This past season was one of the most difficult for teams to navigate, fighting through the unknowns of COVID-19 and the tedious protocols that ruined some teams' hopes. And the Knicks managed, in that environment, to exceed expectations and soar all the way to the fourth seed in the Eastern Conference.
But a wakeup call came in the postseason when every team suddenly was as prepared every night as Tom Thibodeau had the Knicks all season long. A reminder was handed down: The team still needs to find more talent.
The first chance comes Thursday night at the NBA Draft when the Knicks hold the No. 19 and 21 picks in the first round, as well as overall picks 32 and 58. But after rising into the playoffs —following decades of dysfunction and struggles — the notion of adding three or four rookies is not the way forward for Thibodeau and the Knicks front office.
So while our mock drafts may speculate on what the Knicks could get with those picks, it is proving to be a test of team president Leon Rose and his staff to find a trade partner, either packaging the picks to move up or to send some picks out in a deal for veteran help for Julius Randle and RJ Barrett.
While there has been much speculation about what the Knicks would target in a move up, the most likely name for them to chase is Oregon wing Chris Duarte. The 24-year-old skipped the Draft Combine but still has risen up the board, with expectations now that he could jump into the lottery. At 6-6 and having shot 42.4% from beyond the arc and earning Pac-12 All-Defensive Team honors, Duarte’s odd path from the Dominican Republic to two years of high school in Troy, New York, and then two seasons of JUCO ball before heading to Oregon has him the oldest first-round prospect in the draft.
"I’m 24 years old and my response is, if you want to win right now, go ahead and take me," Duarte said in a predraft Zoom interview. "If you want to win six or eight years later, go ahead and draft an 18-year-old kid and develop him."
While Duarte may be the choice for Thibodeau and a win-now approach, they’re not the only team interested in Duarte — and in winning now rather than a protracted rebuild. If Golden State keeps the No. 7 and 14 picks, that's a possible landing spot. Reports had Golden State turning down a Knicks’ overture of the No. 19 and 21 picks in exchange for No. 14.
The Knicks' most glaring need is for a point guard. If they hold their current spots, Auburn’s Sharife Cooper, regarded as the best passer in the draft, might be the target. He is just 6-1 but has quickness, and scouts believe he can become a solid shooter in addition to his current ability to get to the rim.
Other names to watch include Kentucky’s athletic big man Isaiah Jackson, Baylor guard Jared Butler, Stanford wing Ziaire Williams, LSU’s high-scoring Cam Thomas and point guards Ayo Dosunmu of Illinois and Bones Hyland of VCU.
Potential Knicks Draft Picks
Chris Duarte, Oregon, 6-6, G: Sure, he’s 24, but he is a two-way wing who shot 42.4% from three and averaged nearly two steals per game. Knicks might need to move up to be In play for him.
Sharife Cooper, Auburn, 6-1, PG: Not in the same class as Cade Cunningham and Jalen Suggs, but might be the best passing point in the draft. Tom Thibodeau likes players who can get to their spots and the rim, and Cooper can do that.
Ziaire Williams, Stanford, 6-8, Wing: Nearly a 40-inch vertical at the Draft Combine, former high school teammate of sons of LeBron James and Dwyane Wade lost some luster in one college season, but still an intriguing prospect.
Isaiah Jackson, Kentucky, 6-10, F-C: We couldn’t do this without a Kentucky player repped by CAA, right? Athletic big with face-up skills.
Trey Murphy III, Virginia, 6-8, Wing: Knicks have passed on heady two-ways players like Mikal Bridges and Tyrese Haliburton in recent years, but might not if they get a shot this time at Murphy. Very good shooter even if not a tremendous shot creator and a smart defender.