The New York Knicks own their first-round draft pick in 2017. Which point guards should New York be keeping a close eye on during the 2016-17 season?
Mar 20, 2016; St. Louis, MO, USA; Xavier Musketeers guard Edmond Sumner (4) brings the ball up court during the second half in the second round against the Wisconsin Badgers of the 2016 NCAA Tournament at Scottrade Center. Mandatory Credit: Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports
The New York Knicks are in unfamiliar territory entering the 2016-17 NBA regular season. After going through four of the past seven NBA Drafts without a first-round draft pick, New York finally owns its first rounder, thus creating the possibility for a sustainable future.
The question is, who should the Knicks be studying in 2016-17 at the most important position in the modern NBA: point guard?
New York had no first-round draft pick in 2010, 2012, 2014, and 2016. That’s four years without players who could either provide depth or emerge as star-caliber contributors in New York—four years with nothing but free agency to rely upon.
Team president Phil Jackson has committed his resources to changing that truth and embracing the incomparable value of the NBA Draft.
The Knicks began to address the void at point guard by trading for Derrick Rose and signing Brandon Jennings. Both players will become free agents in 2017, however, and neither are guaranteed to be re-signed.
The question is: which point guards should the Knicks be monitoring in 2016-17?
Mar 30, 2016; Chicago, IL, USA; From left to right McDonald’s All-Americans TJ Leaf (22) and Lonzo Ball (2) who will both be attending UCLA pose for a group photo before the McDonald’s High School All-American Game at the United Center. Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports
Steve Alford and the UCLA Bruins have landed a gem of an incoming recruit in freshman point guard Lonzo Ball. Long heralded as one of the most well-rounded players on the high school and AAU scenes, Ball will play in the Pac-12 in 2016-17.
Phil Jackson has a well-documented love for guards with size, and Ball perfectly fits the bill—the first of many reasons to look his way.
Ball was last measured at just under 6’5″ with a 6’7″ wingspan, but he’s been listed at 6’6″ in the two years since. Regardless of which measurement is accurate, Ball clearly has the size and length to be a defensive force and deterrent.
Ball is also a gifted ball-handler and passer who can create for his teammates and facilitate the offense in both the half court and transition.
Ball’s jump shot is still a work in progress, which is why he could be available for the Knicks on the outside of the draft lottery. New York could potentially miss the playoffs, but the hope is that it will be one of the eight teams representing the Eastern Conference in the postseason.
There’s no guaranteeing that Ball will pan out as the starting-caliber point guard his upside permits him to be, but it’s certainly worth monitoring his progress.
Mar 13, 2016; Nashville, TN, USA; Kentucky Wildcats guard Isaiah Briscoe (13) drives the ball away from Texas A&M Aggies guard Jalen Jones (12) during the championship game of the SEC tournament at Bridgestone Arena. Mandatory Credit: Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports
Kentucky Wildcats head coach John Calipari has a history of producing top-flight point guards. The list of point guards who have made the jump from Calipari’s coaching to the NBA includes Eric Bledsoe, Brandon Knight, Derrick Rose, and John Wall.
One of the most highly-touted players whom Calipari has recruited is returning sophomore point guard Isaiah Briscoe.
Briscoe has an excellent build for a point guard at 6’2.5″ and 216 pounds with a 6’8″ wingspan. He has tree trunks for legs, a strong upper body, and paralyzing handles that have put even the best of perimeter defenders on their heels.
Briscoe is also a rugged defender who has shown the potential to be a genuine lockdown player at the point guard position—potential worth exploring.
The New York Knicks need penetrating point guards who can facilitate the offense, collapse the interior, and kick it out to shooters along the perimeter. Briscoe has the ability to thrive in every one of those areas.
Kentucky’s depth could leave Briscoe on the outside of the draft lottery, and an improved jumper could turn him into the player New York needs.
De’Aaron Fox has a combination of physical gifts and skills that create genuine superstar potential. He’s drawn comparisons to former Kentucky Wildcats stars Eric Bledsoe and John Wall, but he has a lot of Kyrie Irving in his game.
The New York Knicks need playmakers and Fox could be the ultimate find—it would just take a disappointing 2016-17 campaign for that to happen.
Fox is a dynamic scoring threat who can shoot the 3-ball, attack off the bounce, dominate in transition, and finish creatively at the rim. He’s an explosive athlete with the end-to-end speed to be a one-man show on the fast break.
