Towns, Oladipo on the way? Knicks’ future looks rosy on Leon Rose’s first year anniversary

New York Knicks, Leon Rose

On this day last year, the New York Knicks officially announced the hiring of Leon Rose as team president, replacing Steve Mills.

While there were reservations of his hiring with some quarters hoped that the Knicks could have waited for Masai Ujiri—the architect of the Denver Nuggets’ emergence in the West and Toronto Raptors’ first NBA championship—to become available, Rose has exceeded expectations on his first year on the job.

Beginner’s Luck?

Since his hiring, Rose has made himself scarce and let the Knicks’ front office moves and play on the court do the talking.

In just one year, Rose has accomplished what Phil Jackson and Mills have failed to do — turn the league’s laughingstock into a rising stock.

The Knicks have the lowest payroll in the league, yet they are in the thick of the fight for a playoff spot. They made savvy moves in the offseason, picking up more draft capital and resisted the temptation to chase after stars on a decline and taking a nosedive on a shallow free agency pool. They unearthed a gem in rookie Immanuel Quickley while the jury is still out on their lottery pick Obi Toppin who can’t carve out significant minutes with Julius Randle emerging as an All-Star this season.

Rose’s biggest acquisition — Tom Thibodeau — has made the Knicks believe that they can win every game. They enter tonight’s game against the San Antonio Spurs, an organization that the Knicks wanted to emulate in terms of stability and respectability, just a 1.5 underdog riding high on a three-game winning streak and the fourth-best record in the East.

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The Knicks have put the league on notice.

The national media, who were laughing at the Knicks’ series of misfortunes, are now pivoting and giving their roses to Rose.

“Here’s the thing. They have one of the top former agents in the league running the organization in Leon Rose. Their no.2 in their team [William Wesley] — his specialty is relationship-building, and he’s known for working in the shadows. They’re playing in New York City. They have an abundance of draft picks, young assets, and cap space. The only sort of flaw in here is I’m not sure that every player wants to play for Thibs. But there are some who like him. I say that within the next 12 months, a star or a superstar player will demand a trade to New York,” ESPN’s Brian Windhorst said on his podcast The Hoop Collective.

Could the Knicks finally land a star?

Windhorst restraint himself from dropping names, but he hinted that executives around the league have their guesses.

Who could that be?

Minnesota’s Karl-Anthony Towns, Rose’s biggest client before he jumped on the Knicks’ job, has long been rumored to be a Knicks’ target.

Stefan Bondy of the Daily News added fuel to the fire when he hinted that Thibodeau is open to a reunion with Towns, who reportedly didn’t see eye to eye with his former coach during their brief partnership in Minnesota.

“I don’t know if Minnesota would ever make Karl-Anthony Towns available. But as bad as things ended for Thibodeau in Minnesota, I’ve heard that he’d be open to Karl-Anthony Towns again because Thibodeau just wants to win, and he thinks Karl-Anthony Towns will help him do that. And so I know that Karl-Anthony Towns is somebody that’s actually been reported before that the Knicks are monitoring as well,” Bondy said on SNY’s Putback last week.

Cornerstone or Trade Chip?

Bondy’s response came after Newsday’s Steve Popper posited that Randle could be a valuable trade piece down the line.

“Because of his contract and the way he’s producing, he’s a hugely viable asset around the league. He’s not overpaid. He’s got an out after next year if you want to pick his option next year. It’s not a long-term deal right now. Could I see him as a piece, maybe pair with another young asset, another young player, or a pick for Karl-Anthony Towns if Thibodeau wanted to go there? You could absolutely see something like that,” Popper said on SNY’s Putback. “And I think that’s a reasonable offer for Minnesota.”

KAT-Randle trade

Windhorst also shares the same view about the 26-year old Randle, who is in the midst of a career-year.

“I say by next year’s trade deadline, a star or a superstar player will force his way there, and they’re gonna be in a position to do that type of trade, and maybe that’s where Julius Randle comes in and does his greatest service for the Knicks especially if he continues to play this way because he could be a part of that trade,” Windhorst said on his podcast.

Knicks still Kings of New York

Meanwhile, First Take’s Max Kellerman, a former Knicks fan and a staunch critic of the team, has admitted that he’s recently watched a Knicks game — from beginning to end — in a long while.

“This is something new. They’re a young and exciting team. The culture seems healthy. It looks like [James] Dolan has finally got out of the way,” Kellerman said.

“My hats off to this young team. They’re a game over .500. They’re in fourth place in the conference. But to say ‘Are the Knicks back?’ No, this is something new. Look, they’re called the Knicks, the laughingstock of the league. This is new,” he added.

Kellerman went on to say that even if the Brooklyn Nets are the bigger story with the trio of Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, and James Harden, the Knicks remain the kings of New York.

“What’s crazy to me is nationally the Nets are the story. People outside New York don’t care about the Knicks. They care about the Nets. But inside New York, in terms of locally, the Knicks still got it. People get more excited.

When they have a team that they can get behind when New York does because of effort especially and intensity when you know these young guys are working hard and laying it all out there, New York respects that in a different way,” Kellerman explained.

Attracting marquee free agents

With Rose effectively changing the Knicks’ image around the league, the once-moribund franchise is in a prime position to land a star finally.

For a team that has long been tied to dysfunction and incompetence, it’s a whiff of fresh air to have the national media talking about the Knicks in a positive light.

The Knicks may regress with a brutal second-half schedule–considered the third-hardest in the league–ahead of them. They may or may not be in the playoffs, but this season is already considered a victory for Rose and the Knicks in the big picture.

“Let me say this. You know why I was laughing at you guys when you’re thinking you’re gonna get KD (Kevin Durant) because players don’t go to bad cultures. The reason the Nets got those guys is because the culture was good. This Knicks team, if they keep doing this, the message they’re gonna send to potential free agents is it’s a good place to play, and then New York sells itself,” Kellerman said. “This could be the first time ever really that a top-flight free agent eventually signs with the Knicks.”

Will that be Victor Oladipo?

Oladipo, who recently rejected a two-year deal from Houston Rockets, is set to become a free agent. Even if Oladipo is not traded to the Knicks in the next two weeks, he will be a prime target in the free agency. If the Knicks keep on winning, they may give the Miami Heat a run for their money in the Oladipo sweepstakes this summer.

The Knicks may or may not land Oladipo.

But what Rose’s shrewd leadership has shown is important to their long-suffering fan base. He made the Knicks relevant again without being extravagant.

Follow this writer on Twitter: @alderalmo

Knicks of Dreams: Inside the culture rebuild in New York

New York Knicks, Leon Rose

If you build, they will come.

That is essentially Leon Rose’s vision for his “Knicks of Dreams,” channeling his inner Ray Kinsella.

The New York Knicks team president has stuck to his summer proclamation that they’re building the right way.

Though it’s a small sample size, the early results have been encouraging.

Basically using the same core as last year in the starting unit, and despite the rash of injuries, Knicks’ new coach Tom Thibodeau was able to make do with what he has on their way to beating a pair of playoff-quality opponents.

