Scott Perry had done all his homework. He had brought in more players to work out than we can list here. He had talked to their college coaches. He had talked to some of their parents. He had made judgments about their skill and character and how they would fit with the Knicks’ current personnel.
Yes, the Knicks general manager, along with Knicks president Steve Mills, had done his homework. But all that preparation and planning couldn’t change the fact that there were three very different players with three very different risk-reward quotients on the board when the Knicks got ready to make the No. 9 pick in Thursday night’s NBA Draft.
The Knicks passed on taking Michael Porter Jr., the most dangerous pick on the board given that he had both great talent and great question marks after undergoing back surgery that limited his play to three games last season at Missouri. They also passed on taking Mikal Bridges, the safe pick from Villanova who could have probably stepped into a starter’s role but has a definite ceiling.
By taking 18-year-old Kevin Knox, a still developing 6-9 forward from Kentucky who has been compared to Jayson Tatum and Paul George, the Knicks showed they are willing to take limited risks, which is a good thing after some of the crazier first-round picks that the team has made over the years. The Knicks believe he is a player who can contribute some his first season and is a good match for what they are trying to do under new coach David Fizdale.
“Kevin fits what we’re going to be about,” Perry said. “ He’s long. He’s athletic. He can play multiple positions. I think he has tremendous upside. He’s coming from a program in Kentucky that has produced a lot of great pros. We know he’s been challenged there . . . We thought he was an excellent fit.”
The pick was Perry’s first as the Knicks general manager and its success could go a long way in defining his contributions to the team. Knicks fans were not too happy with last year’s draft when the team took Frank Ntilikina over some other point guards, including Donovan Mitchell, who has turned into a star for Utah.
Plenty of Knicks fans wanted the team to gamble by taking Porter and were seen booing after the pick. If Porter ends up being his generation’s Greek Freak, this draft will be recalled for years.
Mills and Perry, however, believe that Knox is the type of player that others will want to play with, that he will help make the Knicks a more attractive destination when they go after free agents hard in the summer of 2019.
“Our goal is to make this an attractive place,” Mills said. “This is our first opportunity . . . We sat and talked with players and wanted them to get a really good feel about directionally where we are going, who we are as people and what we see for this organization. I think we did a good job of that of making the players feel comfortable and understanding who we are and what we’re doing. That will carry over into how free agents begin to feel about our organization and our team and our coach.”
Knox, who was booed by some fans at Barclays Center Thursday night, certainly has the steely kind of attitude that he’s going to need to play at Madison Square Garden.
“They booed Porzingis [on draft night] and look where he is now,” Knox said Thursday night. “That’s the same mindset I’m going to have. They can chant Michael Porter all they want. But they got Kevin Knox, and I’m willing to work and I’m willing to get better.”
Willing to work and willing to get better. Not a bad motto. For a team that is rebuilding again after missing the playoffs for five straight years, this is exactly what they will have to do to get back.