Obviously, one of Phil Jackson's top priorities in the early part of this offseason will be obtaining a second-round pick for the Knicks in what is a very deep draft. The top of the first round is littered with quality talent, so while it would be nice to be able to jump up there, the reality is the Knicks don't really have that option. But a second-rounder is a real possibility -- though one we currently have not acquired. So with that said, our only option is to look at possible undrafted free agent acquisitions following this year's NBA Draft.
To start: We don't have much cash to play with. Less than $4 million comes off the books, and it's closer to $3 million if the team chooses to pick up Jeremy Tyler's option. The Knicks are well over the luxury tax and will be paying a hefty penalty under nearly any circumstance. Luckily, undrafted free agents don't cost much, and their contracts aren't guaranteed (at least not initially), so there's little harm in picking up and/or scouting a bunch of these guys.
Based on who's currently declared for the draft, and who is projected to be selected among the draft's 60 picks, here are some of our potential targets:
Jordan Bachynski, C/Arizona State
Bachynski's incredibly tall (7'2") even if he still has some weight and strength to add (currently at just 248 pounds). But given his improvement over the course of his career at Arizona State, there could be something worth investing in for the Knicks, especially if the new coaching staff includes a big man expert. He could possibly get selected if there's a late run on centers in the second round, but otherwise, should be around for the Knicks and other teams to sign following the draft. Should he end up a Knick, he'll need some work on the boards (averaged around eight rebounds per game senior year) in Summer League, though blocks (four per game) and scoring (11.5 points per game) appear to be in solid shape already.
Wang Zhelin, C/China
Could he be the next Yao Ming, or the next Yi Jianlian? If it's the latter, at least the Knicks would spend little on him beyond a non-guaranteed rookie deal. Another seven-footer, he has the size to succeed, though some scouts have noted he lacks strength and explosiveness under the rim. Perhaps he could benefit from some time in an NBA weight room, and a summer competing against NBA-level competition? It's worth a shot, I think, if he's an option to be picked up.
Alec Brown, C/UW-Green Bay
A third seven-footer, Brown's still a bit small at just 212 pounds, and any investment in him would likely include a rapid weight-gain regime, so he's not abused by opposing forwards. While it may make some sense to try and move him to the 4-spot instead due to his agility and lower weight, he's not much of a shooter or rebounder. The main draw for him is that he was a large part of a successful season for UW-Green Bay this past year, appears to be a quick study and can potentially round into a solid reserve. I wouldn't grab him over the two centers listed above, though.
Aaron Craft, PG/Ohio State
Preface: Like most non-Buckeye fans, I hate Aaron Craft, his rosey cheeks and his ability to get sportscasters to go all "Tebow" on him despite diminishing on-court returns over the course of his career. But at the same time, he is a point guard who led Ohio State for one of the school's much successful four-year runs in its history, and at the very least, his "scappiness" could actually be of use on the defensive end. More of a passer than a shooter, it could also be a nice change of pace vs Ray Felton at point. There's also the opportunity for him to learn from Pablo Prigioni, who Craft would be smart to try and emulate in many ways.
C.J. Fair, F/Syracuse
No, this isn't just a homer pick on my part. In a different draft, Fair probably looks mighty appealing in the second round, but here, there are just too many names in front of him at the forward positions (especially the 3, where he'd primarily play). Fair is not scared of contact under the rim, knows how to get rebounds and while his mid-range appeared to drop off this past season with increased usage in a two-man Orange offense, he is still a very good shooter from that part of the floor. The question is whether or not he can get his three-point shooting back (declined precipitously from 2012-13 to 2013-14), and if he can put his free-throw shooting woes behind him as well. Overall, though, he's a great character guy, actively tries to learn from veterans and is a capable defender (yes, even despite the 2-3 zone upbringing). If we're looking for a physical swingman, Fair could do much of what C.J. Leslie did last summer, but better.
Bryce Cotton, G/Providence
Cotton's a combo guard capable of leading an offense however he's needed. As a senior last season, he averaged nearly 22 points per game and six assists for a Providence squad that went on a tear in the Big East Tournament to get them to the Big Dance. While certainly a bit undersized (6'1" and 165 pounds), he's a strong finisher who doesn't just rely on perimeter shooting to rack up point totals. He could use a big of help on defense, but considering how the Knick guards played defense this year, it's not as if he's that much worse than the current options. If the Knicks don't grab him, he'll catch on somewhere. And given his upside, I think he'll end up on a roster come the fall.
Melvin Ejim, SF/Iowa State
Ejim starred for a great Iowa State team this past season, perfecting hero ball as necessary, while shooting well (if not always efficiently) from both the perimeter and the paint. At just 6'6" and playing primarily at the three, you wouldn't guess he crashed the boards, and yet, he's averaged more than 2.5 offensive boards and over eight total boards per game last season. A tenacious competitor, he's gotten more aggressive over the course of his career and still may be climbing to the top of his potential. He's not the first choice for the Knicks, as he fills a similar role to J.R. Smith (though not a chucker) and Melo. But could be worth a flyer if other options can't pan out.
Sean Kilpatrick, SG/Cincinnati
More than any other player on this list, Kilpatrick's simply a shooter -- a guy who needs the ball in his hands and will put it up whenever given the chance. He has some bad habits to break from his time with the Bearcats (being the focal point of an offense, chucking up nearly eight threes per game while hitting under 35 percent), but if he gets past those, perhaps there's a serviceable NBA player underneath. The key for him in any Summer League scenario will be to work on efficiency. Scoring 20.6 points per game is great, but not if it's on 15 shots and a low shooting percentage. He's a work in progress, but could pay dividends if a team is willing to stash him in the D-League for a couple years and let him fix things on both ends of the floor.
What do you think? Any other players slated to go undrafted that you'd want to take a look at? Obviously this can be rehashed if Phil manages to get us a pick, too, and we can start looking at potential second-round prospects (much better collection of prospects).