The Knicks have a chance to get above .500 for the first time in a long while when they take on the Atlanta Hawks, owner of the league’s second-best offense, Monday night.

Trust Thibs’ process

They were fun to watch when they routed the Milwaukee Bucks at home and pulled out a gut-wrenching win on the road against the Indiana Pacers.

But there were also “growing pains” moments, just like when their starters shot their way to the wrong end of the history with a 0-for-23 three-point mark in a 17-point loss to the Toronto Raptors.

That prompted free-agent acquisition Austin Rivers to plead for patience from the anxious Knicks fans on their team’s page on Instagram.

The next day, he walked the talk and contributed 15 points, including the game-sealing layup, off the bench in a character-building win in Indianapolis. Rivers then took us inside the culture that Thibodeau has been building.

“I’ve never done that. I’ve never commented on a team page. But I just want to let it known that Knicks have great fans. I know they have been waiting a long time to see progress. We’re on the right direction,” Rivers said afterward.

Rivers has nixed offers from several playoff teams, including a reunion with his father Doc Rivers in Philadelphia because he was sold to Rose’s “Knicks of Dreams.”

‘We’re gonna get there’

The younger Rivers said he had not been here long enough to know everything about the Knicks. But there’s one thing he’s really certain about. The Knicks are about to turn the corner.

“I don’t meant to come off as someone who knows everything. But they’ve brought in all these new people from top to bottom, from Leon to Thibs, to players to trainers, I mean everything… the whole nine yards. I just want to let people know that be patient. We’re working so hard. Tonight’s a big win, but we know we still have a lot of work to do.” Rivers said after picking up their third win.

“Every time I get to the locker room, I keep on telling guys we have to keep building, we have to keep building. So we are heading in the right direction. I know we have great fans. We’re doing everything we can, We’re building, and we’re gonna get there,” he continued. “Right now, we just have a whole team that is buying it. It’s the beginning, so, like I said, we have a lot more work to do, but it’s just nice to have good guys, and everybody is buying it.

Building the culture

A couple of months before Thibodeau was hired, he guested on The Platform podcast and had a revealing interview.

“How you build a culture is you have to sell your vision to your best players and your best players have to sell it to the rest of the team,” Thibodeau said in May. “Your first meeting is the most important meeting of the year. You have to begin with the end in mind. What wins in the playoffs, these are the things that you have to do, building habits.”

Thibodeau has relied on his veterans to right the ship. He’s always mentioned Julius Randle’s leadership dating back to as far as before their OTA.

The Knicks’ quiet but underrated offseason has yielded high-character and productive veterans on cheap deals. Rivers, Alec Burks, and Nerlens Noel are proving to be smart acquisitions by this new savvy front office.

The veterans have bought in to Thibodeau’s vision, and they’re selling it to the younger core of the team. 

“We’re coming together great. It helps when you have great guys. It makes my job, Julius’ job, all the vets who are going to lead this team. It makes our job easier,” Rivers said.

“All the young guys that we have are great. Guys who are not playing are real supportive. Everybody is cheering each other on. That’s what we’ve been trying to instill in the locker room. If you’re not playing, be happy for someone else’s success. You got to act the right way. You have to be professional because you never know who’s watching you, you never know when your opportunity is coming. So right now, we just have a whole team buying in. It’s the beginning,” he added.

Tight-knit group

Theo Pinson, another Knicks’ offseason acquisition, is one of those guys who’s been riding the bench that has been providing a jolt of energy. He’d seen this play out before across the borough when he was the Brooklyn Nets’ no. 1 cheerleader on the bench.

“I think team camaraderie is the biggest thing. The more you like each other off the court, it helps the court, especially with a young team. You go out there and start playing selflessly. You just want to play for each other. You want to see the other person succeed. That’s when everybody eats. As you could see, it help the guys in Brooklyn,” Pinson reflecting on his experience with the Nets.

“That’s also gonna help here. The guys in the locker room, we get along really well. We are already a tight-knit group. Even after the loss to Indiana [in the season opener], we already started talking to each other about what we saw on the court, what we can do better, how we can get each other better shots on the court, how we can finish games. So for us to react to a loss like that early is big time, in my opinion,” Pinson continued.

It showed in their rematch. The Pacers couldn’t bully the Knicks the way they did in the season opener. The Knicks flaunted their newfound chemistry and defensive tenacity.

Playing for each other

Rookie point guard Immanuel Quickley represents the Knicks’ future. The dynamic guard out of Kentucky has successfully returned from a hip pointer that caused him to miss four games.

His playmaking and shotmaking has injected a new dimension to the Knicks’ offense and has stabilized their second unit. 

Viewed by fans as a threat to Payton’s starting job, the veteran guard has taken it in stride and is, in fact, mentoring the Knicks’ point guard of the future.

“I say Elfrid is definitely a big one, just showing me little things that would help me on and off the floor. I have really gotten close with pretty much all the guys. I feel like this team is really tight-knit. We love being around each other. I feel like this group can do something special just because of the type of chemistry that we have,” Quickley said after the Knicks’ Monday shootaround in Atlanta.

Payton has rebounded well from his scoreless performance in their earlier home loss to the Philadelphia 76ers. He’s since averaged 18.5 points on 61 percent field goal shooting and 5.8 assists to solidify his stranglehold of the starting job.

It’s just one of those many proofs of the Thibodeau effect in New York.

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The Knicks have long been the league’s laughingstock, but Thibodeau’s serious approach to the game has started to change the team’s dynamics and culture.

Their early success has put the league on notice.

Knicks’ biggest acquisition

Thibodeau’s gift of maximizing value out of his players is seen as a curse by his critics.

But for a team lacking in bona fide superstars, Thibodeau is proving to be the team’s biggest acquisition, essentially the team’s superstar.

Rose’s unpopular decision of opting for a coaching retread is paying dividends for this young Knicks team.

“We want to find the right leader that can develop our young players as well as hold everyone accountable,” Rose said in his first public appearance in June. “And take us from development to becoming a perennial winner. We also want someone that we think will be collaborative with the front office and someone that when you’re in that huddle and when you’re looking at that coach’s eyes, every player who’s looking at him knows that person is driving the ship and going to get the job done.”

So far, Thibodeau is getting the job done.

Rose’s vision of bringing back the Knicks’ old glory is starting to come to life. Just like how Kinsella’s “Field of Dreams” has brought back to life Shoeless Jackson and his baseball team.

Rivers can see it. Pinson has seen this play out before. Quickley is feeling it. The national media has taken notice.

If you build the culture, the wins and stars will come to Leon Rose’s “Knicks of Dreams.”

Follow this writer on Twitter: @alderalmo

Tom Thibodeau on Knicks offseason moves: ‘We wanted to be disciplined’

New York Knicks, Tom Thibodeau

The New York Knicks have always been under the microscope.

So the Knicks went into the offseason with so much anticipation from their fan base and around the league.

Armed with a massive $40-million cap space, the Knicks have struck out anew in a free agency devoid of franchise-altering stars. But it’s not that they didn’t try to go after second-tier stars Gordon Hayward and Fred Van Vleet or inquired about the Chris Paul and Russell Westbrook.

