The last time the Knicks had a top-three draft pick (that didn't belong to the Bulls), they drafted Patrick Ewing and laid the groundwork for what became a decade of contention. Every year from 1992 through 2000, the team won at least one playoff series. Can you even imagine that now?
If the Knicks finish with the worst record, they're assured of a top-four pick. Let's take a look at two of the big name prospects who may be meeting the little table some time in 2015: Stanley Johnson of the University of Arizona and Emmanuel Mudiay of the Chinese league's Guangdong Southern Tigers. The 411 on Johnson is courtesy of Jason Bartel, who covers the U of A for Arizona Desert Swarm; the Mudiay musings are from Ricky O'Donnell of SB Nation College Basketball.
How would you describe the player's game? What are his strengths? Which areas need work?
Bartel: "His game is very well-rounded, especially for a college freshman. He's definitely comfortable in the post, hitting mid-range jumpers, and even staying out beyond the arc. And his defense in Arizona's man-to-man system is improving. He can hold his own against a wide range of players, and has been able to guard a diverse group of guys so far this season. When his mindset is right, he can do just about everything, but I would say that's the thing that needs work the most, is his concentration. As evidenced in the game against Arizona State last Sunday, and Sean Miller brought it up afterwards, he plays to the scoreboard a little bit, and lost concentration in the second half when the Wildcats were up 20 basically the entire time. But when he's in the game mentally, it's scary what he's able to do."
O'Donnell: "Mudiay is a power guard cut from the same cloth as John Wall and Derrick Rose. He's good because he's bigger, stronger and faster than any opposing point guard. At 6'5", 200 pounds, and with a wingspan over 6'8", he's going to be one of the biggest point guards in the NBA the moment he gets drafted. He also reportedly has elite athleticism. I saw him play at the McDonald's All-American game and he seemed to live up the hype athletically. The obvious area of weakness is outside shooting. Wall and Rose struggled with that part of the game as well early in their careers. Obviously, there's a lot of responsibility that comes with playing point guard in the NBA, so he'll have to continue to evolve the way he sees the floor and takes care of the ball."
What's been his high point so far this year?
Bartel: "I would say his high point was the Maui Invitational, especially the championship game against San Diego State. Johnson was named the tournament's MVP, and had 18 points and 9 rebounds in 37 minutes in that SDSU game. He also had a total of seven steals and four turnovers in those three games in Hawaii."
O'Donnell: "Mudiay's overseas experience went well. He averaged 17.7 points, six rebounds and 5.9 assists per game over 10 contests. He took 15 shots per game and made 49.7 of them. Check out Real GM for the rest of his numbers. He's supposedly done in China because of an ankle injury. It doesn't seem like he's going to play basketball again until the next NBA season starts."
How has he progressed? Is he the same player he was when the season began, or have you seen growth (or regression) in his game?
Bartel: "I would say his defense is consistently getting better, and that probably comes with practicing against a guy like Rondae Hollis-Jefferson every day. Hollis-Jefferson is arguably the best defensive player in the nation this year, so you have to think some of that would rub off on Johnson, and it has. When you look at his offensive numbers, he's stayed fairly even throughout the season, and I think a lot of that goes back to the whole mental mindset thing. Arizona had a decent amount of blowouts in a row where everyone was losing concentration in the second half, not just Johnson. I would say he regressed a bit in the loss to UNLV as he tried to carry the team on his back, which is not what needed to happen at all. But I think the team as a whole needed that loss as a reality check, especially a guy like Johnson."
Do they remind you of any players you've seen before?
Bartel: "I think the popular thing to say here is LeBron based purely on his physical stature, and his well-rounded offensive game. Now I'm not saying he's LeBron James. But I am saying he's a freshman in college that is listed at 6-7, 245, and can play anywhere from shooting guard to power forward at any given time on either end of the floor. I've seen a lot of Kawhi Leonard or even Ron Artest tossed around as well. I think he's a little better offensively than those guys are and were, though. I watched Kawhi a lot when he was at San Diego State, and Stanley is a better player all-around at this point than Kawhi was. Physically, he's unlike anything that we've seen in Tucson before. Again, I think it all comes down to him staying in games mentally, and I think with time, he'll develop that killer instinct and be a force to be reckoned with in the league at some point."
O'Donnell: "Power guard like Wall and Rose."
What, if anything, can you tell us about the player's personality? About his background? Do you know enough about him to have an opinion on how he might deal with life as a top draft pick, and coming to NY?
Bartel: "I can't say I know him very well personally or a lot about his background. He went to Mater Dei in California and then came to Arizona, so he's definitely been in the spotlight for a good chunk of his life now. Talking to him a couple times after games this year, I can tell you he's a very standup guy, and won't avoid any questions that are thrown at him. But Arizona also tends to shield its athletes from talking to the media a lot, so I don't know how any Arizona player would fare when going to a market like New York without getting a lot of coaching on that front, to be honest."
O'Donnell: "Mudiay was considered to be the No. 2 prospect in the high school class of 2014 behind Jahlil Okafor by some. If he would have honored his commitment to SMU, there's a chance the Mustangs could have been among the best teams in the country. He decided to play overseas for the money, but also because he would have likely had trouble getting cleared by the NCAA. He went to a Dallas area high school run by Deion Sanders and it doesn't sound like everything was aboveboard there.
"I talked to him for about five minutes at the McDonald's All-American game and he seemed very shy. He didn't appear all that comfortable in front of the media. I remember I asked him what type of music he's been listening to, and he said he hadn't been listening to anything. I thought that was hilarious.
"I think the Knicks should want a big man in this draft, particularly Okafor or Karl Towns. It's just easier to find a competent point guard than it is to find a two-way seven-footer. If they miss on Okafor and Towns in the draft, Mudiay wouldn't be a bad way to go. For real, though, the Knicks just need, like, one guy to play interior defense. New York might be a team that would take Willie Cauley-Stein over Mudiay."