By John Schmeelk
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Last week we profiled the three players most likely to be the best options for the Knicks at the No. 8 spot: Malik Monk, Frank Ntilikina and Dennis Smith Jr. Today we’ll look at some others who could also be in the mix, as well as other potential targets if the Knicks acquire another pick.
Guys Who Could Drop
There’s a slight chance that either Duke small forward Jayson Tatum or Florida State power forward Jonathan Isaac fall to the Knicks if teams decide their top priority is backcourt help. Tatum can score and has the type of mid-range game Knicks president Phil Jackson loves. I have no doubt if he is there that Jackson would take him (or Kansas small forward Josh Jackson).
Isaac might have the highest physical upside of any player in the draft, which will be held Thursday. He is 6 feet, 11 inches, but has small forward athleticism and can shoot it. He should be an elite defender quickly. He is raw offensively, but his physical tools have him rocketing up draft boards.
A Surprise Move Up
The more I watch Louisville shooting guard Donovan Mitchell, the closer he gets himself to Ntilikina in my rankings. He is an explosive athlete, has a 6-10 wingspan, can make some difficult shots and defends extremely well. He doesn’t make good decisions and is still a work in progress as a shooter. At 6-foot-3, he would have to be an Avery Bradley-type shooting guard. I don’t think he is the pick, but he could definitely be in the conversation at No. 8.
Another late name that is popping up is Duke guard Luke Kennard. He is a classic Phil Jackson type of player who likes to play off the ball, can shoot it and plays the game the right way by making smart decisions. However, his defense is a big question as is his ability to take opponents off the dribble to create his own shot. His athleticism and length are limited. He is the type of player Phil Jackson would love to have in the triangle.
It has been reported that the Knicks are in talks with other teams to acquire another first-round pick. There’s no telling where they wind up in this type of scenario, but here are some options.
If they manage to get another lottery selection from a team such as Detroit or even the 15th pick from the Trail Blazers, the Knicks could try to snag the aforementioned Mitchell, Kennard or North Carolina small forward Justin Jackson.
Justin Jackson has the look of a support player who will have an impact in the league for more than a decade. He is extremely long and uses that on defense. He is a high motor guy who makes good decisions. He showed improvement as a shooter last season, but his offensive game is unrefined, as he struggles to create his own shot. He can score off the ball and be a great helper player. Justin Jackson is one of those potential glue guys.
The Second Round
The Knicks do own two second-round picks, but trying to figure out where they would go with those selections is a waste of everyone’s time. No one has any idea. Here are some guys who have been linked to them (in either the first or second round) at some point this spring: North Carolina power forward Tony Bradley, Florida point guard Kasey Hill, Oregon shooting guard Tyler Dorsey, North Carolina State center Omer Yurtseven, Iowa State point guard Monte Morris, Iowa State shooting guard Deonte Burton, Houston small forward Damyean Dotson, Wisconsin power foward Nigel Hayes, Vanderbilt center Luke Kornet, Arizona State shooting guard Torian Graham, UCLA shooting guard Isaac Hamilton, Xavier point guard Edmond Sumner and North Carolina center Kennedy Meeks. I’m sure I missed some guys in there, too.
One thing that has been clear from all these predraft workouts is that the Knicks will be overly focused on finding players who fit in the triangle offense. According to nearly every draft prospect that comes in, the Knicks are focused on teaching the triangle with coach Jeff Hornacek leading the workout and Phil Jackson chiming in with his two cents here and there. The last thing the Knicks should do is pass on a more talented player for a less talented one just because they don’t fit in a system that won’t be here in three years, but that’s the Knicks, and that’s what’s happening.
One other thing the Knicks shouldn’t do is draft a big man. They already have two young ones in Willy Hernangomez and Kristaps Porzingis and two vets in Kyle O’Quinn and Joakim Noah. The house is full. They need to focus on guards and wings more than anything else.
Here’s my feel for the Knicks’ pick in the eighth spot as of Monday: If Dennis Smith Jr. is there (and more and more, it looks like he won’t be), I don’t think the Knicks would pick him since he doesn’t fit in the type of offense Phil Jackson wants to run. Barring Tatum falling, the Knicks will choose betweem Monk, Ntilikina and Mitchell. There isn’t much separating these guys, though I do think Mitchell is a level below the former two. Ntilikina is the defender, and Monk is the scorer. It will all depend on what Phil Jackson wants to make a priority. My gut says Ntilikina, a French point guard, but that may change by Thursday.
A quick note on the Celtics-Sixers trade: I like the trade more for the Sixers than I do for Boston. The Celtics had a chance to get a transcendent player in Washington point guard Markelle Fultz, and they are passing on it and will likely wind up with Josh Jackson instead. Josh Jackson will be a valuable player and will help Boston defensively on the wing, which they need, but do they really need to stockpile more draft picks with what they already have? The Celtics need to shoot for stars at this point, not continue to hoard assets. The Sixers, meanwhile, will have a scoring point guard in Fultz that should mix with Ben Simmons.
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