They did.

But they resisted the temptation of recklessly throwing big money on stars on the decline.

For a change, the Knicks showed restraint.

“I like it,” Knicks head coach Tom Thibodeau said on a zoom call with reporters Tuesday on how their front office operated with prudence during the offseason.

“Obviously I had input with Leon. And that’s all did I ever asked for – just to have a voice heard and that happened. We understood coming in what the challenges would be. We’re excited about the people we do have. We understand that it’s important for us to build a winning culture. And if we can do that, good things will happen,” he added.

The Knicks ended up doling out short-term contracts to veteran role players Alec Burks, Nerlens Noel, Austin Rivers, and re-signing Elfrid Payton to a more team-friendly deal.

Patience is now Thibs’ virtue

Thibodeau, a win-now coach, shows extraordinary patience as the Knicks’ new regime under his friend, team president Leon Rose, kept their massive space for next summer’s loaded free agency.

Thibodeau will use next season to lay the foundation of the rebuild.

He referenced his brief stop in Minnesota, where in the first season, he missed the playoffs despite having former lottery picks Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins. And he also mentioned how the Philadelphia 76ers went through losing seasons despite having rising stars Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons.

“Obviously, a couple of different roads you can go down. If you study it and look at how teams are built, I went through this in Minnesota – the draft is critical, free agency is critical, player development is critical and trade opportunities are critical. When you look back at Philadelphia, what they went through, obviously, they went through a lot of losing and were able to get Embiid and Simmons, and when they had their veterans, that’s when they took off,” Thibodeau said.

Both the Timberwolves and the 76ers enjoyed success when veterans came to show the way for their young stars.

‘We wanted to be disciplined’

A common denominator for the Timberwolves and the Sixers is Jimmy Butler.

When Thibodeau traded for Butler in Minnesota, the Timberwolves made the playoffs for the first time in 14 years. When Butler forced his way out of Minnesota that cost Thibodeau his job, the Sixers felt Butler’s impact. They came to a Kawhi Leonard buzzer-beater away from going into the Eastern Conference Finals.

“I think you look at four avenues and try to build your plan that way. I thought we had a well-thought-out plan. We took advantage of some things that we thought would be good for us. But we wanted to be disciplined. And we were,” Thibodeau said.

The Knicks did take advantage of teams like the Utah Jazz and the Timberwolves who wanted to shed salaries and got plenty of future second-round picks and young players Omari Spellman and Jacob Evans in return.

The Knicks made underrated, smart moves and operated as a small market team, which can be attributed to the forward-thinking of chief strategist Brock Aller, who came from the Cleveland Cavaliers and assistant general manager Walter Perrin, who came from the Jazz.

And to top it all, the Knicks had a good draft with a couple of sneaky moves that landed them College Player of the Year and Brooklyn native Obi Toppin from Dayton and SEC Player of the Year Immanuel Quickley from Kentucky to add their collection of young talents.

‘We can’t skip steps’

With a young core devoid of a veteran of Butler’s caliber, Thibodeau plans to build a winning culture that will make New York an attractive destination for stars.

“There will be other opportunities as we go forward but we concentrate on players that we have here. Concentrate on our improvement and hopefully, good things will happen,” Thibodeau said.

Thibodeau’s move to get Butler in Minnesota has been viewed as skipping steps but for him, having that right guy to lead them over the hump is the next step after laying down the foundation.

“The first step is practicing the right way. Having professionalism and togetherness that will allow us to reach whatever our potential is. And we want to build a winning culture and that happens day by day. So oftentimes you’re not gonna jump from one point to the top of the league in a short amount of time. So, you have to go step by step. We can’t skip over any of those steps and hopefully, we have the right guys to build that culture,” he continued.

Chess, not checkers

The odds are stacked against the Knicks this season, but Thibodeau and Rose are playing chess, not checkers.

Vegas oddsmakers have the Knicks tied with the Cavaliers for the fewest projected victories at 22 ½ while ESPN is more generous with a 24.7-win projection.

“The focus for us and for our team has to be on doing the right things every day. If we do that, then we’ll improve and get better. And that’s all we have to think about. It doesn’t matter what outside people think,” Thibodeau said.

Another season of losing isn’t what the Knicks fans are expecting from the new regime. But Thibodeau knows New York basketball by heart.

“I think the one thing about New York fans [is that] they’re knowledgeable about the game. I think if they see a team that’s out there working as hard as they can, playing smart and playing together, that will be recognized. And if we’re taking all the little things, the big things will end up taking care of themselves. And if we work on improving each and every day, good things are coming,” Thibodeau said.

Knicks fans have suffered long enough, and they can’t wait for the good things to come.

Follow this writer on Twitter: @alderalmo

Obi Toppin on reppin’ New York: ‘I’m not going to take it for granted’

Like manna from heaven, Obi Toppin fell to Leon Rose’s lap at No. 8.

On a day the New York Knicks frantically tried to trade up, fearing Toppin will be gone by the time they pick, it turned out they didn’t need to.

With FSU’s Patrick Williams and Auburn’s Isaac Okoro shaking up all the mock drafts by going fourth and fifth picks, respectively, the set was stage for Toppin to fall all the way to eighth, just like how the Knicks have wanted it.

Toppin, whose game was made in New York playgrounds, was emotional after it hit him that he’s coming home.

“I’m from New York. Me reppin’ my city is amazing. A lot of people pray to be in this position, I’m not going to take it for granted,” an emotional Toppin said. “I promise you that.”

The 22-year old Toppin will come in and inject excitement to a Knicks team looking to make a major turnaround after seven straight seasons of being in the lottery.

Follow this writer on Twitter: @alderalmo

Knicks move up in the draft, send 2 picks to Jazz for No.23

New York Knicks, Leon Rose

The New York Knicks made their first trade under Leon Rose, packaging the 27th and 38th picks to move up to 23rd in today’s NBA Draft.

ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski first reported the transaction.

The Knicks have also acquired the rights on Croatian 7-foot-2 center Ante Tomic, Jazz’s 44th overall pick in 2008. Tomic is is not expected to play in the NBA.

Interestingly, both the 27th and 38th picks were acquired by the Knicks via previous trades.

The 27th pick was originally from the Los Angeles Clippers via the Marcus Morris trade deadline deal.

The 38th pick, meanwhile, came from the Charlotte Hornets in a 2018 trade involving Willy Hernangomez.

The Knicks must have liked a prospect that they wouldn’t want to slide beyond the 23rd pick.

The 23rd pick also gives the Knicks a much more significant asset than the 28th pick for a bigger move down the road.

If they stand pat, the prospects who could be available at No. 23 that were previously linked to the Knicks are Stanford’s Tyrell Terry, Washington’s Isaiah Stewart, TCU’s Desmond Bane, Arizona’s Josh Green, North Carolina’s Cole Anthony, San Diego State’s Malachi Flynn, and Maryland’s Jalen Smith.

Follow this writer on Twitter: @alderalmo

Kevin O’Connor: Knicks interested in Celtics’ Gordon Hayward

It appears the New York Knicks are trying to acquire not only one but two stars in what is shaping out to be a quick rebuild under new team president Leon Rose.

