Knicks: How Quentin Grimes became a quintessential Thibs guy

quentim grimes, tom thibodeau, kelvin sampson

More than his outstanding three-point shooting, the biggest pull for the New York Knicks to gravitate towards Quentin Grimes in the first round of the NBA Draft was his impact on winning.

“That’s what we mostly talked about in my conversations with the Knicks and their scouts,” Kelvin Sampson, the University of Houston Cougars head coach, told Empire Sports Media on the phone.

“That’s the thing that they thought they liked most about Quentin as it relates to Thibs’ (Tom Thibodeau’s) culture. There’s a lot of similarities to the Knicks culture as far as what Thibs believes in and what we believe in here. That had a lot to do in them drafting Quentin.”

Grimes already knew he would become a Knick after the team executed a pair of trades during an eventful NBA Draft Night. Before NBA Commissioner Adam Silver announced Grimes’ name, his camp was already excited in anticipation of the announcement.

As the Knicks Draft night plan unfolded, Sampson was on the phone with the team’s general manager Scott Perry, his long-time friend.

“I just remember Scott was asking me questions and telling me what their plan was. That was prior to the 25th pick. And they were really hoping he would be there at 25. They were worried that somebody was gonna take him before them. I think a lot of those moves (trades) were built around drafting Quentin at 25,” Sampson revealed.

“Scott Perry is a professional organizational guy. He knows what he’s doing. They had a plan going in. And they executed it flawlessly.”

The Knicks kicked the can further down the road when they traded their 19th pick to Charlotte for a future first-rounder. With the belief that Grimes would still be on board in the mid-20s, they swapped picks with the Los Angeles Clippers (21st for 25th) to net an additional future second-round selection and save some salary cap space.

So after his hometown team, Houston Rockets, selected Josh Christopher with the 24th pick, the mood at Grimes’ Draft party lit up and was ready to explode.

“When their (Knicks) pick came up, we knew that he was gonna be the pick,” Sampson said, recalling that memorable night. “But you know, you want to hear your name called. You don’t want to react prior to. Quentin just broke down. He was emotional. Because of all the hard work he and his family put into that moment. You just sit back, and I was just so happy for Quentin and his family because he earned that.”

Grimes strongly believed it was his destiny to become a Knick. His perspective changed over the last two years after his initial goal of becoming a lottery pick didn’t pan out. His Houston homecoming had a lot to do with it after a disappointing freshman season with the Kansas Jayhawks.

“I feel like I was picked in the perfect spot. I feel like some people might say I was picked too low or picked too high, something like that. But that’s why I got picked in the right situation,” Grimes said during his introductory press conference. “That’s why going to New York is going to be a match made in heaven.”

Thibodeau and the Knicks front office, led by team president Leon Rose, have created an environment in New York that made players fall in love with the process of getting better by making them accountable.

Grimes went through the same process in his two-year stint with the Cougars that rejuvenated his once flailing basketball career.

“I didn’t think Quentin had hit rock bottom yet when he arrived in our program,” Sampson said.

Grimes, the no. 8 recruit in his class, was a projected lottery pick before he went to Kansas. But things didn’t go according to plan, and his stock plummeted.

During his college debut, Grimes had a spectacular shooting display with 21 points on 6-of-10 three-pointers against Michigan State. But what followed next was a season of disappointment. His offense became erratic. He could only put up single-digit scoring in 17 of his next 35 games and missed 23 of his next 28 three-point attempts. He wound up with an 8.4-point average on a 38/34/60 shooting split that dimmed his prospect of getting drafted in the first round.

“Sometimes you had to fall even further before you can go back up,” Sampson said.

When Grimes couldn’t get a first-round guarantee, he decided to return to college, but he found out that his spot at Kansas was already filled up.

That’s when Sampson scooped him up as the Cougars were looking to replace Armoni Brooks, their best three-point shooter, who decided to go pro.

Marshall Grimes, Quentin’s father, reached out to Alvin Brooks, the Cougars associate head coach at that time.

“[Quentin] is a Houston kid. He was looking for a fresh start somewhere else. We didn’t recruit him out of high school as he narrowed his list down (to the blue blood schools) very early in the process,” Sampson said. “But this time around, his family, the familiarity of Houston and the success our program was having and also the reputation of our staff has in developing guards helped us.”

In a lot of ways, Sampson is very similar to Thibodeau. Both are hard-nosed coaches. Their teams love to defend. But the most striking similarity is both coaches benefited from a coaching sabbatical that allowed them to take a step back and see the current trends that made them better coaches upon their return.

Thibodeau visited many NBA teams in between his coaching stops from Chicago to Minnesota and New York. He learned how things are being done differently.

Sampson also had the same reckoning when he was forced out of his coaching post at Indiana University in 2008 due to recruitment violations.

