COMMENTARY | Although the likes of Kurt Thomas and Jason Kidd are gone from what was the NBA's oldest roster last season, the New York Knicks still have to get younger as much as they need to get better.
Thus, with a lone pick available to them in this year's draft on Thursday night (June 27), the Knicks need to choose as wisely as they did two years ago, when they selected starter Iman Shumpert, New York's only player on its current roster to be younger than 28 years old by start of next season.
In what appears to be one of the most unpredictable and wide open NBA drafts in many years, expect the Knicks to approach the draft in sort of a three-tiered hierarchy of options, depending on how the 23 first-round selections prior to theirs shake out.
After the glaring spotlight Roy Hibbert and the Indiana Pacers placed on the Knicks' rebounding and interior defense woes during last season's Eastern Conference semifinals series between the teams, New York should first seek a front court player who can make an immediate impact next year.
Beyond that, a steady point guard who can provide significant backup minutes to starter Raymond Felton and even Pablo Prigioni (should he remain in New York) would be sought.
And if neither of those possibilities seem plausible, assume the Knicks will simply go after the best remaining player on the board, with an eye toward a scoring shooting guard or small forward, in case J.R. Smith (who opted out of his player option with the Knicks this week) bolts for more money outside of New York, or to complement Smith and NBA scoring champion Carmelo Anthony.
Going Big is the Biggest Priority
Ideally, the Knicks would love to take Gorgui Dieng , who at 6-foot-11, 230 pounds, and a mature 23 years old, was a major piece at each end of the floor on last year's Louisville's national championship team, as he anchored the country's top-ranked defense, with a seven-foot, four-inch wingspan. Dieng is tough, can rebound, block shots, pass well and might provide a good offensive, low-post presence that New York sorely needs. But Dieng could be gone, just before the Knicks select, perhaps just two spots earlier, to New York's crosstown rival, the Brooklyn Nets, who are looking for the same type of player.
A similar problem might be with French center Rudy Gobert , whose great blend of athleticism and size could have him going to Indiana one pick before the Knicks select. If you think Dieng has a long wingspan, the 7-foot-2 Gobert surpasses even that, at a ridiculous seven feet, eight-and-a-half inches. He can be a defensive game changer with a great ability to block and alter shots in the paint, but other than finishing on pick-and-rolls and scoring on put backs, he lacks some necessary offensive skills (and New York already has that in Tyson Chandler).
Enter Tony Mitchell, out of North Texas, who like Dieng, has already worked out with the Knicks. At 6-foot-9, 236 pounds, Mitchell is a gifted, but raw player who had the red flag of missing playing time in college due to academic issues. Although Mitchell can score and rebound, he showed a propensity to be offensively inefficient, with a low field goal percentage and a tendency to be turnover prone. He may be a project that would be a risky move for New York to make, yet with the right development and coaching, Mitchell could blossom at the next level.
If the Knicks opt to reach a little, they could look to Kansas center Jeff Withey , whom many believe is a second-round talent, but whom has also drawn serious first-round interest from the San Antonio Spurs (if one of the best-run organizations in the NBA likes Withey, the Knicks should ponder the same).
While he's a little thin (at 222 pounds) for his seven-foot frame, Withey is a 23-year-old who was seasoned at one of the nation's top programs for four years, and his seven-foot, three-inch wingspan allowed him to block nearly four shots per game as a senior. Withey also scored 13.7 points on efficient 58 percent shooting while grabbing 8.5 rebounds per game last year on a team that earned a top seed in the NCAA tournament and was moments away from reaching the Final Four.
Colorado State center Colton Iverson -- all even feet, 263 pounds of him -- will likely be chosen somewhere in the second round on Thursday night. The Knicks could think of grabbing him in the first round because of his great size and the near double-double he averaged as a senior last year. But doing so might be too much of a reach for a player who is thought to be a mid-second round talent.
A Backup Plan: Finding a Backup Point Guard
Should all of the aforementioned bigs be off the draft board before the New York selects, or if the Knicks aren't quite comfortable with picking any of them, their next option will be to land a solid backup point guard.