On the heels of multiple reports coming out from New York that the Knicks have weighed on trading for Houston Rockets’ star Russell Westbrook, another star looms on the horizon.

Kevin O’Connor of The Ringer came out with another bombshell: the Knicks are interested in Boston Celtics’ Gordon Hayward.

“Gordon Hayward, who obviously — there’s already been rumors we’ve heard about maybe him wanting to move on. The Knicks are interested, I’ve heard…,” O’Connor said on The Ringer NBA Show The Mismatch.

Earlier this month, O’Connor’s colleague at The Ringer, Ryen Rusillo, posited on Bill Simmon’s podcast that Hayward is mulling opting out and entering the free agency bereft of superstars. If he opts out, he will become the most prominent name out there, with Toronto Raptors’ free agent Fred Van Vleet not far behind.

“I’ve heard Gordon Hayward does want out, but I don’t know if he’s gonna get the money. He’s not opting out of that huge number unless he knows he’s getting the deal.”

The 30-yeard old Hayward has a $34.1 million player option but maybe looking for long-term security after his stint with the Celtics have been defined by injuries.

The Knicks will still have a cap space to offer Hayward even if they absorb the remaining massive $132.7 million left in Westbrook’s original five-year contract.

Hayward averaged 17.5 points, 6.7 rebounds, and 4.1 assists in 52 games for the Celtics last season.

The lure of New York for Hayward has become brighter after Johnnie Bryant, the former Utah Jazz assistant coach, joined the Knicks. Bryant is credited for Hayward’s development into an All-Star while he was in Utah.

Hayward has also been linked to Indiana Pacers in a potential trade for center Myles Turner.

Hayward’s future in Boston has become murky after O’Connor reported in his Mock Draft that the Celtics are planning to reroute their three draft picks for New Orleans Pelicans guard Jrue Holiday.

“The Celtics have offered up their three first-round picks (nos. 14, 26, and 30) in trades to try and move into the lottery, but multiple league sources say they intend to reroute that pick to the Pelicans in exchange for Jrue Holiday. If Boston is able to acquire the necessary assets, it’d still need to add salaries to make a deal work. Could that mean Gordon Hayward or Kemba Walker could be on the move?” O’Connor wrote.

The league’s transaction window is expected to be open beginning Monday.

Follow this writer on Twitter: @alderalmo

Quick like a Fox: Knicks’ prospect Kira Lewis stock on the rise in New York

New York Knicks

Alabama Crimson Tide coach Nate Oats tried to downplay his FaceTime call with the New York Knicks top brass and his speedy point guard Kira Lewis, Jr. last week. But there’s a link between him and the Knicks that’s too hard to ignore, making Lewis an intriguing possibility to land in New York on Nov. 18.

The Knicks, under Leon Rose, have been operating like a fraternity. The new regime is looking to score big by leveraging on relationships at its core. Tapping on Rose and his senior advisor William Wesley’s vast network, the moribund franchise has succeeded in luring great minds from inside and outside the league to come and help rehabilitate the Knicks.

It appears they’re operating the same way in their pre-Draft process.

In a draft that is so unpredictable, intel is king.

Without the NCAA March Madness and the benefit of a regular Draft Combine, those forged relationships and strong networks have come in handy for the Knicks.

The connections are coming from everywhere. It’s not just confined within the Creative Artists Agency where Rose was its former head of basketball or Kentucky, where John Calipari shares a strong bond with Wesley.

The ties that bind

The FaceTime call last week transported Oats back to his early days in his coaching career. 

When Oats got his first head coaching job at Romulus High School in Michigan in the early 2000s, he used to drive to Detroit and observed the Pistons’ practice. 

Around that time, the Knick’s current general manager Scott Perry was a Pistons’ team executive. At the same time, Williams was already a ‘players’ whisperer’ and was involved with The Family, an AAU basketball team based in Detroit supported by former Pistons’ guard Rip Hamilton. Wesley became a regular fixture at Pistons practices and games, especially when another close friend, Larry Brown, took the head coaching job in 2004 that resulted in one of the NBA’s unlikely championship runs.

“I’ve known those guys for a little bit,” Oats told Empire Sports Media during his zoom call press conference on Thursday. “They made a connection with Kira when they were interviewing him. They FacedTime me.”

“I coached Kira for a year. Kira is a great kid. They got great staff there in New York. [I have] No idea where’s that going, and I’m sure they are going around interviewing all kinds of people leading into the Draft. I don’t want people to take too much out of it. It’s just a common connection. I coached Kira, and I knew those guys during my time in Detroit.”

Oats tried his best to sell the FaceTime call short, saying it was merely a sort of introduction to make his point guard a little more comfortable during the meeting. But there’s a certain level of comfort and trust between Oats and the Knicks’ top brass that may pull Lewis to New York.

“They’re good guys, and I guess they just want Kira to feel a little bit more welcomed. We chopped it up and joked around a bit. We talked about Kira’s game for a minute then I got off. I know the Knicks are getting a lot of media attention there in New York, and they have a high draft pick,” Oats said. “They gotta make sure they get the right pick.”

Alabama’s sweet spot?

The Knicks are at an inflection point since Rose, a former player agent, took over from James Dolan’s right-hand man Steve Mills.

They are looking for a lead guard, and Oats’ connection with the past (Perry) and the new (Wesley) regime in New York could play a vital role in the franchise’s search.

“I think Scott Perry is going to be really good for them. Thibs (Tom Thibodeau) is going to get their defense squared up, and I think Kira’s defense got a lot better last year,” Oats said. “We talked about that.”

“I think he is a very talented kid. I think the way the NBA is played now — it’s so spread out and wide open — you can’t put your hands on guys defensively. With the speed and skill level Kira has, he can get in the paint whenever he wants and makes plays. He was great in our system. We played a lot like what the NBA is doing that is so wide open, and I think he’ll make a great NBA player.”

Lewis, a 6-foot-3 guard with a 6-foot-5 wingspan, has been a blur in the SEC ever since he stepped into Division I as the youngest player at 17 years old in the 2018-19 season. He skipped his senior year of high school and went straight to college.

“He’s really a smart kid. He was such a good student in high school that he only needs a couple of core classes to go and reclassify,” Alabama assistant coach Antoine Pettway told Empire Sports Media in a separate exclusive interview.

“So he had like either go up in high school and score 40 points a game or go to college. He always wanted to challenge himself and try to get to the next level.”

As the youngest freshman under former Alabama coach Avery Johnson, Lewis took over the starting role vacated by Collin Sexton, the eighth pick of the 2018 NBA Draft. The Knicks, barring any trade, are scheduled to select at the same spot where Sexton was picked by the Cleveland Cavaliers two years ago.

Will that eighth slot become Alabama’s sweet spot?

Leader by example

Pettway, who recruited Lewis to Alabama, observed that the 17-year old freshman was shy initially. But it didn’t take long before Lewis began to put his stamp on the team.

