By Liam Beatus
The long off-season wait for fans of the New York Knicks continues. Phil Jackson proclaimed that he expected his team to make the playoffs in his first season as president. Not so much. New York limped through the season finishing at 17-65, the second-worst record in the NBA. The Knicks landed the fourth pick in the lottery after the bouncing balls didn’t go their way.
Jackson traded away shooting guards Iman Shumpert and JR Smith to the Cavaliers for a mere second-round draft pick, a move that made Jackson look foolish after the two ex-Knicks contributed mightily to Cleveland throughout the season and in the playoffs. Jackson traded away Tyson Chandler for a broken-down Jose Calderon and Samuel Dalembert. Chandler rejuvenated his career in Dallas leaving Jackson on the short end again. The upcoming NBA Draft offers Phil Jackson a shot at redemption. Who will he pick?
Russell played one season as point guard at Ohio State and he elevated every player’s game on the court, playing like a veteran floor general and a veteran with great poise and a high basketball IQ. Russell stands 6’4” and handles the ball as well as any other prospect at the guard position in the 2015 draft. A playmaker, his game can translate easily to the NBA. He makes clean passes and creates his own shots. Although he averaged 19.3 points, 5.7 rebounds, and 5 assists per game, his athleticism pales in comparison with other potential first-round picks, which will present problems for him when plays defense against the likes of Russell Westbrook and Derrick Rose. Russell could go as high as the second pick. If he’s still on the board when the Knicks make the fourth selection, New York won’t pass him up.
Where he fits: The Knicks desperately need a point guard who can contribute immediately. Russell fits the bill.
Jahlil Okafor was the number one high-school prospect in the country when he graduated from Whitney Young High School on Chicago’s West Side. He starred at Duke, playing for legendary Coach K. Although the Blue Devils won the NCAA Tournament, Okafor’s draft stock took a hit after some deficiencies in his game came to light during the season. The consensus number-one pick on most mock drafts throughout the regular season, he fell to number two behind Karl-Anthony Towns.
At 6’11” with mammoth hands, he makes a dominant post presence with incredible footwork and can put the ball in the basket from short range. Average defense and sub-par rebounding diminish his stock as an NBA prospect. His defense must improve dramatically to compete against the likes of Anthony Davis and Blake Griffin. His rebounding will improve when he moves to the pro game. Okafor’s offense should secure his selection with one of the first two picks. On the outside chance that the Lakers take Russell — a natural fit with Kobe — Okafor could fall.
Where he fits: Okafor could fill the Knicks need for a secondary scorer given the strength of his offensive game, which is remarkable for a 19-year-old center.
The X-factor in this draft, Kristaps Porzingis, played in Spain, where he averaged 21.7 minutes per game, 10.7 points, 4.8 rebounds, and hit about 50% of his shots. GMs, wary about drafting another bust from overseas, seem to be playing it very cautious with him.
Slotted as the fifth-best player in the draft for most of the college season, he impressed scouts during individual workouts with his offensive post presence and his dunking ability. Lanky, his body type will allow him to bulk up. He will need time to adjust to the NBA, especially transitioning to the defensive game. Porzingis’ size, athleticism, shot-blocking ability and work ethic give him strong upside potential.
Where he fits: The Knicks will not be championship-ready for the foreseeable future. If they decide that Porzingis is “the real deal,” he could pay off in the long term. The Knicks need a seven-footer. Phil Jackson would be rolling the dice with Porzingis as the fourth pick.
Mudiay played high-school ball at Prime Prep Academy in Texas. After Larry Brown recruited him heavily to go to Southern Methodist University, he decided to play in China for a season. In 12 games prior to being injured, Mudiay averaged 18 points, 6.25 rebounds, 5.9 assists, and 1.6 steals per game while shooting 47.8 percent from the floor.
The Congo native plays as a big point guard at 6’5” with unreal athleticism. He rebounds well and plays with a high motor. Mudiay displays a knack for attacking the rim and his size gives him the potential to be a defensive star. His most glaring weaknesses? Poor shooting from mid-range and the three-point arc. In today’s NBA, shooting guards must hit from long range. How will his game in China translate to the NBA? He will not be as NBA-ready as Russell is.
Where he fits: Similarly to Porzingis, taking Mudiay would be a big risk for Phil Jackson. Unlike Porzingis, Mudiay cannot shoot and does not mesh with Jackson’s Triangle Offense. Mudiay’s draft stock plummeted out of the top three within the last month. He could fall as far as the sixth pick, which belongs to the Sacramento Kings.
Okafor’s teammate Justise Winslow shined in the NCAA Tournament and proved to be just as valuable to Duke as Okafor. Under Coach K, Winslow averaged 12.6 points and 6.5 rebounds on a stacked team. Winslow is only 19, but his muscle and speed qualify him for a starting role in the NBA. At 6’6”, Winslow can jump and fights for every rebound. A strong defender, his size will translate well to the NBA-style defense. He can attack the rim and holds great potential as a post player. His leadership compensates for his weak shooting game. The Knicks kept their eye on Winslow all season.
Where he fits: Winslow plays the only position the Knicks do not need: small forward. Not a potential star like Towns, Okafor, Porzingis, or Russell, Winslow can be a standout two-way player, something in short supply on the Knicks. Carmelo Anthony played well at power forward so drafting Winslow could pay immediate dividends. Drafting Winslow makes a lot of sense, but Jackson needs to look at drafting a big man or a point guard.