AJ Griffin could be Knicks pick if Jaden Ivey proves too costly

AJ Griffin Knicks NBA Draft

The New York Knicks have dreams of pairing Jaden Ivey and RJ Barrett. But realizing that dream is more challenging than they thought it would be.

The Knicks are competing against almost every team picking after Sacramento to move up for the Kings’ No. 4 pick, which is the projected draft range of Ivey.

Per ESPN’s Jonathan Givony, Indiana (No. 6), Washington (No. 10), Oklahoma City (No. 12), Atlanta (No. 16) and others have approached the Kings aside from the Knicks. In what is shaping up to be a competitive bidding war, the Knicks’ initial offer of multiple first-round picks wasn’t enough to lock a deal in, per SNY’s Ian Begley.

ESPN’s college basketball analyst Jay Bilas views Ivey as a star-caliber talent, a cross between Dwyane Wade and Ja Morant.

“He’s dynamic and explosive,” Bilas said of Ivey in a conference call with reporters Tuesday. “He’s not as powerful as Wade was coming out of Marquette back in 2003. But what an explosive athlete, incredibly fast on the open floor. He can shoot it. He’s a shot creator. His defense, I think will improve or should improve because he’s not been the most focused defender, but there’s not a whole lot to complain about on the offensive end with Jaden Ivey.”

With that kind of projection, it is not unreasonable for the Kings to leverage the high demand for their lottery pick. Rival reams believed that “the asking price will be considerable, with a mix of established vets (Malcolm Brogdon, Kyle Kuzma, Jerami Grant, John Collins), a 2022 draft choice and rookie-scale contract players such as the Pacers’ Chris Duarte,” according to Givony.

“Because Jaden Ivey is a valuable asset whether you have him on the team or a valuable asset whether you want to trade him later,” Bilas said. “He’s super-talented.”

The Kings have a tough decision to make, and so are the Knicks and the other teams who covet Ivey.

“I have no idea what [the Knicks] want to part with, but it better be a lot if somebody’s gonna give up the fourth pick,” Bilas said.

Aside from Julius Randle, whose trade value is at its lowest after a disappointing season and whose fit with Domantas Sabonis is a big question mark, the Knicks do not have the type of established veteran that the other teams in the mix can offer the Kings.

With the Knicks a long shot to trade up for Ivey, they might have to settle with the best available talent at No. 11 if they will not trade down or trade out of the draft altogether.

Bilas listed Duke’s AJ Griffin, Wisconsin’s Johnny Davis and Ohio State’s Malaki Branham as possible options for the Knicks if they stand pat. Of the three, Griffin has been mocked to the Knicks by The Athletic and ESPN.

The 19-year-old Griffin could make a heartwarming homecoming as Obi Toppin did in 2019. The deadliest shooter in this draft class, Griffin projects to be a better complementary player next to Barrett, who likes to attack the rim like Ivey.

Griffin, who starred for Archbishop Stepinac High School in White Plains, shot 45 percent of his three-pointers as a one-and-done prospect at Duke.

Bilas views Griffin as a potential 3-and-D prospect with his shooting and a 7-foot-wingspan and chiseled body. What’s holding back Griffin from cracking the upper half of the lottery is his medical history. He missed most of his junior and senior season in high school due to knee and ankle injuries. He overcame another knee injury in the preseason and finished his lone season at Duke strong.

“I don’t know about any red flags. I mean, certainly, he had an injury in high school, but it kept him out for over a year. And so when he got to Duke, he hadn’t played in a while. And that certainly slowed his starts, but it certainly didn’t slow his finish and there’s no player in this draft, with the number of attempts he had, that shot the ball as well as he did,” Bilas said.

Griffin made 71 of 159 three-point attempts in 39 college games. He was one of the most prolific spot-up shooters in college (191 points, 1.17 points per possession, 91st percentile).

The Westchester native said it would be a dream come true to play for the Knicks and he relishes the idea of playing alongside Barrett.

“Just from watching him play, I think our games, we would be good together,” Griffin said of Barrett. “I know he likes to facilitate, get downhill, get spot shots. I just think we’re from Duke; we just got that Duke connection. I think that’d be cool to play with him, and we’d really complement each other’s games.”

His connection to the Knicks goes beyond that Duke connection. He also played against Toppin in youth basketball games in Ossining while his father, Adrian Griffin, worked under Tom Thibodeau as an assistant coach in Chicago.

If Ivey will be out of reach, Griffin is still a quality fallback option.

Follow this writer on Twitter: @alderalmo

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