“Our team respects his work ethic, his talent. Coming in, he should have been a senior in high school and came in as a starting point guard on a pretty good team. It took him a little while before he warmed up to everyone, but I thought he made a lot of great strides his second year being more vocal, leading guys,” Pettway said.

As Lewis’ game expanded, so was his role in the team. He wasn’t only the Crimson Tide’s floor general. His leadership extended beyond the hardcourt.

“I always tell this story. He’s a guy that gets up at six in the morning and works out. And during the first couple of days, he hit it on his own. Then after a couple of weeks, he’s bringing the whole team with him; he’s already organizing. He’s the guy that leads by example. He’s very personable,” Pettway said.

Lewis comes from a small and simple family in Huntsville, Alabama. Their family owns a small barbershop. His basketball exploits are always a headliner in the barbershop talk. Recently, another member of the Lewis family has joined the conversation.

“His sister just got a degree from UAB (University of Alabama Birmingham). They’re really a tight-knit family. When you meet the rest of the family, you can see Kira has a really good upbringing,” Pettway said.

It wouldn’t be long before Lewis’ NBA exploits would soon dominate the barbershop talk when his name is one of the first to be called by league commissioner Adam Silver later this month.

“It will mean the world to them. His parents were there in every step of the way. His mom, Natasha, said she’s not going to cry when they put the hat on him, but I know a hundred percent it won’t be dry in that room when his name gets called,” Pettway said.

“It’s always good to see good things happen to good people. I’ve dealt with some good people from top to bottom and Kira is a product of that, you know Kira is a class A kid. As good as he is as a player, he’s even a better kid. And when you meet his mom and dad you’ll know why he’s a good kid.”

Love at burst sight

Pettway first scouted Lewis when he was a ninth-grader going up against Alabama’s older and better players. In a game that featured Lewis against Michigan State’s Joshua Langford, who was two years older, Pettway went to see what the hype was all about.

Pettway fell in love right away.

“He really held his own against Langford. He played really, really well. And you can just tell, his speed even at that age, oh man just the way he moves and gets into the lane and finish, how fast he was, you can really, really tell he’s going to be a good player. That’s my first time seeing him in person,” Pettway said. “He’s close to 15 (years old) at that time. I watched him that whole summer.”

Pettway recognizes a great point guard when he sees one.

Before becoming an assistant coach and the top recruiter in Alabama, he was the Crimson Tide star point guard during the school’s quarterfinal run in the 2004 NCAA tournament.

Pettway secured Lewis’ commitment after the latter’s stint in the 2018 Nike Skills Academy, an exclusive camp reserved for the top 25 high school players in the country.

Lewis didn’t disappoint because even when he was the youngest freshman, he played with so much poise. Pettway won’t forget the exact moment when he realized Lewis is special and has a shot at becoming their next NBA Lottery pick after Sexton.

The reckoning came in a tight game against the visiting Arizona Wildcats in December of 2018.

“It was a close game. We were up by two; Arizona just made a run,” Pettway recalled.

“He (Kira) drove hard right, and pulled back his dribble. He hit a big-time three-point shot with less than a minute to go to ice the game. That’s the first big shot he’s made here, and I looked at him, and I was like ‘yo, this kid is different!’”

Lewis didn’t look back since then.

He led Alabama in assists (2.9 apg), 20-point games (5), and minutes (31.6 mpg) and earned a spot in the All-SEC Freshman Team. The next summer, he suited up for the Team USA that won the gold medal at the 2019 FIBA Men’s Basketball U-19 World Cup.

Lewis was just getting started. He took off when Oats took over from Johnson.

Oats, the former Buffalo Bulls head coach, brought with him his coaching philosophy, which is based on “max effort, continuous growth, and selfless love.”

Lewis embraced Oats’ tenets, and he flourished in the new Crimson Tide’s up-tempo style.

Career game vs. The Ant

Lewis’ arrival to the national spotlight came at the expense of the potential No.1 pick Anthony Edwards.

He picked the right time to set a career record in scoring when he dropped 37 points against Edwards and Georgia in a 105-102 overtime victory. His arsenal was on full display. He completed his virtuoso performance with seven assists, five boards, two steals, and one block, which turned the heads of many NBA scouts.

Edwards had a double-double (14 points, 12 rebounds), but he was limited to 5-of-17 shooting and 0-of-6 from beyond the arc.

Lewis is the engine that kept the Crimson Tide’s high-octane offense humming. He’s the Michael Schumacher of Oat’s Ferrari.

Lewis’s blinding speed has an impact on both ends of the floor. He was a blur on offense and a disruptor on defense.

His sophomore year saw him record eight 20-point games and three 30-point explosions, two double-doubles (point and assists) and could have been more if not for the Covid-19 shutdown.

Lewis finished his last season in Alabama as the Crimson Tide leader in scoring (18.5 ppg with 46/36/80 shooting splits), assists (5.2 apg), steals (1.8 spg), minutes (37.6 mpg), and field goals made (206) and attempted (449). As if that’s not enough, he also led the whole SEC in minutes while ranking third in assists and steals and fourth in scoring.

His game’s only knock is his high turnover rate (3.5) and his finishing at the rim. But the inefficiency could be attributed to his high usage rate and heavy minutes playing at an ultra-fast speed. There’s a belief that once he goes up in the NBA and the game begins to slow down for him, chances are he could become more efficient.

He has the potential to become an elite scorer with that kind of blinding speed in the era of pace and space in the NBA.

“The speed, from baseline to baseline, I think he’s the fastest guy in this Draft. I think his scoring ability, his decision making, just his reads coming out of the ball screen, his skill set, being able to pass or get into the lane are already a given, but what’s going to surprise a lot of teams is how well he shoots the ball,” Pettway said.

“If you see him work out and watched him closely, he can really, really shoot the ball, especially on catch and shoot situations, and with all the space that they have in the NBA, he’s going to be a blur. He constantly gets into the lane and looks for scoring opportunity. And another underrated part of his game is his ability to take floaters. He has a really, really nice touch on his floater.”

Per Synergy, Lewis scored 1 PPP on all jump shots (73rd percentile), 1.238 PPP when shooting off the catch (89th percentile), and 0.926 PPP on shots off the dribble (79th percentile) during his sophomore year in Alabama.

Even Iowa State head coach Steve Prohm, who has his own point guard Tyrese HaliburtonTyrese Haliburton in the draft, was impressed with Lewis.

“He’s pretty good, a phenomenal kid. He has really elite quickness that can get the ball from A to B. He can get to the free-throw line, and he can shoot it,” Prohm told Empire Sports Media.

Quick like a Fox

Lewis already knew what he could do. But he’s not resting on his laurels.

He’s smart enough to realize that speed alone doesn’t cut it to the next level. A strong game to match his blazing speed is what he would need. Described as a gym rat by his coaches, Lewis tripled his efforts in preparation for the NBA.

“He’s working out every single day. He’s eating right. He’s done a great improvement with his body in terms of getting strength. He’s constantly in the gym working out two to three times a day,” Pettway said. When he’s away from the gym, he’s watching a lot of films.

Lewis has put on 15 pounds to his once scrawny 165-lb frame.

