Two of the big-name free agents Knick fans (and management) are salivating over this summer are Marc Gasol and Jimmy Butler. Gasol turns 30 next year and will command around $19M. Butler turns 26, and with a max deal will earn a shade under $16M.
What if the Knicks drafted a 19-year old who'd grow into the next Gasol or Butler? And what if he only cost slightly more than they're paying Jason Smith? SB Nation college hoops guru Ricky O'Donnell gives us the scoop on Duke University's promising freshmen phenoms Jahlil Okafor and Justise Winslow.
How would you describe Okafor and Winslow's games? What are their strengths? Which areas need work?
Okafor: Jahlil Okafor is the most polished low post scorer to enter the college game in years. That's a phrase that has probably been repeated so many times at this point that it's started to lose its meaning, but that doesn't make it any less true.
Opposing college centers just have no chance against him. That's one reason to root for a Kentucky-Duke national championship game: an Okafor/Willie Cauley-Stein matchup would be about as close as you could get to seeing Jahlil go up against an NBA caliber defender. It isn't going to happen against many others.
The strength of his game is definitely low-post scoring. He's so big and already has so many moves that I think he'll be a good scorer from day one in the NBA. He's also an excellent passer. Imagine putting Jahlil at the five, Melo at the four and shooters at the other three positions. That would be awfully hard for opposing defenses to stop.
I'd say he needs to work on his defense. That takes time. I saw Okafor play a few times in high school - we're both from Chicago - and he really never needed to try on defense there. He's learning under Coach K and the schemes and his responsibilities within them will only get more advanced in the pros. He's just so big and so long, though, that I think he'll grow into a good defender eventually.
Winslow: I really dig Justise Winslow's game because he's the type of player who can make an impact without needing the ball in his hands. He already has a pro body at 6'6, 225 pounds, and he seems to have the lateral quickness and mindset to develop into a great wing defender.
I think that's Winslow role in the the NBA: lockdown defender who is good in transition and makes a living off cuts offensively. He's hitting about 36% of his threes on 3.5 attempts per game, so that's encouraging. One number that jumps out to me is that he's taking 42.7 percent of his shots around the rim, per hoop-math, and is making over 64 percent of them. He's already much more physically developed than most college freshmen and that's been a big help for him early this season.
What's been their high point this year?
Okafor: It feels like every game is a new high point for Okafor. I remember a few passes he threw during the UConn game really opened people's eyes that he's more than just an interior scorer. That ability to pass out of the double team is going to be so crucial for him.
He was also great in a marquee game at Louisville this weekend. Whenever the Cardinals threatened to make a run in the second half, Duke would dump the ball inside and Okafor would get two. It's just that easy for him at this level.
Winslow: Okafor and Tyus Jones got more publicity than Winslow entering the season, in part because they were a packaged deal in recruiting. That's why these two plays Winslow made early in the season sort of felt like his coming out party:
He scored 14 points or more in each of his first five games. I think that's when everyone knew he would likely be a top 10 pick this year.
How has each progressed? Are they the same players they were when the season began, or have you seen growth (or regression)?
Jahlil has been solid the entire way through. I think he's been a better rebounder than some thought he would be. I think there were concerns about his athleticism coming into the season from some corners, but he's proven to be fine there. Those "below the rim" tags don't really fit.
Winslow hasn't played as well lately. He shot 3-for-13 in a loss to N.C. State, but the whole team was off that game. He only scored two points in a loss to Miami the next game, but only scored three in a win over Louisville after that. He might be pressing a bit. The biggest thing for him is going to be developing a consistent jump shot.
Do they remind you of any players you've seen before?
For Okafor, I'd say Boogie Cousins and/or Marc Gasol. Those guys have different skill sets, but the thing they have in common is that they are massive. Okafor is massive, too. He might not pass as well as Gasol, but he's still a gifted passer. Boogie has put up some big scoring numbers from his first day in the league, and I think Okafor can do that, too.
Winslow reminds me of Jimmy Butler. I've watched every game (or almost every game) of Butler's career as a Bulls fan and it feels like there's a lot in common between them. Winslow might need to be, like, the third best player on a really good team, but those guys are still impactful. The Knicks just need some defense, so if they miss out on the top two picks, someone like Winslow or Willie Cauley-Stein would be a good choice, I think.