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

After workout with Knicks, Aaron Wiggins shines in G League Elite Camp

Maryland’s wingman Aaron Wiggins raised his Draft stock after an impressive stint in the NBA G League Elite Camp last weekend.

Wiggins was one of the unranked prospects who completed a workout with the New York Knicks ahead of the weekend’s camp.

Notably absent in most major outlet’s NBA Mock Draft, Wiggins certainly helped his case after averaging 13 points, 2.0 rebounds, and 1.5 assists on 59 percent shooting from the field, including 50 percent from 3-point range in just under 20 minutes in two scrimmage games.

Wiggins parlayed those impressive performances into an NBA Draft Combine invite to showcase his talent to a wider audience of NBA scouts and front-office executives.

The Knicks have four picks (19th, 21st, 32nd, and 58th) but it is unlikely that the team is eyeing him early in the Draft.

ESPN’s Draft analyst Jonathan Givony described Wiggins as a “Big wing-shooter who has good two-way versatility and nice upside to grow into.”

“[Wiggins] has the size, length, and frame and showed some things making shots in a variety of ways and doing other little things,” Givony added.

The Terrapins’ second-leading scorer was just one of the four prospects who advanced to the NBA Draft Combine. Joining him from the NBA G League Elite Camp are  Ohio State’s Duane Washington, South Carolina’s AJ Lawson, and Louisville’s Carlik Jones.

Wiggins was measured 6’4.5” without shoes and 6’5” with shoes, and 6’9.75” wingspan. He also recorded the fifth-highest vertical leap with a 36-inch leap.

During his junior season in Maryland, Wiggins averaged 14.5 points, 5.8 rebounds, 2.5 assists, and 1.1 steals in 31 games to earn All-Big Ten Honorable Mention honors. He shot 36 percent of his 3s on 5.2 attempts. Wiggins finished the season strong, posting averages of 17.9 points and 6.6 rebounds over his last 12 games including a career-high 27 points in a second-round loss to Alabama in the NCAA tournament.

The other prospects who worked out with the Knicks — Texas Tech’s Mac McClung and Georgia Tech’s Jose Alvarado — also had a solid showing though they fell short of getting invited to the NBA Draft Combine.

McClung led all players in the vertical jump with a 43.5-inch leap and a 3/4 court sprint in just 2.935 seconds, the fastest time since 2001. He scored 11 and 12 points in the two scrimmages while shooting 45 percent from the field and connected on 3-of-6 3s.

Alvarado averaged 8.0 points, 2.0 rebounds, 3.0 assists, and 2.0 steals.

Sports Illustrated’s Draft analyst Jeremy Woo was impressed with Alvarado’s toughness.

“Jose Alvarado completely took over the fourth quarter of this first game at G League Camp. Biggest dog at this event. Great two days for him here,” he said.

Alvarado finished with 12 points and four assists in that game while shooting 50 percent from the field including 3-of-4 from deep. His team went 2-0.

Wiggins and Alvarado are still undecided and have until July 7 to make their decision whether to stay in the Draft or return to college. But Wiggins’ strong showing in the G League Elite Camp and if it continues in the Draft Combine might steer him to make the NBA jump now.

Aside from the Knicks, Wiggins also worked out with the Cleveland Cavaliers, Golden State Warriors, and the Boston Celtics. He is eyeing at least three to four more workouts before July 7.

Follow this writer on Twitter: @alderalmo

Mac McClung secures workout with Knicks, leads 40 prospects in NBA G League Elite Camp

Texas Tech’s star guard Mac McClung is scheduled to have a workout with the New York Knicks on Tuesday, a source privy to the situation confirmed to Empire Sports Media.

The story was first reported by Jake Weingarten, the founder of basketball recruiting website Stockrisers.

McClung, who signed with Daniel Poneman of Beyond Athlete Management as his agent, is also expected to be the biggest draw in the NBA G-League Elite Camp in Chicago later this month.

The Knicks own four picks in the upcoming Draft — two in the first round (Nos. 19, 21) and two in the second round (Nos. 32, 58).

