Three and a half years ago, in a Donovan Mitchell KTP, I wrote this:
Who you think the New York Knicks should draft No. 8...likely boils down to where you think they stand today. If you see a club with zero givens going forward beyond Kristaps Porzingis and maaaybe Willy Hernangomez, you pro’ly want the likeliest translatable talent, e.g. Dennis Smith Jr. If you’re focused full-speed ahead on length and two-way potential, you pro’ly prefer the greatest upside, e.g. Frank Ntilikina. If you see...strengths in one area (frontcourt) and glaring weaknesses in others (guards who can shoot), you pro’ly wanna shore up that balance, e.g. Malik Monk. If you see a club still a player away from establishing a definitive strength, you pro’ly take a guy who’ll put you over the top in that area, e.g. Jonathan Isaac.
If you think the Knicks have so little going for them they really oughta come out of this draft with more than one first-rounder, you pro’ly hope rumors of Moe Harkless and Portland’s #15 pick are founded. If they are, Louisville’s Donovan Mitchell makes sense mid-first round.
I’m certainly not sharing this take because it makes me look smart. Ntilikina, DSJ and Monk have been three of the most disappointing players from the class of ‘17. And though I’ve carried a torch for Isaac since before the draft, Orlando nabbed him before the Knicks could. It’s the bit at the end that I often remember — “Mitchell makes sense mid-first round.”
While other players from that draft have found success in the NBA — Jayson Tatum; Bam Adebayo; De’Aaron Fox; John Collins; Isaac — Mitchell leads his peers in minutes, points and VORP. So with the benefit of hindsight, it’s clear he didn’t just make sense in the mid-first round. He made sense higher. But conventional wisdom suggested otherwise, so Mitchell fell to the Jazz while Knick fans continue to argue over whether rooting for Ntilikina is Linus believing the Great Pumpkin will show up or thirst over one fine-ass mimbo.
Conventional wisdom today is that Tyrell Terry could be a steal in the mid-first round, but that he’s not worthy of a mid- to high-lottery pick. To that I say this:
If you’ve followed Terry’s ascent from the 88th-rated prospect out of high school a year ago to a surefire first-rounder, you pro’ly already know whose numbers those are. The second set are Terry’s stats from his one year at Stanford. The first are Steph Curry’s freshman numbers at Davidson.
@SloanImperative and a few others posted a composite big board made up of 56 mock drafts. Terry ranked 19th — like Kira Lewis Jr., ostensibly too low to use the 8th pick on, but quite possibly gone when the Knicks pick again at 27. Why? Consider the players linked with New York at 8: Isaac Okoro projects as a plus-defender with a good motor but a questionable jumper; Devin Vassell is seen as a plus-defender with some offensive upside and a probably reliable jumper, though that one video sure did raise eyebrows; Patrick Williams seems to possess a pro body and a likely successful career defending at the NBA level, but his jumper and drive are unknowns. All have some skills that project and others that are projects. Like, duh.
So why is Terry, who on some draft boards is the second-highest rated point guard after LaMelo Ball, any different? His size raised doubts in the past, but from April to October he added 15 pounds and hoped to add five more by draft night. At 6’2” he was a solid rebounding guard for the Cardinal; his rebounding % was higher than what any Knick guard put up last season. Despite the diminutive stature, Terry did fine finishing at the rim. The only point guard prospect to hit a better % on more attempts was Oregon’s Payton Pritchard.
Terry doesn’t sound like he feels his close-and-in game has arrived yet:
“I’m working on my floater, same-hand and same-foot finishes, reverse finishes, finishes high off the glass, floaters high off the glass. All these smaller guards like Trae Young and CJ McCollum incorporated such great floater games. Kyrie Irving has a one-of-one finishing package, so I’m not going to compare myself to him, but the way smaller guards, like him and Steph Curry, have to find ways to finish around the rim. I’m going to have to do that as well, so that’s been an emphasis.”
75% of Terry’s shots came at the rim or from deep, so his openness to further develop his game in an area of seeming comfort implies wisdom and drive. Speaking of drives, Terry appears equally comfy taking them right or left.
Same with his jumpers: he can go either way with ease.
Terry made 40% of his two-point jumpers, a lower figure than any of the other point guard prospects besides Tyrese Haliburton, who was also the only prospect to take fewer shots from the midrange. But Terry’s form looks too good to fail.
Some people aren’t built for the clutch. Terry could play the last two minutes of a close game in brand-new tighty whities and still return them the next day as if they’d never been worn. That’s how clean his jumper looks, even in late-and-close drama.
But it isn’t the lay-ups or midrange menagerie that has Terry’s stock rising like the sun. It’s his long game that truly stands out. Among point guard prospects, only Pritchard and Cassius Winston took more 3s and hit a higher %. Terry hit from all over. Pulling up at the top of the key.
He made 48% of his catch-and-shoots.
There were momentum-swinging bombs.
Threes from waaay out.
In transition Terry made a healthy 38% of his longballs.
“Thou shalt not live by bread alone,” a carpenter once advised. Good call. Terry’s no one-trick pony. He shows great vision and touch setting up teammates, too.
Particularly noteworthy in his passing game is how he’s able to leverage the threat he presents from outside to set-up his off-the-dribble game, then parlay that into fab dimes.
Sometimes the threat of his passing creates a clean look at a 3.
Terry is the ninth of 10 prospects I’ll be reviewing this offseason. As is the case with most but not all of them, the biggest question marks come on the defensive end. I’m making dinner soon and Peachtree Hoops’ Glen Willis already said it best, so take it from them:
As a help defender, Terry simply lacks the tools to be able to get in a play and create resistance. When a defensive rotation calls for him to help at the rim, he likewise just has nothing really with which to work.
Smart, small defenders have made themselves valuable at the NBA level before by committing to playing the right technique with discipline and being a step ahead of he play. In fact, there really is no firm reason that Terry couldn’t work his way into being that kind of defender. For him to earn minutes at the professional level, however, the IQ and anticipation is going to have to be applied on every defensive possession.
Terry has been consistently mocked to NBA teams whose rosters are constructed with offensive creators at the bigger positions, and that makes perfect sense. Perhaps the easiest historical comp to make in terms of what success could like is the similarly diminutive BJ Armstrong playing next to Michael Jordan on three of the Chicago Bulls championship teams from the 1990’s.
Armstrong may not be the comp a lot of you wanna land on (he was an All-Star once, FYI), so let’s bring it back to Curry for a moment. Curry is listed as an inch taller and was 5-10 pounds bigger than Terry back when he left Davidson. If the Warriors needed him to be a great two-way player, they might have been disappointed. Instead, by surrounding him on that end with great defenders like Klay Thompson, Draymond Green, Shaun Livingston and Andre Iguodala, Curry’s weakness is minimized, thus the bulk of his impact comes from those areas where he excels. Armstrong was a similar player: Chicago didn’t need him to do what he couldn’t. They put him in positions to maximize his strengths, and he delivered.
Terry is smart player who moves around a lot. If you need him to spearhead your defense, you’re already behind the 8-ball. If you eventually pair him alongside a real team featuring real defenders, he can be a net positive. On both ends, ultimately.
It doesn’t sound like the Knicks would dare draft Terry at #8. There’s no guarantee he’ll be there at #27. Don’t be surprised if someone picks him somewhere in the teens, or if he’s this year’s high-riser. Maybe New York will trade down and land him as part of a bigger haul. Or maybe Okoro and Williams are the new Ntilikina, Terry’s the new Mitchell, and our great blue marble of a world will keep spinning on its axis while no one on it ever learns a damn thing.