Regardless of their roster, Knicks should draft best available player
The Knicks have a franchise power forward and three point guards on their roster, but that shouldn’t preclude them from taking a player at either position in the NBA Draft.
“When you’re a losing team, you take the best player you can get,” a longtime NBA talent-evaluator said about the Knicks. “If you have to move someone, you move someone. If you feel strongly about a point guard, take him and figure it out from there.”
There are still about 12 weeks until the draft, but it’s what the Knicks have been gearing up for most of the season.
This has always been a rebuilding year. Jeff Hornacek is trying to win games until the very end, but the Knicks realistically weren’t a playoff team. Not with this roster, and certainly not with Kristaps Porzingis playing just 48 games, and Tim Hardaway Jr. missing 22 himself.
The Knicks need athleticism, a real small forward and defensive players who can guard multiple positions. But they also need talent, so positions shouldn’t matter when they draft. GM Scott Perry, whose draft history with prior teams hasn’t been stellar, can’t miss here.
With five games to go, the Knicks have the ninth-worst record in the league. If they beat the odds in next month’s lottery — they currently have a 6.1 percent chance of picking in the top 3 — the Knicks could be in position to take Duke power forward Marvin Bagley III.
Yes, the Knicks have Porzingis. But if you can take Bagley, perhaps the top athlete in the draft, you take him. You don’t know when Porzingis will return from his torn ACL.
If the Knicks stay at nine or move back a spot or two — they currently have a 93.9 percent chance to pick nine-to-11 — point guards Trae Young and Collin Sexton could be available.
The Knicks have Trey Burke, Frank Ntilikina, who is playing more off-guard now, and Emmanuel Mudiay. Burke has played well and seems to have positioned himself to be the Knicks starting point guard heading into next season.
But don’t be surprised if they try to acquire another point guard this offseason. There are no long-term guarantees with Burke.
If Young is there when they pick — he’s been compared to Steph Curry, or Sexton, who has drawn comparisons to Eric Bledsoe — the Knicks have to consider them.
Of course, Villanova small forward Mikal Bridges makes sense if he’s available and he would be a good pick. He’s a “3-and-D” player. He can shoot, defend and they desperately need an athletic small forward. The Knicks have so many needs, they’re not going to fill them all with one lottery pick.
But Perry needs to make the right choice in his first draft as Knicks general manager.
“They can’t look for a specific position,” the scout said. “You don’t pass on talent.”
Perry looks smart for taking a chance on Burke. Signed in training camp and assigned to the G League, Burke has been the most positive thing to come out of another dismal Knicks’ season.
In his first two starts as a Knick, Burke scored 19 in a win at Washington Sunday, had a career-high 42 points and 12 assists the next night in an overtime loss to Charlotte.
“Trey was wearing me out,” said Hornets guard Kemba Walker, who ultimately lifted the Hornets to the win with the game-tying three in regulation and 11 points in OT.
Washington’s Bradley Beal was frustrated after Sunday’s game because he believed the Wizards should have known how to defend Burke since he was with them last season.
“He was on a mission, plain and simple,” Beal said. “We played him like we didn’t know what he was capable of doing. It was kind of statement game for him. He made it personal.”
Over the last few weeks, Burke probably has played his best ball since his rookie season with Utah in 2013-14. The Knicks are his third team in three years. Hornets coach Steve Clifford notices a change in Burke.
“He’s on the attack. He’s playing with great energy,” Clifford said. “The NBA’s hard. He had a great career in Michigan but it’s a huge step up. Some guys can get it right away. Some guys take three or four years. He’s a talented offense player. Maybe it’s taking him a little bit longer to figure it out.”
Shouldn’t have freed Willy
Some members of the Knicks organization didn’t want to trade Willy Hernangomez. The move was surprising to opposing league executives as well.
“That guy is a pretty good player,” one Eastern Conference official said. “That didn’t make any sense to give up on him. Why would you give up on him?”
The Knicks are all about developing now. They should have held on to the 23-year-old skilled center and pushed Hernangomez even more to work harder and muscle his way into the rotation.
Enes Kanter and Kyle O’Quinn earned it. But Hernangomez should have had a future with the Knicks, and not been sent to Charlotte for second-round picks in 2020 and 2021.
Hernangomez played well against the Knicks Tuesday. He looks in better shape and he played with intensity against his old team, finishing with 12 points, five rebounds, a block and a steal in 17 minutes.
He has flaws defensively, but Hernangomez is a versatile scorer. His play has improved and he’s getting more minutes since Clifford said two weeks that Hernangomez needed to work harder.
“He’s been so much better,” Clifford said. “What I’ve talked to him about is the team part. Everybody views player development as the shot, the post move, the one-on-one ‘iso’ play. None of that matters if the team can’t function when you’re out there.
“He needed to pick things up quicker. He’s done that. He’s allowed us to play better. He’s rolling more. He wants to touch the ball on the perimeter a lot. ‘Roll. Roll. Collapse the defense.’ It makes more sense. It’s not what’s good for the individual player, it’s what’s best for the team. Rolling has helped him and helped us. He can score in the paint. Defensively he’s been a lot better so he’s playing better.”
* Utah’s Quin Snyder is one of the best coaches in the NBA, and deserves Coach of the Year consideration. Gordon Hayward left in free agency, Rudy Gobert has missed 26 games, and the Jazz is seventh in the West, one-game out of fourth after going 24-5 since Jan. 24.
* Amazing stat about LeBron James shows that he hasn’t slowed down: At 33, James is the oldest player in NBA history with at least 2,000 points, 500 rebounds, and 500 assists in a season. James was the youngest player to do that in 2004-05 as a 20-year-old.
* When eight Knicks scored in double figures last Sunday against Washington, it was the first time it happened since Nov. 15, 1997 when John Starks, Patrick Ewing, Larry Johnson, Allan Houston, Chris Mills, Charles Oakley, Charlie Ward and Chris Childs did it against the Kings.