Fox is also one of the Top 10 prospects in the 2017 NBA Draft, which creates the troubling reality that he could be out of New York’s reach.
Fox is widely projected to be a lottery pick, which is why he’s more of a pipe dream than a realistic target. New York should still monitor his development, but the Knicks are aiming to be a playoff team in 2016-17—not a lottery-bound franchise.
In terms of a safe upside comparison, Fox could essentially be a more athletic version of Phoenix Suns point guard Brandon Knight.
Markelle Fultz is widely regarded as the No. 1 point guard prospect in the 2017 NBA Draft. He possesses prototypical size, a well-rounded skill set, and the natural ability to become a perennial All-Star.
The New York Knicks are highly unlikely to land Fultz, but the Washington Huskies haven’t exactly succeeded in helping point guards prepare for the NBA.
Nigel Williams-Goss and Tony Wroten Jr. came to Washington with NBA hype, albeit less than Fultz. Both failed to live up to their lottery pick hype, however, which creates the potential for the New York Knicks to draft Fultz outside of the lottery.
The expected result, however, is that Fultz will be in the running for the No. 1 overall selection come the 2017 NBA Draft.
Fultz does a bit of everything on the offensive end and has the physical tools to be a plus defender. His movement isn’t exactly fluid, however, which is concerning due to the pressure that his hard cuts put on his knees.
Fultz has the skill set and the body to be an All-Star, but nothing is guaranteed. New York should scout Washington’s new point guard.
Mar 26, 2016; Louisville, KY, USA; Kansas Jayhawks guard Devonte’ Graham (4) reacts after a play against the Villanova Wildcats during the first half of the south regional final of the NCAA Tournament at KFC YUM!. Mandatory Credit: Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports
The Kansas Jayhawks have retooled and reloaded, but it’s junior point guard Devonte Graham whom the New York Knicks should be looking at. Graham is a 6’2″ and 175-pound playmaker with one of the prettiest jump shots in the country.
The NBA has always been about spacing, and the New York Knicks can create significantly more space by adding Graham to the roster and rotation.
Graham finished the 2015-16 college basketball season with 75 3-point field goals made in 38 games played. He did so on 44.1 percent shooting from beyond the arc, which creates an elite combination of volume and efficiency.
If Graham continues to shoot the lights out into the 2016-17 college basketball season, then he’d have to be considered for a late first-round draft pick.
It’s worth noting that Graham scored 17 points against the Villanova Wildcats in the Elite Eight and 27 points during the Big 12 Championship Game. That creates the reputation of a big-game player.
If Graham displays progress as a facilitator and continuity as a shooter, he should be one of the Knicks’ more coveted targets.
Feb 21, 2016; Dallas, TX, USA; SMU Mustangs guard Shake Milton (1) looks to pass by East Carolina Pirates guard Kentrell Barkley (15) during a game at Moody Coliseum. SMU won 74-63. Mandatory Credit: Ray Carlin-USA TODAY Sports
SMU Mustangs point guard Shake Milton has the physical gifts to be one of the most influential players in basketball history. For those unfamiliar, he’s a 6’7″ point guard with a near 7’0″ wingspan, a smooth jump shot, and quality handles.
Milton has to improve as a facilitator, and he may end up being more of a shooting guard, but there’s far too much upside to ignore.
Upside may be a polarizing word, and Milton may not become the player who he’s clearly capable of becoming. He’s a 20-year-old sophomore with an outstanding jump shot, however, as well as the size to potentially slash and finish at virtual will.
He converted 52 3-point field goals on 42.6 percent shooting from beyond the arc in 2015-16 and made multiple 3-point field goals in nine of his final 11 games.
Milton spent his first year on the collegiate scene playing for all-time head coach: Larry Brown. That may not be an appealing truth to New York Knicks fans, but it was invaluable experience for a player who could be the answer at point guard.
Whether he’s a star or merely a role player, there’s too much upside and potential to ignore.
Mar 28, 2016; Chicago, IL, USA; McDonalds All-American forward Malik Monk dunks during the McDonalds All-American Powerade Jamfest at the Chicago Theatre. Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports
There are few players more explosive than Kentucky Wildcats freshman guard Malik Monk. He’s positionally ambiguous, but he can be classified as a point guard for the sake of discussing what the New York Knicks should do.
