Ohio State guard D’Angelo Russell may be the point guard the Knicks need – and he may fall to Phil Jackson’s team at No. 4 overall.
The Knicks and their fans have been pointing to these next two weeks since before the calendar turned to 2015, with the hope that the NBA draft on Thursday and the opening of free agency on July 1 finally will begin to expunge the negativity engulfing the franchise during the worst season in team history.
The first step is maximizing the fourth selection in what widely is considered a deep draft — whether they hold onto the pick they got in the lottery after finishing with the second-worst record (17-65) in the league or trade down in the first round to acquire a lower pick and another asset.
Here’s a look at some of the players team president Phil Jackson potentially could land on Thursday night at Barclays Center:
1. D’Angelo Russell, 19, G, Ohio State
With big men Karl-Anthony Towns and Jahlil Okafor expected to be the top two picks by Minnesota and the Lakers, Philadelphia’s decision at No.3 will massively impact the Knicks’ selection. After last year’s first-rounder Joel Embiid reportedly suffered a setback in his comeback bid from foot surgery, several mock drafts now have the Sixers mulling taking Latvian big man Kristaps Porzingis with their pick. That would leave Russell — who met with and worked out for Jackson and Derek Fisher last week — to surprisingly be there for the Knicks. The 6-5 combo guard, a 19-point scorer per game for the Buckeyes as a freshman, told ESPN this weekend that he believes he “definitely can thrive” within the triangle offense after admitting at last month’s draft combine that he had little previous familiarity with Jackson’s beloved system.
2. Emmanuel Mudiay, 19, G, Guangdong
Jackson said in a published interview last week that the Knicks’ fall in the draft makes them likely to take a guard or wing player if they remain at No. 4, with the plan to address their holes up front via free agency. If Russell is gone by the third pick, however, Jackson and the Knicks instantly revert to becoming the likely wild cards on draft night. The Congo-born, Texas-raised Mudiay similarly is considered one of the wild-card prospects available after bypassing SMU and playing professionally in China last season. Like Russell, Mudiay is a good-sized combo guard at 6-5, which fits Jackson’s preference at the position, although scouts say his outside shot needs to be more consistent.
3. Justise Winslow, 19, SF, Duke
Winslow, whose father Rickie was a freshman alongside Hakeem Olajuwon on Houston’s Phi Slama Jama NCAA finalists in 1984, enjoyed a breakout tournament to help lift Duke to a championship during his lone season in Durham. The swingman possesses versatile skills, including an ability to defend multiple positions, and basketball smarts that Jackson covets for the triangle.
4. Willie Cauley-Stein, 21, C, Kentucky
The Knicks currently have no big men on their roster, underscoring their fall out of the top two slots in the lottery. Jackson has cited the need to add a Tyson Chandler type either via the draft or free agency, and this 7-footer’s defensive-minded game has been often compared to the former All-Star center the Zen Master traded away last summer. The Knicks, who worked out or interviewed nearly 30 players in recent weeks, also are said to like Trey Lyles — another former Kentucky big man — Wisconsin’s Frank Kaminsky and Murray State point guard Cameron Payne. But those players are projected to be available several picks after No. 4, which is why Jackson will continue to consider various trade scenarios until the Knicks officially are on the clock on Thursday night.
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