Derek Murray, Babcock Hoops director of scouting, recently saw a vastly improved and stronger Lewis scouting trip in Miami.

“Right off the bat, Lewis showed off his dazzling speed. It didn’t matter if he was in an isolation or in the pick-and-roll; he was easily getting around his man for easy lay-ins. He always got downhill quickly, staying on par with his success at Alabama. One of the most noticeable things during the runs, however, was how Lewis absorbed contact in the lane,” Murray said.

With a stronger body, Lewis exudes more confidence on the court attacking the rim.

His burst of speed reminded Pettway of another speedy playmaker — former Kentucky Wildcat and current Sacramento Kings’ lead guard De’Aaron Fox.

 

“That kind of speed is hard to deal with,” Pettway said. “Based on their finishing, I think De’Aaron is really good at finishing while Kira is a guy who’s crafty who knows how to finish. De’Aaron is probably bigger, longer right now, but Kira shoots better at this stage.”

Fox shot 25 percent from deep as a one-and-done under John Calipari. In contrast, Lewis shot an average of 36 percent during his two-year stay in Alabama.

Fox eventually improved his outside shot in the NBA, becoming a 33-percent three-point shooter in three seasons with the Kings.

Lewis’ shooting mechanics are more precise that more than makes up for his lack of size.

Murray also saw his potential as a small-ball two-guard in the NBA.

“We also saw Kira play next to Terry Rozier and operate a fair amount off the ball, something that he did not do very often while at Alabama. It was interesting to see him without the ball in his hands as both a cutter and a floor spacer. His ability to shoot off movement may unlock a whole other level to his offensive ceiling due to his speed; a defender tasked with chasing him off screens for extended periods of time would be in for a miserable evening. While he’s not regarded as a combo guard or off-ball shooter right now, we got a glimpse into that becoming a possibility,” Murray said.

Ready for prime time

Pettway believes Lewis is the type of player who can immediately impact any NBA team, whether he’s starting or coming off the bench.

“I think with the spacing in the NBA, he’s going to have the opportunity and will be a problem every single night that he’s on the floor. I think he’s going to fit wherever the situation he goes. If there’s a veteran guard whom they want him to learn from in a couple of years, he could fit in, and if he’s thrown into a situation where he has to be the lead guard from day one, he’s really capable of doing it,” Pettway said.

“Super respectful kid. He’s a joy to coach. You can push him hard, and he won’t complain. He’s never disrespected us. He just goes about him being coached the right way and applies it. He’s a dream to coach.”

Lewis said he has talked to “just about everybody” in the NBA, which Oats also had done the same, adding that teams have been very inquisitive.

“He’s got zero red flags as a kid. He’s a great person off the floor. He works hard. He’s always at the gym. That’s the type of stuff they want to know. They can see how good he is on film. And they want to know what it’s like being him off the court. They give you some really detailed questionnaires, like interesting questions that I told one of those guys to send me those questionnaires for me to ask the recruits when we recruit kids to come here. It’s a lot of interesting questions,” Oats said. 

But as the NBA Draft approaches, the Alabama coach said he’s still getting a decent amount of calls. And based on those conversations, he already has a pulse where his point guard might fall.

“Lately, those teams who are a little bit interested are those teams from the middle to the end of the lottery to mid-first round. And everybody on that range has reached out doing their homework. And there are a few others who are maybe looking to make trades. The team with the No.1 pick has reached out to us. I don’t think he (Kira) is going No.1 in the draft. Who knows? But I think those teams that are doing homework with the possibility of maybe there are trades going to come up, have reached out,” Oats said.

The Minnesota Timberwolves have indicated that they are open to trading the No.1 pick. Either Lewis is a trade-down candidate, or he’s on their radar for their No.17 pick. But it’s unlikely that he’ll still be on the board when the Wolves get their second crack.

In this unpredictable draft, analysts’ projections of Lewis’ draft position have been varied.

Jonathan Wasserman of Bleacher Report has him at No. 10 going to the Phoenix Suns. Both Kevin O’ Connor of The Ringer and Sam Vecennie of the Athletic peg him at No. 14 with the Boston Celtics while ESPN’s Jonathan Givony slots him at 20th pick with the Miami Heat. Babcock Hoops has him going to the Pistons at No. 7.

O’Connor noted that the Celtics are offering their three picks (14, 26, and 30) to move up in the Draft. It’s unclear if that’s enough to entice the teams in the upper echelon of the lottery. The Wolves and the Golden State Warriors are looking for an established player that fits their core’s timeline.

So far, Lewis has worked out with the Knicks, Orlando Magic (No.15), Pistons, and the Chicago Bulls (No. 4).

It’s going to be a shock if the Bulls pick him at No. 4. So he’s most likely on the Bulls’ radar as a trade-down candidate.

On the other hand, the Magic are intrigued in pairing Lewis with former top overall pick Markelle Fultz at their backcourt. But with Lewis’ stock rising after his impressive workouts, the Magic may need to trade up if they want the Alabama guard. Because the Kings, who are picking at No. 12, also have their eyes on him as Fox’s backup guard. It’s going to be wild to have both speedy playmakers in Sacramento’s backcourt.

The Suns are interested as well with their starting point guard Ricky Rubio entering his 30s.

Meanwhile, the Knicks and the Pistons are both in the hunt for a lead guard. And if the FaceTime call is any indication, you can tell Lewis’s stock is rising in New York.

Pettway loves the idea of Lewis going to the Knicks as a potential lead guard.

“I love it! They have some good pieces — Julius Randle, RJ Barrett, Kevin Knox and Mitchell Robinson. I think he will mesh with those guys. Kira is the kind of guy who comes along well with everybody. That speed that he has, he will fit anywhere, but I love it with the young core that Knicks have with just a few years in the league whom he can relate to; I love that fit,” Pettway said.

“I just think he’s going to make it work wherever he goes. Guys will like to play with him because he’s unselfish. He loves the game. He wants to succeed so badly. He’s so competitive and confident and he’s going to do whatever it takes and allows his team to win the game,” he added.

Thibodeau has never had a dynamic scoring point guard since he had a prime Derrick Rose in Chicago. None of the current Knicks’ point guards so far has panned out yet.

Lewis could provide that burst of speed and outside shooting that will put pressure on the defense.

Lewis is ready for prime time.

Oats can’t wait to see his point guard star in the Broadway if ever he lands on the lap of his old friends in New York.

“It will be interesting to see what happens. I’d love for him to go to New York. I think he would be great there. Shoot, I’d like to come to New York and watch a few games. So give me a good reason to go to New York and watch some games when our season’s over.”

Follow this writer on Twitter: @alderalmo

Report: Chris Paul trade offer on Knicks’ table; Bobby Marks believes he’s not a ‘salary dump’

New York Knicks, chris paul

Chris Paul and the New York Knicks have been linked to each other ever since James Dolan hired the Oklahoma City All-Star guard’s former agent at Creative Artists Agency, Leon Rose, as his new team president.

The rumor mill heated up on Monday when Jonathan Macri of the Knicks Film School reported that the 35-year old Paul prefers to wind up his career either in New York or Los Angeles.

