If you follow me on Twitter (@that_guy_hoo), you know that my unassailable draft prognostications revolve mostly around disrespecting incredible teenage basketball prodigies and nitpicking them needlessly and consistently from March through July. I usually target my ire toward prospects I don’t like, or prefer the Knicks do NOT draft, and go easy on those I like (naturally). Sometimes the draft comparisons are wholly in jest, but more often there is actually a bit of truth to them. I really, sincerely hope certain guys don’t end up in the orange and blue, and my joking comparisons are concise ways to show why.
Enough is enough, though. It’s time I rise above such base level pettiness. No longer shall I bank on insulting a select few young men in order to get a whole retweet. It is time to leave behind my own biases like bad habits on New Year’s Day.
From now on, EVERYONE can get flamed. Equal opportunity roastage — even the prospects I really like. For this piece, I am going to take some of the prospects in the Knicks theoretical range (from the third pick to slightly lower spots, should they trade down) and present...colorful and descriptive comparisons to NBA players current and past. Each player will get a low-end, mid-level, and high-end comp, with brief explanations.
Remember kids: if you have issue with these, don’t debate me — go debate your auntie. My correct takes are written in stone like the commandments. Your favorites are all trash in all their iterations. LET US BEGIN!
High end: Taller 2019 Justise Winslow
This isn’t as bad of a high end as you think. Many on the internet think RJB compares favorably to James Harden because of his volume scoring, passing vision, left handedness, and alpha dog tenacity. I submit that he is more like a bigger Justise Winslow: athleticism (but not explosive in halfcourt settings) and an NBA body paired with questionable shooting and a proclivity to drive and rely on strength and flip shots. Justise, like RJB , had passing vision... but took years to harness it into anything resembling productivity, culminating in a two-month stretch where he actually was the primary initiator for the Heat this year. Like RJB, Justise dominated college with a mediocre jumper by just being bigger and stronger and faster than NCAA opponents, not by showing any elite offensive skills. Once that physical playing field was level, Justise struggled mightily until he embraced his passing skills as the main vehicle for offensive success. To me, RJB’s most productive outcome results from him foregoing volume stat hunting in favor of harnessing his many good-but-not-great skills for better team play. If he could average 4 assists with tunnel vision in shorter NCAA games, what could he do as a pass first wing with shooters in the NBA? A bigger Justise Winslow is essentially a point forward swiss army knife, even with a questionable jumper, and that is a great starting wing for any team to have.
Mid level: Canadian Larry Hughes
I actually think this iteration of RJB scores more points per game than the high end one.
Larry Hughes was a wing with point guard vision and a good-but-not-great jumper. A 20 PPG scorer with middling efficiency, miscast as a primary option (and even miscast as a secondary option). Open-court hops and alley-oop hops, but athleticism abandoned him in tight space, so he depended on tough shots in half-court play. Somehow managed to average four-plus assists (which was impressive as a shooting guard in the era of slow-paced ball) and be a ball-hog at the same time. True story: when LeBron was picked, Larry thought he was just another young stud they brought to play Robin to his Batman. He got those bad shots up, no matter who he was playing with... like someone else I know...
Low end: Lefty Mario Hezonja
Potential top-five pick. Non-American prospect. Big wing. Elite athleticism. Passing vision and ball handling. Aggression. Alpha mentality. Unlimited confidence. None of it was actualized, because the idea of him didn’t match the truth: his athleticism only shined in the open court, his jumper was streaky and his form changed often, and he never found a balance between aggression and team play. Coaches didn’t do him favors, so he continued to chuck, believing in himself but harming his stock and not learning from mistakes. Am I talking about Mario or projecting what we’ll be saying about 2022 RJB?
High end: Worse handle/higher BBIQ late-career Tyreke Evans
A big, strong, gifted 2-guard initiator with a streaky jumper who is best suited creating alongside a true superstar, who can defend multiple positions credibly but isn’t considered an all-defense type. Uses shake and length to score around the hoop efficiently despite lack of explosiveness. Tyreke and Jarrett share these traits, and this is a player every team wants alongside their franchise player(s), but is tricky to find without overpaying. Tyreke had, and still has, top-five handles in the NBA, which Culver will never have. However, Culver can pair solid handles with tremendous decision making and top-notch defense to become a plus-minus monster capable of leading his team in scoring every few nights or so while averaging five-plus assists.
