.

With Smith running the point, it wouldn’t make sense for the Knicks to pass up on Barrett to add another point guard to their collection.

No. 3: Ja Morant

Yes, the Knicks have (below, from left to right) point guards Frank Ntilikina, Smith and Emmanuel Mudiay. But passing on the aforementioned Morant only makes sense to a degree.

Photo via Robert Sabo/Getty Images

If Morant falls to the No. 3 pick, the Knicks will snatch him and figure out their point guard situation later.

Morant is one of the most dynamic and consistent players in this draft class. He dominated the assist category this year, averaging ten per game and racking up 331 in total through 33 games. That’s 2.3 per and 39 more than the runner up, respectively.

Oh, and Morant averaged 24.5 PPG on 49.9 percent shooting while leading Murray State to its second straight NCAA Tournament appearance, becoming a Consensus All-American in the process.
The 6-foot-3 point guard has drawn comparisons to Russell Westbrook due to his explosiveness, speed and high-flying dunks.

Despite having a locker room full of point guards, the Knicks would still take Morant third overall as the best player available. Friction between Smith and Morant would likely occur initially, but if the two can figure it out, the Knicks’ backcourt would be on the rise quickly.

No. 4: Jarrett Culver

Texas Tech was one of, if not the most, impressive teams in the 2018-2019 NCAA season. The Red Raiders lost five of their top six scorers from 2017-2018. The player they retained? Jarrett Culver.

The 6-foot-5 wing could slot in at either the shooting guard or small forward position and provide scoring alongside Kevin Knox. He averaged 18.5 PPG during his sophomore campaign at Texas Tech – a jump from 11.2 PPG in his freshman year.

Culver, another Consensus All-American, is also an elite perimeter defender. He led the NCAA in defensive win shares with 3.5 and placed sixth in defensive rating with an 86.9 rating.

The Knicks are in dire need of a perimeter defender, especially since Ntilikina has failed to live up to expectations on defense. New York’s defensive rating of 112.8 ranked 26th in the league this past season.

The top three players have established themselves to be in a different class than the rest of the prospects, but Culver would still be a valuable addition to the Knicks’ future if they fall to pick four.

No. 5: Cameron Reddish

Selecting fifth overall after finishing with the worst record in the league would be heartbreaking for Knicks fans, especially since there are no star players in this range that “wow” viewers. The closest person to this “wow” factor, though, is Cameron Reddish.

Reddish came into the season as the No. 3 player on the ESPN Top 100 of 2018 and was projected to be a top-five draft pick in 2019. This quickly changed once he began playing under Coach Krzyzewski at Duke. Williamson and Barrett were the clear first two options on offense, so it was difficult for Reddish to get in rhythm and score efficiently (35.6 percent from the field).

Despite his woes, Reddish is still projected to go in the top 10 and could inch his way to the top five given his play in high school and the inconsistency of other top prospects. His weak playmaking and defensive skills are concerning and could potentially hurt his draft stock. With that said, however, the Knicks would get a wing that can score at all three levels and can create offense off the bounce.

Reddish would slide next to Knox on the wing as the two former blue bloods would provide a heap of the scoring for the team.

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About Brendan O'Sullivan

Quinnipiac University '22. Associate Sports Editor for Quinnipiac Chronicle. Writer for TLSM, Hoops Prospects, and Fancred.

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