Until 1966, the NBA held a territorial draft allowing teams to draft players from their local area and, by extension, hopefully drum up local interest in the business of basketball. Fifty years later, the territorial draft is a thing of the past, the Knicks are presently desperately in need of guards, and A.J. English III is a possible future fit -- not to be confused with A.J. English, his father, who played in the NBA and was later inducted into the Hall of Fame (the Delaware Sports Museum Hall of Fame). Also not to be confused with A.J. English, a model who earned infamy posing with Taylor Swift while wearing a a swastika T-shirt.
A combo guard from Iona, English impressed as a freshman but missed the last few months of that season with a broken wrist he first fractured bracing his fall after a dunk in high school. He bloomed as a sophomore, averaging 17 points, 4 assists and 3 assists while starting all 33 games for Iona, and was honored as the lone underclassman to make the All-MAAC First Team. This past season he averaged 22.6 points to go with 6.2 assists, 5 rebounds and 1.6 steals, and was the Portsmouth Invitational MVP.
In 2015 English measured 6'3.5" with an 8'4" standing reach and a 6'9" wingspan. This year, he measured 6'3" with an 8'2.5." reach and a 6'10" wingspan. This contradictory data suggests either he's going to end his career as small as Nate Robinson but with a wingspan like Dhalsim, or that tape measures are bullshit and a lot of y'all walking around with unearned inches. Whatever. English's superior length could, with coaching and development, make him a disruptive perimeter defender; for what it's worth, his defensive rating the past two seasons was lower than what Jerian Grant, a celebrated collegiate defender, put up his last two seasons at Notre Dame.
New Knick coach Jeff Hornacek has said, "To me, if you want to win and win big, you've got to buckle down defensively. You can't just rely on the big guys -- it starts with pressure on the ball from your guards." A cat with a near-seven foot sphere of influence might do the trick; as witnessed with Kristaps Porzingis, in today's pace-and-space NBA, humans who eat up more space can impact the game merely via existence in ways the stat sheets never dreamed of.
One thing English can do and does: launch from distance. He hit 200 three-pointers his last two years combined, more than Grant did in his entire college career. Of course, you can't make shots you don't take, and A.J. averaged over nine threes attempted last season. Not per 40 minutes - that's nine attempts per game.
His Iona highlight was scoring 46 against Fairfield, including 13 three-pointers. Get your blinks outta the way before you check this clip. Mad quicks on this man's release:
Last season English hit a last-minute three to break a tie with Fairfield, giving Iona the lead for good. Guarded on a switch by 6'9" Ashton Pankey, A.J. calmly sets the big man up and drills it over the top. Didn't see this a lot from last year's Knick backcourt.
It's not just air power. He'll mix it up in the trenches and throw down.
Numbers don't lie, but that doesn't mean they truth. On shots at the rim, English hit 59% last year, which pales when compared to other college guards; Jerian Grant, for example, hit 73% his last year in college. But while Grant struggled with the Knicks finishing at the rim, shooting just 52% there last season, there is reason to hope English's game translates better to the pros.
English is already a good shooter from downtown. He still has to improve his mid-range game and finishes at the iron, but those don't seem outlandish hopes; the fact that he can shoot threes and improved as a free-throw shooter from 63% as a freshman to 84% as a shooter indicates the basic skill set and know-how are there. From his junior to senior years, his FG% on two-point jumpers rose from 28% to 37% and his % at the rim rose two percentage points. If teams have to respect his ability to pull-up or convert lay-ups, it might open up assist opportunities that weren't always there for Grant, who struggled in those areas and therefore played against tighter coverage.
English's turnover numbers were higher than one likes to see with a point guard, but he seems more like a combo guard than a pure table-setter, more of a playmaker. In Phil Jackson's Triangle, long combo guards are valuable; in Jeff Hornacek's Phoenix offense, guards who can shoot were the coin of the realm. As far as numbers and size, he compares somewhat favorably to another small-school backcourt dynamo out of Lehigh a couple years ago, C.J. McCollum. If he can elevate to that level, A.J. III will be introducing his old man as the "other" A.J. and blowing off T-Swift at parties.