Mid level: Nic Batum after he got paid, but before he got washed
Batum is taller than JC by 1-2 inches, but JC plays big because he’s a strong, long kid. People view RJB as some sort of rim-seeking homing missile, but JC actually had a higher free throw rate — he does not shy away from contact with the ball, or on defense for that matter. Batum in his prime may not have been as physical — he mostly remained skinny — but he was a Swiss army knife defender who could put up a 16-6-6 line in his sleep while spreading the floor. This is likely JC’s destiny — a more physical Batum type, maybe with a bit less defensive positional versatility. The trick lies in not MASSIVELY OVERPAYING such a player, like Charlotte did.
Low end: Late Career Evan Turner, but not paid 19 million bucks
Evan Turner is JC’s destiny if his shot peaks at unreliable, his defense ends up being come-and-go, and he settles in as a reliable, albeit limited, role player off the bench. A disappointment to the team that picked him, but likely another team will happily scoop him up on his second contract for a reduced role, which he will happily comply with.
High end: Better-passing Dennis Shrooder, but replace top-end quickness with top-end hops, and replace blond hair patches with Chief Keef hair
The problem with Ja Morant is that even at his best, he’s probably not a guy you have to chase over screens (even with solid 3P%), he’s probably a bad one-position defender and he’s probably “meh” without the ball. Even his staunchest defenders will acknowledge those things. So even with his tremendous vision, how much does he have to score and how efficiently to offset all those other weaknesses? That act might work if he’s not the main star on a team, but even in that case he’s still the point guard and still needs the ball a ton. Being a great lead-handling point guard in the NBA is hard, bordering on impossible. Drafting one in the top five is scary for that exact reason.
Mid level: Souped-up Elfrid Payton
Triple-double threats with plus vision and questionable passing. Of course, Elfrid is much more ground-bound than Ja... but if that jumper never becomes a threat... and he finds less opportunities to load up off of two feet for acrobatic scoop shots in the NBA than he did versus future accountants... then you’re looking at a player who is much better in theory than in reality.
Low end: Athletic Brevin Knight
Who remembers Hornets legend and current announcer Brevin Knight? His assist percentages were always through the roof, but he never paired his vision with efficient scoring, shooting, or useful defense, so he was essentially a good backup point moonlighting as a fill-in starting point for teams that never really had that franchise initiator.
High end: Hunger strike Kyle Lowry
Short PG with incredible shooting range, yo-yo handles, and a knack for leveraging his handle/shot combo into paint forays, developing touch around the rim to offset a lack of bounce. Of course, Lowry incredibly uses his sturdy build to pester opponents on defense, even if he is always undersized — I don’t quite see DG being able to be anything more than a tire fire on defense with his slight, short frame. If he can translate that beauty of a jumper into the NBA and use his handle/shot threat to drive, he just might end up a solid point who can fill it up from time to time (while giving it back on the other end pretty often too).
Mid level: Elite-shooting Rafer Alston
SKIP TO MY LOU! Skip (as Alston was known on the And1 Mixtape Tour) was a playoff point guard for a hot second, never forget. He never had the shot to go with his handle and he was never a defender, so he peaked as a low-end starter who could manage his team passably despite weaknesses. It remains to be seen if DG has that kind of game management in him or whether he’s just a tiny shooting guard, and that will be the difference between him being a flawed-but-useful-and-sometimes-dangerous guard, or just a waste of a roster spot.
Low end: DJ Augustin on the And1 Mixtape Tour
DJA is a tremendous shooter who gets by on tremendous BBIQ despite not much explosiveness in any direction, and isn’t much of a passer despite that game management ability. He’s a great backup. What happens when you replace that measured mindset with recklessness?
That’s all for today. Stay tuned for Part Two, when I’ll break down some of the jabronis the Knicks could take if they decide to trade down.