Knicks’ ‘gritty’ 2nd-round draft pick is a perfect fit for HC Tom Thibodeau

Kevin McCullar, Knicks
Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

The New York Knicks further enhanced their deep wing depth by taking a star standout from Kansas with the 56th pick in this year’s draft in Kevin McCullar Jr. The forward has been consistently compared to fellow Knicks forward Josh Hart thanks to his gritty style of play on both ends along with the ability to score at a high level.

McCullar broke out in his senior year at Kansas, averaging a career-high 18.3 points, and increased his three-point shot volume by shooting 33% on a career-high 4.5 attempts from beyond the arc per game. On the defensive end, he averaged 1.6 steals in his entire college career. He’s a bit on the smaller side of forwards at 6-foot-6 and 206 pounds, which is what has sparked the Hart comparisons.

Former St. John’s head coach thinks McCullar is a strong fit for the Knicks

Kevin McCullar, Knicks
Credit: Evert Nelson/The Capital-Journal / USA TODAY NETWORK

Former St. John’s head coach and former Kansas assistant Norm Roberts spoke highly about McCullar to the New York Post’s Peter Botte, and highlighted what the fit under head coach Tom Thibodeau could look like.

“He probably has as high of a defensive IQ as any player I’ve ever been around in my life. And he’s tough as nails, so he’ll go guard a 6-foot-9 guy or guard a 5-foot-11 guy. So that, to me, is a guy that will fit right in with who they are and what they do,” Roberts said to The New York Post.

Thibodeau has a knack for utilizing players who play with great energy on the court, as he played Hart in nearly every possible minute during the 2024 playoffs. Doing so was a crucial factor in them being one game short of the Eastern Conference Finals despite missing several key players to injuries.

The Knicks are loaded on wing depth

May 10, 2024; Indianapolis, Indiana, USA; New York Knicks guard Josh Hart (3) reacts to a made basket during game three of the second round for the 2024 NBA playoffs against the Indiana Pacers at Gainbridge Fieldhouse. Mandatory Credit: Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports
Credit: Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

It will be tough for the Knicks to fit McCullar into the rotation for next season, as they are loaded up on wings like Mikal Bridges and OG Anunoby along with Hart off the bench to match up with some of the Eastern Conference’s biggest contenders. However, further down the road, he could be a serious option for them. The Knicks found a diamond in the rough with their second-round selection of Miles McBride back in 2021 as he is now a crucial part of the team’s defensive identity, so they will hope that the same can occur for McCullar when an opportunity presents itself.

The Knicks have found success with former second-round picks

New York Knicks head coach Tom Thibodeau with guard Jalen Brunson (11) against the Phoenix Suns at Footprint Center
Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

For what it’s worth, Jalen Brunson was also a second-round pick with the Dallas Mavericks in 2018 and has since blossomed into the superstar he has now become. Mitchell Robinson is another example of a second-round draft pick that has panned out nicely for the Knicks. The same to happen for McCullar is certainly not a guarantee, but recent history gives a reason to feel hopeful about his future impact with the team.

McCullar is far from a finished product, as his senior year at Kansas was by far the most involvement he had during his entire college career, including his first three years at Texas Tech. Despite the increased shot volume, he still needs to work on his efficiency, as his college career splits were 44%/30%/75%. The offensive improvements will come as the years pass, and some time in the G League should help him refine his skillet to be ready for NBA action.

The Knicks drafted a promising piece in McCullar, and when the time comes, his impact could be put on full display in New York as the team continues its quest for an NBA title.

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