“I’ve been told by a league source that Chris Paul prefers his next basketball home to be either in LA or NY (Los Angeles is where he resides full time) and that has created some modicum of leverage in the ongoing negotiations between the sides. I’m also told that there is a deal on the table that is comfortable from Sam Presti’s perspective, and the ball is in Leon Rose’s court,” Macri wrote in his newsletter.

The Thunder is believed to have been shopping Paul since he was acquired from the Houston Rockets a year ago in the Russell Westbrook trade. But league executives thought, at that time, that Paul’s massive contract had been the biggest stumbling block in negotiations.

Even the Knicks reportedly turned down a Houston Rockets’ offer centering on Paul before he was shipped to the Thunder. The Knicks’ stance has since changed upon Rose’s arrival.

Paul is owed $85 million over the next two years — $41 million next season (almost 38 percent of the salary cap if it stays flatly at $109 million) and has a $44 million player option the following year.

The Knicks are one of the only four teams with massive cap space to absorb such a contract.

The Thunder are motivated to unload Paul’s contract after they had the third-highest payroll in the league last season. They have recently parted ways with long-time coach Billy Donovan signaling a rebuilding will soon hit the ground running in Oklahoma.

Ian Begley of SNY earlier reported that the Knicks are willing to absorb undesirable contracts to acquire an asset. Still, Paul, despite his age and massive salary, doesn’t belong in that category, according to ESPN’s Front Office Insider Bobby Marks.

The former Brooklyn Nets assistant general manager-turned NBA insider believes the Knicks won’t acquire extra assets if they trade for Paul.

“I see teams having to give up something of value,” Marks told Empire Sports Media. “He’s not a salary dump.”

Presti is banking on Paul’s solid showing last season as leverage in the negotiation table.

Paul led the Thunder to the first round of the playoffs, pushing the Rockets to seven games. The 10-time NBA All-Star averaged 17.6 points, 5.0 rebounds, and 6.7 assists per game in 70 games, the most he’s played in a season since 2015-16.

Early in September, a rumored trade involving the Knicks’ young players and future picks has been lined up according to Heavy.com’s Scoop B.

 

Rose and his front office have to think hard about how much they are willing to pay to acquire an All-Star who is about to enter the tail end of his career.

Follow this writer on Twitter: @alderalmo

New York Knicks: Divisional front office tweaks could indicate that ‘risk is the new safe’

New York Knicks, Leon Rose

There are a few significant coaching personnel and front office tweaks for New York Knicks fans to keep an eye on in the Atlantic Division, possibly. The Philadelphia 76ers hired Doc Rivers as Head Coach, then went on to hire Daryl Morey as Team President. The Brooklyn Nets hired Steve Nash as Head Coach, then went on to add Mike D’Antoni, Amare Stoudemire, and Ime Udoka to the assistant coaching staff.

76ers have their cornerstones in Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid, while the Nets will finally have their stars in Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving share the court. Of course, none of this matters if injuries keep occurring. Front office positioning also wouldn’t matter if there isn’t an improvement on the basketball court for the Nets and 76ers.

However, improvement to two playoff teams in Brooklyn and Philadelphia could rightfully steer the New York Knicks into an even stronger player developmental stance along with a maintained focus on young talent acquisition.

The Knicks won’t win anything now in the Eastern Conference, therefore, why not put all the emphasis on solidifying the foundation for the near future and long term? With fans being away from the game during the pandemic, Knicks have time to build without Madison Square Garden’s infamous fan and media impatience pouring pressure on the franchise and its young players.

Atlantic Divisional front office tweaks mentioned above could indicate that “risk is the new safe” for the New York Knicks moving forward, especially in the upcoming draft on November 18th, 2020.

The New York Knicks did their own coaching personnel and front office adjustment earlier this summer with the hiring of President Leon Rose, Executive Vice President/Senior Basketball Advisor William Wesley, former Utah Jazz Vice President of Player Personnel Walt Perrin, former Utah Jazz Assistant Coach Johnny Bryant, former ten-year Assistant Coach of the Kentucky Wildcats Kenny Payne, and a new, yet seasoned Head Coach in Tom Thibodeau.

Leon Rose has plenty of connections due to his time as an agent with Creative Artists Agency. William Wesley, also known as “World Wide Wes,” is basically the most connected man in the entire basketball world period. Bill Simmons of The Ringer wasn’t afraid to touch on a rumor circulating the NBA regarding all the connections Leon Rose and “World Wide Wes” have in the entire basketball landscape.

Recently on The Bill Simmons Podcast, Simmons talked about NBA insiders having legit fear about the New York Knicks becoming the “Kentucky pipeline team.” Bill Simmons states the following on the podcast along with Kevin O’Conner:

 

 

There’s also a real fear in the NBA. I’m fine talking about this. It’s rumor, heresy stuff. But it’s just a fact. Kentucky, Worldwide Wes had a great relationship with John Calipari. CAA’s got multiple Kentucky guys and there’s a real fear in the league that the Knicks are going to become the Kentucky pipeline team.

 

 

Devin Booker is a great example of that, right? Even though he’s on a big deal right now, at some point if he wanted to move out of there…

 

 

The league is kind of watching the Kentucky factor with that team.

 

 

I think even [Anthony] Davis, if the Lakers hadn’t won the title this year, who knows? Right? Are we positive he would have stayed? I don’t know. All of the signs, all of the dialogue was like ‘LeBron and him love each other’. But who knows what would have happened?

Simmons believes there’s a CAA client that the Knicks love due to assumed access to extra intel and information on draft prospects as a result of Leon Rose and “World Wide Wes” CAA connections. Bill Simmons believes the Knicks will take advantage throughout the draft process.

With that being said, the Knicks are positioned for the future, whether it’s long-term or short-term. The focus is on player development, however, team development is the ultimate goal, and it could happen very soon with the help of Leon Rose and “World Wide Wes.”

In the upcoming draft, there are plenty of young prospects the Knicks could take a big home-run swing at. Knicks have many avenues available to them in terms of acquiring young talent. Whether it’s trading down in the draft or acquiring more draft picks on a contract dump from another team, the possibilities are exciting and endless. This points to an opportunistic approach for the Knicks to take on draft night. They may take chances on young prospects with very high ceilings. “Risk is currently the new safe” for the New York Knicks thanks to Leon Rose and “World Wide Wes.”

Kira Lewis, Isaac Okoro, Devin Vassell, Precious Achiuwa, Patrick Williams, Immanuel Quickley, and Tyrese Maxey, amongst others, are prospects suitable for the current Knick player developmental staff to hone into potential stars for the future of Knick basketball. A potential late first-round candidate to keep an eye on as a pure upside pick is the 6’10” 7’0″ wingspan 200 lbs Jaden McDaniels out of Washington University in Seattle, Washington.

November 18th will be a very interesting draft date due to so many scenarios involving all NBA teams in the lottery as well as salary cap implications. My advice, have your popcorn ready that night.

