It’s time for the experts to weigh in.
The Knicks will pick 11th in the first round of the NBA Draft on June 23, and they will have their choices. The consensus is that there isn’t much of a difference between the prospects who project to go near the end of the lottery.
Maybe an anticipated high pick like AJ Griffin or Jeremy Sochan falls to the Knicks or maybe they snag a point guard in TyTy Washington. They could go with a development project like Ousmane Dieng or Jalen Duren, or they could jet in the other direction, selecting a more finished product, like 22-year-old Ochai Agbaji.
The pros are here to talk about all of them and more.
The Athletic asked two front-office officials with leading roles in their team’s draft processes, one a high-ranking scout and the other an Eastern Conference assistant general manager, about 11 players the Knicks could draft with the No. 11 pick. Here’s what they said:
(Note: Players are listed in alphabetical order; quotes have been edited for clarity and brevity.)
22 years old
Sam Vecenie’s most recent mock draft: No. 15 to the Hornets
He improved his 3-point percentage during each of his four seasons at Kansas and made 41 percent of his 3-pointers in 2021-22, but he also was only a 71 percent free-throw shooter for the Jayhawks. Is that indicative of something that could go wrong once he backs up to the NBA 3-point arc against tougher defenses?
Assistant GM: I don’t think it’s a guarantee that he’s an elite shooter. I think he’s an above-average shooter. If they’re thinking this guy is gonna be lights out, I’m not so sure. But if we’re talking, like, Tim Hardaway Jr.-level, where Tim has had several good shooting seasons but nobody is gonna say Tim Hardaway Jr. is Klay Thompson, yeah … I never thought he shot the ball as easy or as pure as those elite guys. The fact that he shot it well as a senior — that can happen when a guy gets in a great rhythm and great confidence in that role. I would have been more likely to believe that the improvement was as dramatic as it appeared if the free throws had gone with it.
19 years old
Vecenie’s draft positioning: No. 16 to the Hawks
How do you view him as a scorer with the ball? He made 42 percent of his 3s this season, but he didn’t take tons of them and operated a lot in the midrange. What do you think of the shot selection? Do you think he can create enough space to get off his shots?
Scout: That’s what he’s supposed to do. He’s supposed to be a three-level scorer who can score a little bit from everywhere. The midrange is kind of his specialty right now and obviously in the league, if you don’t do that at a very high level, you either have to go all the way to the rim or step back to the 3-point line. We’ll have to see if that translates as well as it was in college. But again, he’s a guy who can score at three different levels. He can come off screens a little bit. I think there’s versatility with his scoring there, so in that sense, I’m comfortable with him.
19 years old
G League Ignite
Vecenie’s draft positioning: No. 10 to the Wizards
There are so few point guards high in this draft. And on top of that, the two who could be point guards also might not be. There’s TyTy Washington, and there’s also Daniels. He ran point a bunch for the G League Ignite but was an inconsistent jump shooter and could slot in as more of a wing. Do you view him as a player who can run an offense full time in the NBA?
Assistant GM: I like him and the team that drafts him will probably talk themselves into there being shades of Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, but I don’t think he has as much offensive-creation talent, and I do think he’d be a nice player to have if you have some wings who are going be your main creators and you just need a pseudo-point guard who is more of a secondary ballhandler because he’s big. I think he’s going to end up being big and physical and I like a lot of things about him. But yeah, he’s probably not the full-time offensive engine, so putting him alongside other guys who can do that is going to be where he’s more valuable.
What do you think he’s lacking to make him a “full-time offensive engine”?
Assistant GM: He doesn’t quite have the elite burst and doesn’t have a great creative handle to get by guys. And then I think he’s a decent shooter. He’s a better shooter than people realize, but his shot doesn’t translate great to shooting off the dribble. It’s going to take a lot of work for him to be a better shooter off the dribble because it’s a little stiff and rigid.
20 years old
Vecenie’s draft positioning: No. 14 to the Cavaliers
He had only a 46 percent effective field-goal percentage and 52 percent true shooting this past season. His efficiency was higher before the ankle injury, but it’s not like it was through the roof. Does that concern you?
Scout: Yeah, for sure. The concern with Johnny is the efficiency and the shot selection. When he does get it going, I think it’s interesting. He also is a high-level rebounder for his size, so he’s not just one-dimensional and that’s it — not that the rebounding is enough to put him (in the lottery). But he can do a little bit more than just score. But yeah, to justify the pick, he’s going to have to be a different level of scorer and have to improve the efficiency, no doubt about that.
He’ll have better spacing around him in the NBA than he did at Wisconsin. How much do you think that will help?
Scout: He’s a good learner from my evaluation. I think the guy can pick up things quickly, so I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt of picking up where to be, which is something that some players struggle with when they first come into the league: trying to understand offense or their spots on the floor. And I think that part he’s going to figure out rather quickly. If he can make (jumpers), then it’s gonna unlock the other stuff. He’s not that strong. He’s not a great athlete. He’s got some quickness but nothing outstanding, so it’s gonna have to be on skills mostly. So yeah, if his shot doesn’t go in, he needs to find different ways to make it work.
18 years old
New Zealand Breakers
Vecenie’s draft positioning: No. 12 to the Thunder
Dieng struggles shooting, but do you think his creative abilities are good enough to where he could become a secondary ballhandler or more?
Scout: If he’s more than a secondary ballhandler, then he’s probably a stud, right? He’s a guy who initiates your offense at 6-9. That’s unique. But yeah, I do think there’s something there. He needs a lot of time, which the Knicks are not famous for having, and he does have a little bit of that passiveness — not the same passiveness of Frank (Ntilikina), but some of it. But as far as initiating the offense, he’s probably something in between. If he’s your best initiator, you’re probably not in good shape. If he can be a secondary ballhandler, then it’s interesting. … If he’s your best initiator, then we’re talking, ‘Jackpot. They hit it.’ That’s the best-case scenario. So, I’ll put him something in between.