Shane Larkin would fit the bill nicely there, but the former Miami star figures to be long gone before New York could take him.
Other interesting options at the point could be obtainable however.
Murray's State's Isaiah Caanan is undersized at 6 feet, 188 pounds, and isn't a pass-first point guard by any stretch, but he can score from both inside and outside the 3-point line, and was a big reason the Racers produced an impressive 106-26 record in the four years that Caanan ran their offense.
Another mid-major, big-time scorer New York is targeting is South Dakota State's Nate Wolters, whom I had the pleasure of watching courtside a couple of times during the 2K Sports Classic at Hofstra, in November. In a loss to a bad Hofstra team, Wolters, despite not playing one of his better games, still had a double-double (that included 10 rebounds) by halftime, a game-high 25 points on solid 9 of 18 shooting and caught fire down the stretch to almost singlehandedly tie the game before his Jackrabbits lost on a 3-point buzzer beater. No less than 19 scouts from 14 different NBA teams were invited to the game to see Wolters play that night.
The next day, Wolters posted 22 points, 10 assists and six rebounds, and impressively willed his team late, to a 78-77 victory, looking every bit the first-round player he was projected to be.
A little over four months later, while covering the 2013 NIT championship game, played on the Knicks' home floor, I saw Las Vegas product Pierre Jackson finish a brilliant two years at the Division I level by leading Baylor to its first postseason men's basketball national title of any kind. Before cutting down the nets that night, the small (5-foot-10) but quick Jackson scored 17 points and handed out 10 assists.
Jackson entered that game with a Big 12-leading 19.9 points and seven assists per game. After guiding Southern Idaho to a junior college national title, Jackson finished his senior year at Baylor as the first player from one of the NCAA's six major conferences to lead his league in points and assists since Arizona's Jason Terry did the same in the Pac-10 during the 1998-99 season.
One other point guard possibility for New York could be the young and small, but talented Dennis Shroeder , who has starred in Germany. The 19-year-old is a thin 165 pounds for his 6-foot-2 height, but he's effective in setting others up via the pick-and-roll, getting to the hoop off of a quick first step. He can also catch and shoot well and has a good ability to change speeds.
A Last Resort: Selecting the Best Available Talent, Probably a Scoring Wing
So, what happens if all of the front court and point guard help the Knicks were counting on is already taken by the time they pick? In that case, they'll go with the best player left, with a focus on a scoring shooting guard or small forward.
Tim Hardaway, Jr. might stick around long enough, and the 6-foot-6, second-leading scorer from last year's Michigan team that reached the national title game would either be a great replacement for a departing Smith, or could give New York another scoring option -- something the Knicks needed and lacked once they got into the second round of the playoffs last month. Chances are though, Hardaway will be snapped up just a few spots ahead of New York's slot.
But a couple of other proven college scorers from out West, with very similar frames to Hardaway's, in California's Allen Crabbe (6-foot-6), a pure shooter, and San Diego State's Jamaal Franklin (6-foot-5), could each fit nicely into head coach Mike Woodson's offensive rotation. Worth noting about Franklin was that he was the only Division I college player in the nation last year who led his team in points, rebounds, assists and steals.
However They Go, the Knicks Must Get It Right
Considering the Knicks' cap inflexibility and past recent draft failings (taking Channing Frye ahead of Andrew Bynum, Danny Granger and Jarrett Jack in 2005; Renaldo Balkman ahead of Rajon Rondo a year later; Jordan Hill ahead of Brandon Jennings, Jrue Holiday and Ty Lawson in 2009; and Andy Rautins and Landry Fields over Lance Stephenson one year after that), New York has little margin for error to add a second key rotation player under 28 years of age, besides Shumpert. So, for the sake of next season and beyond, whatever the Knicks do, they have to get it right on Thursday night.
Jonathan Wagner is a regular Knicks contributor for Yahoo! Sports, a Knicks beat writer for New York Sports Day, and a co-host discussing the Knicks and other sports topics on the New York Sports Geeks internet radio show. Follow Jonathan on Twitter @JonathanJWagner.
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