NBA Draft Combine: Shotmakers on Knicks’ radar

The biggest takeaway from the New York Knicks’ playoff flop is that they need more shotmakers.

It was a jarring reminder of what the Knicks are missing.

They saw up close how Trae Young demolished their season-long top-five defense. Then they watched Young cut Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons down to size in the second round. The Atlanta Hawks continue to soar, beating Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals on the road behind Young’s career-high 48 points.

Over in the West, Leon Rose’s former favorite clients Chris Paul and Devin Booker are leading the Phoenix Suns’ scorching playoff run.

It’s becoming clear that the NBA is reverting to a guards’ league.

With Damian Lillard increasingly likely to stay in Portland, and Paul standing on solid ground in Phoenix, the Knicks will have to find the needle in the haystack in this Draft.

After rounding up few marginal prospects in the past weeks, New York’s top brass have turned up the notch. In a show of force, Rose, Scott Perry, coach Tom Thibodeau and scouting guru Walt Perrin led a strong contingent that flew to Chicago for this week’s NBA Draft Combine.

The Knicks have sized up the next three explosive guards outside Cade Cunningham, Jalen Green, and Jalen Suggs, who are projected to go inside the Top Four.

Curiously, fan-favorite Sharife Cooper of Auburn revealed on Thursday he has not met with the Knicks yet while he acknowledged he’s hearing a lot of people wanting him to go there. Meanwhile, Florida’s Tre Mann said he’s met with about 10 teams though it wasn’t clear if the Knicks are included in that group.

New York has four picks in the draft — the 19th and 21st pick (via Dallas) in the first round; 32nd (via Detroit) and 58th pick (via Philadelphia) in the second round.

Trending up

VCU’s Nah’shon “Bones” Hyland could be available by the time the Knicks select in the early second round. But the Delaware native might have played his way to the first round after an impressive showing in Day 1 of the Draft Combine.

Hyland drew rave reviews after putting together 17 points, six rebounds, and four assists in his team’s 76-57 win in front of NBA executives and scouts. Measured as 6’3.5” with shoes and a 6’8.25” wingspan, Hyland could be another Immanuel Quickley, a steal at 25th pick last year. The Rams’ high-scoring guard shot 7-of-11 from the field including 3-of-5 3s. He was the best player on the floor on Day 1.

Hyland said he had workouts with the Utah Jazz, Knicks, and the Boston Celtics before heading to Chicago.

“The [Knicks] workout went very well. I did my thing, that’s for sure. Interviewing with the front office, I think, was one of the best parts of the workout,” Hyland said.

In two seasons with the Rams, he shot 40 percent of his 3s on six attempts per game. He was VCU’s leading scorer last season with 19.5 points on a 45/37/86 shooting split.

Hyland missed out on the opportunity to raise his draft stock in the NCAA tournament after the Rams were forced to pull out due to multiple positive COVID-19 cases.

His Draft Combine performance should erase some doubts on whether Hyland’s three-level scoring can translate well against tougher competition.

“I’m a combo guard,” Hyland said. “And I can run the point as well. I’m very versatile. I see my game as a scoring point guard, honestly. That’s really me. I can assist the ball at a high level, and I could score at a really high level. But I have a lot to offer for sure.”

Hyland said he’s gotten some pointers from Quickley ahead of his Knicks’ interview.

“I played a little rec (recreation) ball with him. He’s a great dude. He’s like my bro,” Hyland said of Quickley.

The 20-year old NBA prospect is confident that he’ll go high in the Draft and the Knicks might need one of their first-round picks if they intend to grab him.

“[I’m gonna be picked] High for sure. I’m the type of guy who will go back to the lab and grind for sure. And then everything goes and will take care of itself,” he said.

Safe pick

A projected first-rounder is newly-minted NCAA champion Jared Butler, who met with Rose and co. before he sat down for his media availability on Thursday.

“I just interviewed with the Knicks like 10, 20 minutes ago,” said Baylor’s leading scorer. “It went great. It went really well.”

Butler led the Bears to the national title as their leading scorer averaging 16.7 points and 4.8 assists.

The 20-year old Butler is a smart, crafty combo guard who can create his shot and bully smaller guards. Packed with a smooth, high-release jump shot, Butler shot 41.6 percent of his 3s on 6.2 attempts last season.

He was measured 6’3.75” with shoes but some scouts have scoffed at his small 6’4” wingspan. However, that didn’t stop him from being a solid defender averaging two steals per game.

Some in the Knicks organization are high on him for his tremendous basketball IQ and his impact on winning. They quizzed him during his interview.

“[They] Just really try to get to know me and pick my brains in certain situations in the game. They asked me about specific things during my time at Baylor. What I learned from that. How’s that translate to their team but it went really well,” Butler said.

Butler’s lack of size and athleticism has pushed him out of the lottery. He’s projected to go as high as No. 19 (ESPN) to as low as No. 31 (The Athletic).

Hometown kid with star appeal

What Butler lacks, UConn’s athletic guard James Bouknight has.

Measured at 6’4.75” with shoes and a 6’8.25” wingspan, Bouknight is one of the bigger guards in the Draft.

As the Huskies’ go-to guy, he averaged 18.7 points and had a career-high 40 points against Creighton.

While he is more of a scorer than a playmaker, Bouknight has struggled with his outside shot. He only averaged 1.8 assists and hit just 29.3 percent of his 3s.

“I think [my 3-point shot] it’s definitely part of my game that’s underrated and my playmaking ability,” Bouknight said.

“I just feel like the role I had at UConn — being that go-to guy to go get the team a bucket when we need one — I sometimes took ill-advised, tough shots. That came with the role I had,” he explained. “I’m not worried at all about my 3-point shot. Like at all. I think I’m going to surprise a lot of people.”

Booker and Donovan Mitchell started their NBA careers with a shaky outside shot. So there’s a belief that Bouknight, a natural scorer with great size for a guard, can develop in the next level. 

Bouknight, a Brooklyn native, grew up a Knicks fan.

“Being from New York, playing basketball growing up in New York, playing at the Garden, it would be a dream come true,” Bouknight said.

And he made that clear to the Knicks’ top brass during his interview, giving them the motivation to trade up for him.

“I don’t even know how to explain that feeling. Going to New York would be fun and hit everyone up I grew up with. That would be like an accomplishment for me. I definitely told them I’m from New York. They kind of already knew,” Bouknight said.

The UConn star could be selected inside the top 10 to just outside the lottery. The Athletic currently views him as the Golden State Warriors’ pick at No. 7. Bleacher Report has Bouknight going to the Indiana Pacers at No. 13. ESPN sees him going to the Warriors at No. 14. The Ringer pegs him as the Knicks’ 19th pick.

If picked by his hometown team, Bouknight is confident he could slide into the lead guard’s role that the Knicks have been missing.

“I feel like the Knicks fit would be great.  Just another guard you can give the ball and ask him to get a basket,” Bouknight said. “I really feel my playmaking ability is underrated. Going to a team where I can showcase that part of my game, I feel I can do that for the Knicks.”

He has the supreme belief that he’s built for The Mecca.

“Watching the playoffs, you see you need that guy to give the ball, and he can just create a basket and make plays for others and be a go-to guy. I feel I can be that as a rookie. I feel I’m someone you can get the ball to and go get a basket.”

Bouknight, Butler, and Hyland offer different types of shotmaking and playmaking. Could one of them become the answer to the Knicks’ backcourt woes?

Follow this writer on Twitter: @alderalmo

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