Knicks Draft Watch: John Calipari views Tyrese Maxey as smaller version of Jamal Murray

In the 2016 NBA Draft, the New York Knicks missed out on a big-time scoring guard from the University of Kentucky, the leading producer of NBA stars.

The Knicks’ lottery pick that year was earlier sent to the Denver Nuggets as part of the Carmelo Anthony blockbuster trade. The Nuggets used the Knicks’ original pick (seventh overall) to select former Wildcat Jamal Murray.

Murray, as it turned out, is the real deal and he quickly became one of the league’s rising stars. The Denver Nuggets guard’s sensational play in the NBA Bubble has left team executives who passed on him scratching their heads.

This year, another big-time scorer under John Calipari’s program has entered the NBA Draft. One-and-done freshman Tyrese Maxey could be the answer to the Knicks’ backcourt riddle with his dynamic scoring and moxie.

“I’m trying to tell everybody when you look at Tyrese, he’s a smaller version, but he’s still 6’2”, of Jamal Murray who is 6’5”. They both have that lower release. Everybody said Jamal would never get it off,” Calipari told Empire Sports Media during his Zoom call with select media on Monday.

Murray though came into the Draft as a projected top-five Lottery pick but somehow slipped a couple of notches down because of doubts whether he was athletic enough to thrive in the league.

He proved all the skeptics wrong as his game and his low released shot translated well in the NBA.

Maxey isn’t viewed as highly as Murray was. Most boards have Maxey as a late lottery pick in a Draft that has become as unpredictable as it hasn’t been in recent years. Aside from his apparent lack of size (6’1″ without shoes and with only 6’6″ wingspan), Maxey is facing the same questions Murray had in 2016.

“Jamal played with Tyler Ulis so [people] said, is he a point guard? They’re point guards. We’re teaching them to play with the ball and without the ball. And now it becomes: do they make game-winning shots? Are they that guy? Tyrese is,” said Calipari.

With the NBA heading into positionless basketball, Calipari believes Maxey’s switchability as a combo guard could work well to his advantage. He has the skills and speed to run the point and he has the moxie and court smarts to play off the ball.

Maxey proved early on that he has the chops of Calipari’s typical dynamic guard when he dropped 26 points in his college debut at the Madison Square Garden against Michigan State.

He went on to average 14.0 points, 4.3 rebounds, and 3.2 assists per game before the college season was cut short. He shot 42.7% from the field, 29.2% from three, and 83.3% from the stripes.

It wasn’t fancy particularly his shooting percentage from deep but the eye test suggests his impact on the game was way bigger than those numbers. Another reason for that, Calipari explained, is because Maxey played within the system just like the way Murray, and earlier, Devin Booker did that made them somewhat underrated ahead of the Draft. 

While Maxey is two inches shorter than those two former Kentucky guards, he possesses the same characteristics that make him such an intriguing prospect with a high ceiling.

Calipari pointed those out but also acknowledged the area where Maxey should focus on to reach his ceiling.

“Tyrese, physically, athletically and you know he’s a guy who’s blocking shots, rebounding the ball, has played dribble-drive and a downhill runner his whole life,” Calipari said. “He has to be more consistent with his shooting so did Jamal. But they played similar (roles) here.”

While it’s a pity that Maxey was robbed of the opportunity to show more of his wares on the big stage when the SEC and NCAA were scrapped, his body of work from high school, AAU to Team USA would be enough to tell you he’s got a chance to be special.

Before he went to Kentucky, he teamed up with Draft classmate Cole Anthony in the Team USA that obliterated the 2018 FIBA U18 Americas Championship.

Maxey averaged 8.8 points, 2.0 rebounds, 2.3 assists against 0.5 turnovers, and 1.3 steals in 18 minutes. Anthony, who was named to the All-Tournament Team, averaged 14.3 points, 2.2 rebounds, 4.2 assists against 2.7 turnovers, and 1.2 steals in 21 minutes.

During his short-lived stay at Kentucky, Maxey was on a tear late in the season, scoring 20 or more points five times before the stoppage.

“There are gonna be people who’ll pass on Tyrese that will regret liked how they passed on PJ (Washington) like how they passed on Shai (Gilgeous-Alexander), Jamal (Murray) and we can keep going,” Calipari said. “He’s gonna be that (type of player).”

Mike Schmitz, ESPN’s resident NBA Draft Analyst, shared the same view with Calipari when he appeared on Sports Center with Scott Van Pelt last week.

“He didn’t have eye-popping numbers at Kentucky. He was under 50 percent from 2, under 30 percent from 3, but you have to play a role there. You have to fit in. Coach Cal does a tremendous job of forcing these guys to buy into a role. It’s about winning for the team and you sacrifice there and that’s exactly what Maxey did,” Schmitz said.

But the one thing that stuck out on Schmitz is that Maxey is a big-time scorer.

“This kid is a bucket. I saw him at the high school level, I saw him with USA Basketball, and I think he’s a perfect fit in today’s NBA. You can try to poke holes in him. You can try to say, ‘He’s a 6-3 combo guard. He’s a scorer or he’s out of control.’ But it’s worked pretty well for Tyler Herro, for Jamal Murray, for Devin Booker.”

That type of dynamic scoring has been sorely lacking on the Knicks backcourt for the longest time now.

Calipari didn’t go into specifics about the Knicks’ interest in Maxey. But a  highly-placed source in Kentucky said that Calipari has been constantly talking to the Knicks.

During the course of Calipari’s interview, the well-decorated coach revealed that his travel was limited by the pandemic but noted that his only out-of-town trip so far was to New Jersey.

Knicks’ team president Leon Rose is from Cherry Hills, New Jersey while his good friend and senior advisor William “World Wide Wes” Wesley hails from Camden, New Jersey.

Calipari has strong ties with the Knicks front office, and more so with his former top deputy and key recruiter Kenny Payne who is now one of Tom Thibodeau’s assistant coaches.

Maxey should be available by the time the Knicks would pick at No. 8 based on most Mock Drafts. But he’s also a trade-down candidate as reported by Marc Berman of the New York Post.

NBA Draft analyst Matt Babcock of Babcock Hoops, meanwhile, views Maxey in a different light.

“I see (Tyrese) Maxey being a solid complementary role player at the next level, whereas (Jamal) Murray is a dynamic player and one of the NBA’s rising young stars,” Babcock told Empire Sports Media. “Murray is just in an entirely different category altogether.”

Babcock Hoops has Maxey at No. 28 in their Mock Draft. It’s going to be a big surprise if Maxey gets picked inside the Top 10.

“I do not think the Knicks should consider Maxey with the 8th pick. It would be too high in the draft for him, in my opinion. I actually think Maxey would be a more appropriate option for the Knicks with the 27th pick, if he were there, of course,” Babcock said.

Maxey has shades of Murray in his game. But there are also glaring questions that he must address.

Only time will tell if Maxey can hold up to Murray’s comparisons.

But as Murray’s game became bigger and louder in the recent NBA Bubble, it’s hard to imagine that this new front office given their link to Kentucky and Calipari would pass up on the opportunity to get a player of the same caliber.

Follow this writer on Twitter: @alderalmo