18 years old
Vecenie’s draft positioning: No. 11 to the Knicks
He’s the youngest player in the draft, and his production might not be fully representative of his skills since he played without a top-notch point guard this past season. Are there parts of his game he didn’t show at Memphis? How do you think his offensive skill set can develop and will he be someone who can create his shot?
Scout: If that’s his calling card, I’m probably out on him. I think he’s a guy that’s going to base his game a lot on athleticism, vertical spacing and being active around the rim. He doesn’t look very skilled to me or fluid offensively. Keep in mind that he has size. In college, even if you don’t have the best point guards around you, I think you can still be effective. And I agree that they didn’t have great guards around him, but I think it’s an excuse in this case. I’ve seen players with his size that were able to be more productive with bad guards around them at the college level. … He has a little bit of solid touch, but I see him as a player who’s going to score around the rim more than someone who can create offense and do things by himself.
21 years old
Vecenie’s draft positioning: No. 18 to the Bulls
His numbers at LSU were off the charts and his defense was impressive. But the abstract topic of “feel,” specifically as a scorer, comes up during conversations about him. He is very right-hand dominant. He had more than twice as many turnovers as he did assists this season. Do you believe in his scoring despite that? And if not, how improvable is this flaw?
Assistant GM: Offensively, he makes a lot of bad decisions and misses a lot of passes. Defensively, he’s very active and instinctual, but he’s not very disciplined, and I know that at both places he played in college (Eason transferred from Cincinnati to LSU), they felt like he had a hard time understanding and adhering to defensive and offensive schemes. But on defense, they just turned him loose: ‘Go do whatever you want’ and hope it works out for the best, which it usually did. But his ability to understand schemes and follow the game plan were always concerns. … I think he chose to play very selfishly on offense at times. I think that given his instinctual reactions on defense, I believe it can improve if he chooses to take a more passing-oriented approach. NBA spacing will help with that, too, but I don’t love it. I don’t think he’s Kawhi Leonard. He’s got a Leonard body: big hands, long arms. But his game is as an energy big with a little bit of shooting.
18 years old
Vecenie’s draft positioning: No. 9 to the Spurs
What do you think of his lateral quickness and how he moves defensively? He had a couple of knee injuries that kept him out. Can he become a plus defender? Do you think he’s quicker than he showed in college?
Scout: I think so, yeah. I like his size more than his quickness. Sometimes, you have different physical tools that kind of compensate for the others, so if you’re not that quick, you might be long enough and if you’re not long, you might be strong enough. It doesn’t have to be just quickness. He’s not super quick but he is strong and long, so I think it’s gonna help him defensively.
What level of defender do you see him potentially becoming?
Scout: Not an all-defensive level. I think as a guy you can throw out and defend those big wings on the other side. Now, (Kevin Durant) and all those guys, I don’t know, but probably a level below that.
18 years old
Vecenie’s draft positioning: No. 7 to the Trail Blazers
Is his defense so good that it almost doesn’t matter if he develops a workable jump shot? Or does he need to add at least competent shooting to justify going in the lottery?
Scout: He does need to add that, but I think what makes him interesting is that offensively he’s also good at moving the ball. If he does end up developing a shot, he is not going to be a guy they put in the corner and just hope he makes a shot. He’s not on the same level as Dieng as far as initiating and all that, but he’s a team-oriented player and he likes to move the ball. I think that’s one of his strengths, and coaches love that. … As far as if his defense is (good enough) to justify the lottery, if you look at Matisse Thybulle, he is a player who entered the draft like that and has stayed in the league just doing that, and he went in the 20s. I don’t think people doubted Thybulle’s defense coming in; they just don’t go in the mid-to-late lottery. I do think that Sochan is a little bit more than just that.
20 years old
Vecenie’s draft positioning: No. 17 to the Rockets
Do you think he’s a full-on floor general, the type of player who can start at the point and run an offense?
Assistant GM: I do think he’s a full-time point guard, but I don’t think he’s athletic enough to be a dominant offensive creator. I could see him having a successful niche, like Tyus Jones, where he is a point guard and mostly a backup. He could start some but if he’s the main guy that you’re asking to create offense for you, he’s gonna struggle against good defenders because he just doesn’t have exceptional burst or creative ability. … He’s going to run some pick-and-rolls. He’s going to make a lot of decisions for you. It’s going to be a valuable skill set to have, but against the best defenses and their best players, somebody else is probably going to have to create the initial advantage. But against second units in the flow of the game, I think you see guys like that, who are good decision-makers. Jones would be one. Monte Morris would be another. Those are guys who have been able to use that successfully. But when the shot clock is winding down and someone has to break the defense and create a basket out of nothing, that’s probably not going to be him.
20 years old
Vecenie’s draft positioning: No. 13 to the Hornets
You need to be a heck of a rim-diving center to go in the lottery in 2022. Do you think he can move his feet well enough to guard for a seven-game playoff series?
Assistant GM: Yes, to some extent. To me, Williams projects as somewhere between Mitchell Robinson and Jarrett Allen, and I think those are players who are good to have most of the time, but there are probably a few matchups in the playoffs where they get minimized a little bit. If you were confident that he was gonna be Allen, then yes, (he’s worth a lottery pick), but I think he’s probably a notch or half-notch below that. It always depends on who the alternatives are, but I’d say it’s harder to justify a pick as high as No. 11 for a player like that.
(Top photo of Jalen Duren: Petre Thomas / USA Today)