The Knicks need help everywhere. They need guys that can pass. They need guys that can handle. They need guys that can shoot. They need guys that can defend. They need guys who have good basketball IQ. They need so, so much.
No one player is going to come in off the bat and address all of that. The only players available this summer who can change the forecast are named Kevin Durant and Kawhi Leonard. They are not draft eligible and obviously Durant is a year or more from being playable. He’ll also be 32 years old at that point.
So all the Knicks can do, before free agency starts, is look to the draft to fill these needs as best they can. Having the third pick helps. The 55th? Not quite as much, but, as we experience with Mitchell Robinson and Allonzo Trier, you can find value in unexpected areas. This year also has a huge swath of players that could make huge slides down in the draft because the parity is razor-thin.
Ignas “Iggy” Brazdeikis, Charles Matthews, and Jordan Poole represent players who could deliver such unexpected returns. To discuss the Wolverine trio in more detail I am joined by my good friend, Stingy.
Shwinnypooh: I like all these guys for a variety of reasons, but Iggy is closest to my heart. He’s a player that doesn’t have one standout strength, but manages to contribute in a variety of ways. I genuinely hate saying this, because it feels like such a generalization, but Iggy’s just one of those guys that seem to “get it.” None of his statistics jump off the page, but if you watched Michigan this year, Iggy was very much their X-factor and connected lineups in a way that an offensively-limited team desperately needed.
Stingy: Brazdeikis was that guy for me as well. You can’t have enough players that identify what the team needs from them on a given night, or in a specific moment, and just pride themselves on going all-out for it. He wasn’t without his issues, and I feel like he projects as a tweener forward, but he was the engine and Zavier Simpson was the driver of this team.
I kind of relate Iggy’s game to someone who wants to have a cook out, invites everybody, but might forget to season the grill. So sometimes he gets ready to flip some tasty chicken skewers only to have them get stuck, and suddenly has to switch gears to make pulled chicken tacos. That might sound annoying (I know you had your heart set on those skewers) but it looks to me — like it will only take a little bit of guidance to make sure everyone is eating good.
I don’t worry about him getting that guidance at the next level. As I see it, the struggles for Brazdeikis will revolve around so-so athleticism. Iggy is legitimately ambidextrous, shoots lefty, writes righty. Do you think he is crafty enough or can he bulldoze his way into a productive NBA career?
Shwinnypooh: He’s got the right combination of craft and muscle to figure it out. Iggy feels like a guy who’d get drafted by the Spurs and be a solid starter like a mini Boris Diaw for 10-plus years. Nowhere near that level of passer, but somebody comfortable operating as a hub for secondary and tertiary options on any given possession.
Matthews feels like a guy who’d get drafted by the Spurs, sent down to the G-League for a year to work on his jumper, come back and be Danny Green 2.0 for the next 10-plus years. Poor kid just tore his ACL in a workout with the Celtics — yet another reason the Celtics can fuck all the way off — but at 55 I’m still very very down with taking him.
He’s probably the best perimeter defender in the draft, can switch 1-3, has ideal size for a wing, is a plus athlete, and has enough handle that he’s not a total stiff offensively. The perimeter shot is just so fucking bad, but if it wasn’t, we’d be talking about him as a late first-rounder, if not higher.
Stingy: I’m with you there. If Matthews and Poole were combined into one amalgamated player, you’d have exactly that. Poole’s shooting stroke is tres bien. I’d think he could prove to be the best shooter in this draft. He’ll be able to come in right away and — at worst — Nick Young his way to steady contributions on the offensive end. Aside from the shooting, his game seems average around the edges, which isn’t an attempt to diminish him so much as say he is a plus shooter and shabby chic everywhere else.
