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Know the Prospect: Melvin Frazier

A late bloomer out of Tulane

NCAA Basketball: Tulane at Memphis Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports

You know what sucked? Watching Tim Hardaway Jr. spend most of the season defending the 3 and getting his ass kicked by LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Jayson Tatum, Khris Middleton, etc. There are matchups against certain small forwards where he wasn’t completely mismatched, but it was a largely painful experience that he and the team would, preferably like to avoid moving forward.

As has been discussed ad nauseum, and even acknowledged by the Knicks’ front office braintrust of Steve Mills and Scott Perry, the team would like to add wings. Big ones if possible. Rumored interest over the last year in the likes of Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and Jabari Parker is indicative of the desire to address the roster’s glaring lack of size, versatility and, simply put, talent on the wing.

Luckily, this is a draft in which wing talent is plentiful. If the Knicks don’t address this deficit with their lottery pick, they will have the chance to do so in the second round. Melvin Frazier would be an extremely intriguing option if he’s still on the board at that stage.

Over the course of three seasons at Tulane, Frazier showed tremendous growth as a shooter, scorer, ball handler and playmaker. However, what has always been consistent is the force with which he plays with defensively.

Standing 6’6” with a 7’1.75” wingspan, Frazier uses that length to great effect. He’s a disruptive force who harasses opponents into turnovers, then takes those turnovers and turns them into transition buckets — he ranked in the 89th percentile with an average of 1.312 points per possession (PPP).

He’s not a gambler who just recklessly hunts for steals at the detriment of the team’s defensive integrity, though. Frazier has excellent hands and is in the rare class of perimeter defenders who is liable to rip the ball from ball handlers brave, or foolish, enough to test him.

His on-ball defense is elite: as good as anybody in this draft. He has quick, active feet, which allows him to stay in front of ball handlers with relative ease, and he uses his size to great effect when contesting shots.

Frazier shows good awareness off the ball in executing team defensive concepts. He knows when to help off his man and frequently sniffs out dangerous scoring opportunities.

With his size, length and uncommon acumen, his appeal as a wing stopper capable of defending 1-3 should be of interest to the Knicks. The defensive potential of a trio featuring Frazier, Kristaps Porzingis and Frank Ntilikina is mouth-watering.

Frazier may have entered college as an athletic defensive stopper, but he left as much more. He simultaneously improved his efficiency year-on-year while also increasing his usage, no easy feat.

Most notably, Frazier improved his three point shot — virtually an absolute necessity for all players nowadays — from just 28.4% as a freshman to 38.5% last season. His mechanics still requires some fine tuning, but he has turned himself into a capable spot up (1.046 PPP, 74th percentile) and off screen shooter (1.348 PPP, 93rd percentile).

His development into a credible threat from the perimeter has helped to open up opportunities for him to do what he does best: attacking the rim.

Frazier shot an extremely efficient 70.7% at the rim last season and when watching him it’s easy to see why. His agility and explosiveness make him capable of finishing through and around defenders, depending on what the situation calls for.

He’s at his best on basic straight-line drives like above, but improved ball handling has given him some equity as a creator off the dribble. Frazier has flashed real potential to break down defenses and get to the rim as a ball handler in pick-and-roll.

He has also flashed the ability to kick out to shooters after collapsing the defense with his penetration.

Frazier is naturally unselfish and has steadily improved as a playmaker, peaking last season with an average of 2.9 assists per game. He’s at his best, unsurprisingly, in transition, but he’s also capable of making entry passes, kicking out from the post when doubled, and swinging the ball along the perimeter to feed the open man.

Frazier’s development into a more well-rounded scorer is undoubtedly a positive, but he’s not without his flaws. When he puts the ball on the floor he struggles to shoot off the dribble; the pull-up jumper is yet to enter his still developing toolbox.

This periodically manifests itself in head-scratching shot selection. Due to his lack of comfort pulling up and shooting over the top when the defense drops, Frazier’s prone to ill-advised rim attacks. There are other times where he gets tunnel vision and forces the issue when there’s no need to jack up a shot.

Other times it seems as if he drives without a plan and gets himself into trouble.

While Frazier has improved by leaps and bounds as a ball handler, his overall package of moves is still extremely basic. He doesn’t have great shake and his tendency to stay too upright with his handle when he tries to take defenders off the bounce makes him susceptible to getting ripped.

In the open floor he’s prone to moments of madness where he tries to make the spectacular play rather than the right one.

These moments serve as a reminder that despite his clear growth over three seasons at Tulane, he’s still rough around the edges. Against higher-end competition that lack of polish may require a steeper learning curve than the numbers bear out.

That said, he profiles at the very least as a versatile defensive specialist, with a likely outcome of 3-and-D wing and sneaky upside as a late-blooming secondary shot creator. His combination of size, length and athleticism on the wing is the ideal package teams are thirsty for in today’s league. Where you once “couldn’t teach size” you now “can’t have enough wings”.

The Celtics stable of wings was the driving force which powered their top-ranked defense. The Rockets’ interchangeability on defense powered them to a near, and unexpected, upset of the Warriors in the Western Conference Finals. A player with Frazier’s physical profile and theoretical skillset wouldn’t look out of place on either team or, truly, anywhere in the league.

This is the new reality the Knicks front office has seemingly come to grips with and must address with their personnel maneuvers moving forward. The concerns over the strength of the competition Frazier faced and whether his offensive production will translate, but it’s hard to imagine Frazier dropping to 36 all things considered. If he does Perry would do well not to look a gift horse in the mouth and make him a part of the Knicks’ future.