McClung has been preparing for the Draft in Philadelphia with noted NBA trainer Drew Hanlen, who also trains Knicks’ rising wingman RJ Barrett.

The 6-foot-3 McClung is coming off a strong junior season with Texas Tech, in which he averaged 15.5 points, 2.7 rebounds, and 2.7 assists with a 42/34/79 shooting split to earn the Big 12 Newcomer of the Year and a spot in the All-Big 12 Second Team. He helped the Red Raiders reach the NCAA Tournament before falling to Arkansas in the Round of 32.

Prior to his Texas Tech stint, he played under Knicks legend Patrick Ewing at Georgetown, where he was named to the Big East All-Freshman Team. He averaged 13.1 points, 2.6 rebounds, and 2.0 assists and registered a season-high 38 points as a freshman for the Hoyas.

Known for his bouncy plays and rim-rattling dunks, McClung is an underrated shooter who has steadily improved his 3-ball throughout his three years in college. He started as a 27.7 percent three-point shooter as a freshman, then jumped to 32.3% in his sophomore year and 34.3% at Texas Tech.

McClung earned online celebrity status in high school with his highlight dunks and explosive scoring, eclipsing Allen Iverson’s single-season scoring record in Virginia High School League. Over the years, he has amassed more than 731,000 followers on Instagram.

McClung leads 40 draft prospects who will see action in the NBA G-League Elite Camp on June 19-21 at Wintrust Arena in Chicago. Snubbed by major NBA outlets’ Mock Drafts, McClung is determined to use the camp to raise his stocks in front of NBA and NBA G League scouts, coaches, and front-office executives.

All 40 prospects will be playing in five-on-five games and participating in strength and agility drills throughout the three-day event.

Other notable names in the NBA G League Elite Camp are Vanderbilt’s Scotty Pippen, Jr., the son of NBA Hall of Famer and six-time NBA champion Scottie Pippen, Georgia Tech’s Jose Alvarado, and Shawnee State’s EJ Onu, who shares the same agent with McClung.

Sports Illustrated included Onu, a 6-foot-11 center with a 7’3 wingspan that shot 40 percent of his 3s as a senior, and the undersized Alvarado, in its list of the biggest NBA Draft sleepers.

The top performers will be invited to the NBA Draft Combine scheduled on June 21-27 at Wintrust Arena and the Marriott Marquis in Chicago. In 2019, 11 prospects were invited to the Draft Combine from the G League Elite Camp.

Here is the full list of prospects invited to the NBA G-League Elite Camp:

NBA Draft-Eligible Players (College/Club)
Alston Jr., Derrick (Boise State) Koprivica, Balsa (Florida State)
Aluma, Keve (Virginia Tech) Lawson, A.J. (South Carolina)
Alvarado, Jose (Georgia Tech) Liddell, E.J. (Ohio State)
Begarin, Juhann (Paris, France) McClung, Mac (Texas Tech)
Brown, Chaundee (Michigan) McLaughlin, JaQuori (UCSB)
Burns, Jordan (Colgate) Mitchell, Matt (San Diego State)
Carr, Marcus (Minnesota) Nembhard, RJ (TCU)
Carton, DJ (Marquette) Omoruyi, Eugene (Oregon)
Cisse, Moussa (Memphis) Onu, E.J. (Shawnee State)
Cockburn, Kofi (Illinois) Pippen Jr., Scotty (Vanderbilt)
da Silva, Oscar (Stanford) Robinson Jr., Orlando (Fresno State)
Days, Darius (LSU) Simms, Aamir (Clemson)
Dickinson, Hunter (Michigan) Smart, Javonte (LSU)
Garcia, Dawson (Marquette) Smith, Mike (Michigan)
Garrett, Marcus (Kansas) Stewart Jr., D.J. (Mississippi State)
Guo, Haowen (Shanghai, China) Teague, MaCio (Baylor)
Huff, Jay (Virginia) Walker, M.J. (Florida State)
Jarreau, DeJon (Houston) Washington Jr., Duane (Ohio State)
Jones, Carlik (Louisville) Wiggins, Aaron (Maryland)
Jones, DeVante (Coastal Carolina) Wilson, Jalen (Kansas)

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