Shwinnypooh: No player on the team last year was hurt more by Zavier Simpson’s utter worthlessness off the ball than Poole. After his freshman year, I was convinced that Poole would develop into the best perimeter scorer at Michigan during the John Beilein era, but with Mo Wagner, Duncan Robinson and Muhammad Ali Abdur-Rahkman graduating, Poole was limited to an off-ball, catch-and-shoot role. He cooled off after a hot start and leveled off at 37 percent from distance, and his 39.7 percent over his career from NBA range on a total of 141 attempts bodes well for his future.
Stingy: He’s also closer in age to a lot of the freshman that are about to get drafted. He’ll turn 20 the day before the draft.
Shwinnypooh: Unfortunately we didn’t get to see much else from him. His ball handling improved to my eye, but with just a slight uptick in assist rate to show for it, that’s still very much a question mark. He’s definitely improved as a shot creator, but he settles a lot for pull-up, off-the-dribble jumpers when he puts the ball on the deck and it’s unclear how able he is to get to the rim — which is too bad, because he’s proven to be very effective finishing once he gets there.
Of the three, I’d argue that Poole has the most alluring upside, and that upside far exceeds what Matthews or Brazdeikis is likely to achieve, but he’s the also the biggest question mark among the three. Poole, as much as I hate to say it, feels like a guy the Heat would draft and in two years he’d be Josh Richardson 2.0.
Stingy: I have concerns about his IQ. He’s no bonehead, but he’s a classic example of missing a simple swing pass that can make a defense scramble just that extra bit to generate the easy look. On the plus side, it felt like his scorer’s mentality led to him making nice passes in tight spots from time to time that led to easy dunks and layups.
Shwinnypooh: He kinda likes to feel the rock before he does something with it. Even on catch-and-shoot opportunities he’ll take a jab step before launching sometimes. It’s strange. The right team could definitely turn him into something, though.
Guess that’s where I’m at with all these kids. Iggy could slot in quick if he lands with a coach who is into the “all the small things” type of contributors. Poole will need time and patience to make the most of what he is. G-League could be big for him. Matthews, weirdly, probably has the most straightforward path into an NBA rotation when he gets healthy.
Heard a little rumor that Charles Matthews had a strong workout for the Spurs defending Kevin Porter in 3X3s. I like Matthews, real believer in his defense. Potential value pick.— Jonathan Wasserman (@NBADraftWass) May 25, 2019
Stingy: If Matthews is available at 55 and no one else is really sticking out, I’d think he’s a great pick despite his injury. You can keep him around your team and training staff and let him develop mentally. With any luck, when he’s back on the court and running, some of his shooting mechanics have been cleaned up. I really love his feel for the game and you can’t teach his relentlessness. The problem is, he needs to be a lot nearer to a 75 percent free throw shooter and at least know what corner he can go to that makes him up to 35 percent from three. The sub-65 and -30 marks have him on the outside looking in for me. New York has enough players with shooting issues as it is. I guess if they’re hell-bent on trading the best wing defender on the team, Matthews suddenly fills a major need.
These three guys, in their own ways, are a microcosm of the overall narrative of the 2019 draft. Brazdeikis is an upstart freshman who could be on the radar in the late-first/early-second round range. Poole, a sharpshooting sophomore, feels like an early-mid second rounder. Then Matthews, the junior transfer student, who (if not for injury) seems ready to contribute immediately, might slide to the end of the draft or fall out completely. They could also be plucked off the board super early because this year, you just go for the guy who you think will shine brightest.
While none of them are likely to blow the door off the hinges, they all feel ready to be immediate depth and make contributions to any solid team structure. They also all have a chance of hitting just right and becoming fantastic rotation players with very long NBA careers. That is the type of draft we’re looking at, and those types of players carry a ton of weight when the chips are down.
Will the Knicks put themselves in a position to grab one of these guys, or someone like them? This is the year that it’s possible, almost probable, for that to happen. Past 55th picks include E’Twaun Moore, Patty Mills and like... Kris Clack. It’s obviously not a gold mine, but I like their odds this time around. The draft is mere hours away!