With explosive athleticism, a lethal jump shot, and the finishing ability to make nightly appearances on SportsCenter, Monk is a player worth watching.
Monk stands at just under 6’4″ and 187 pounds, which is the prototypical build for a point guard. He hasn’t yet displayed the tools to be an NBA-caliber facilitator, however, which calls his future into question.
There’s simply no way around the fact that Monk has the physical gifts to be a dominant athletic force in the Association.
Monk can play above the rim without any issues whatsoever. He’s also an outstanding shooter when his feet are set and a creative finisher who can help solidify the Knicks’ pick and roll and slashing attacks.
Monk has more upside than established ability, but with a 42.0″ max vertical leap, it’s hard not to be intrigued by his potential.
Mar 19, 2016; Denver , CO, USA; Iowa State Cyclones head coach Steve Prohm celebrates with Iowa State Cyclones guard Monte Morris (11) after Iowa State vs Arkansas Little Rock during the second round of the 2016 NCAA Tournament at Pepsi Center. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports
The Iowa State Cyclones have one of the most skilled point guards in the country in Monte Morris. He has the size, length, court vision, range as a shooter, and defensive potential to make a consistent impact on both ends of the floor.
If the New York Knicks are in need of a point guard at the end of the first round or early in the second round, Morris could be the target.
Morris has averaged 6.9 assists per game in 2015-16 and 5.2 in 2014-15. He’s a tremendous facilitator who can set the table for shooters, work the pick and roll, and run the show in transition with smooth bounce passes and lobs.
Morris will need to prove he’s an NBA-caliber all-around player, but he’s certainly discovered a skill that can keep him employed at the next level.
Adding a player who can work the pick and roll and facilitate would be a wise move for the Knicks. Jeff Hornacek can keep the offense flowing with his motion offense, but the presence of a true facilitator would be invaluable.
Morris is likely to be a second-round draft pick, which is where the Knicks should target him.
North Carolina State Wolfpack point guard Dennis Smith Jr. has drawn comparisons to Los Angeles Clippers superstar Chris Paul. Smith is more of a scorer than a facilitator at this current juncture, but he has the raw ability to do it all on both ends of the floor.
If Smith can stay healthy during the 2016-17 college basketball season, then he’ll have a chance to be one of the Top 5 selections in the 2017 NBA Draft.
Beyond the obvious need to prove himself on the collegiate level, there’s no question about whether or not Smith is skilled enough to play at a star-caliber level. His skill set is as polished as any incoming point guard in the country.
Smith suffered a torn ACL in high school, however, which could cause general managers to shy away from selecting him.
If a healthy Smith falls to the New York Knicks, then he’d be worth the investment. He has the potential to be the best player in this draft class, with the skill set and the tenacity to be a nightly double-double threat in the NBA.
Smith has the all-around ability that every general manager covets in a point guard. He’s unlikely to be available, but New York should study him closely on the off chance he is.
Feb 9, 2016; Omaha, NE, USA; Xavier Musketeers guard Edmond Sumner (4) dribbles against Creighton Bluejays guard Maurice Watson Jr. (10) at CenturyLink Center Omaha. Mandatory Credit: Steven Branscombe-USA TODAY Sports
Xavier Musketeers point guard Edmond Sumner may be the most physically intriguing point guard in the 2017 NBA Draft. Standing at just under 6’6″ with a 6’8″ wingspan, Sumner has the size and length that Phil Jackson has been known to adore in a point guard.
Sumner has more upside than immediate value, but if he proves himself in 2016-17, he should find himself firmly on the New York Knicks’ radar.
Sumner has garnered hype as far as being a lottery pick in 2017 is concerned. He’s yet to have earned that distinction, however, and he’ll need to improve his jump shot before a team is willing to take that gamble.
Whether Sumner falls or the Knicks pick earlier than expected in the 2017 NBA Draft, he’s the type of player Jackson and the front office should be scouting.
In 2015-16, Sumner recorded per 40 minute averages of 17.0 points, 5.6 assists, 5.3 rebounds, 1.9 steals, and 1.2 3-point field goals made. He needs to improve his efficiency, but those statistics display how well-rounded a player he truly is.
Sumner has tantalizing upside, but he needs to better establish himself as an NBA-caliber point guard in 2016-17.