Sampson revitalized his coaching career during his five-year show-cause penalty with an advisory role to his friend Gregg Popovich. At San Antonio, he saw firsthand how Tony Parker enjoyed freedom in running the Spurs’ offense. He also learned various offensive schemes as an assistant coach with the Milwaukee Bucks and Houston Rockets.

When he was eligible to return to NCAA, the Cougars hired him to rehabilitate their program.

Sampson returned to NCAA a changed man. His tough defensive philosophies were still there, but his deliberate style of offense — a trademark over three decades of coaching with Montana Tech, Washington State, Oklahoma, and Indiana — was replaced by the pace and space schemes and gave freedom to his guards as much as the NBA coaches do.

Sampson led the Cougars to the first round of the NIT twice during his first three seasons, followed by a Round of 32 appearance that snapped a seven-year NCAA drought. The next year, the Kentucky Wildcats needed a late Tyler Herro three-pointer to fend off the Cougars in the Sweet 16.

Sampson resurrected Houston’s basketball program that hasn’t been relevant since the Slamma Jamma era.

Their recent success under Sampson factored heavily in Grimes’ decision. As a sweetener, the veteran coach got a ringing endorsement from former NBA MVP James Harden who played with Grimes in a pickup game in Arizona during the pre-Draft process. 

Harden and Sampson forged a good relationship during their time with the Rockets. The former Rockets star texted Sampson right after the pickup game with a glowing review of Grimes.

“He told me he thought Quentin was a really good player, which we already knew. We were already recruiting him. I think James endorsed me heavily to him [as a players’ coach]. I’m sure Quentin appreciated what James said,” Sampson said.

Sampson knew he had a rough diamond in Grimes. So he worked on rounding up the edges. In his mind, Grimes’ case was psychological more than anything else.

“Quentin had to do certain things. Coming out of high school, his whole game revolved around offense,” Sampson said.

They started to work on his rebounding. There was a rebounding drill specifically made for Grimes. Sampson would put a cover on the ring, and Grimes was the only one allowed to get the rebound. So every time his teammates shoot the ball, Grimes had to fight the whole team to grab the rebound.

Under Sampson, Grimes learned to be tough and competitive. Defense became a priority. The offense came only second. But the freedom on offense allowed Grimes to flourish and become a consistent shooter.

“Once he learned how to do those things, that’s when I thought his game had started coming around. Psychologically, the challenge there was getting his confidence up. Getting him to believe in things,” Sampson said.

“I think we do a great job in our program of creating adversity, whether it is through hard work or through my ability to get kids to places where they will push themselves. I think Quentin had to learn those.”

Grimes regained his confidence through hard work and preparation. An ethos that Thibodeau also preaches to his teams.

It was not by accident that Grimes’ numbers began to shoot up. His playing time from Kansas remained the same in his first year in Houston, but he put up better numbers across the board.

The Cougars were bound for another NCAA tournament with Grimes on board until the pandemic scratched the tournament.

“We could really see progress during his sophomore year,” Sampson said. “I think Quentin was excited about that. It’s why he didn’t put his name in the [NBA] draft after his sophomore year because he realized he still had more work to do. And good for Quentin. A lot of kids would hurry to get into the pros, and they’re not ready. Quentin wasn’t ready.”

Sampson thought another year with them would be better than Grimes ending up as a late second-round selection and getting relegated to the G League.

“Psychologically, he still had to be a better rebounder, a better on-ball defender and learn how to win and impact winning. Those are all things that are part of the culture we have. Quentin bought into our culture.” Sampson said.

Grimes continued his upward trajectory in his junior year, posting career-best numbers — 17.8 points and 5.8 rebounds while shooting 40 percent from deep on 5.9 attempts — leading the Cougars to the NCAA Final Four for the first time since 1984.

He also posted his best defensive rating per 100 possessions at 90.1, a 15-point jump from his freshman year.

Grimes made it personal to defend the opposing team’s best player. He was a big part of why the Cougars were the second-best defensive team in the NCAA last season, allowing only 58.2 points per game behind Loyola Chicago’s 56.1-point average.

“He really bought in (to our culture). He’s such a great kid. I thoroughly enjoyed coaching him. To see his progress — almost every game we played this year, he was the best player on the floor — and his confidence took off. His belief in winning grew each game,” Sampson said.

Grimes became the first Cougar to be drafted in the first round since Cadillac Anderson went 23rd in 1987.

In Grimes, the Knicks got a ready-made rookie who can contribute from day one but still has so much room for growth. His appetite for learning is insatiable.

The rookie swingman started his Knicks career poorly, just like the way he did in college. After drilling his first shot — a three-pointer — in the NBA Summer League, he would only hit four of his next 21 attempts from long distance.

But even if his shots were not falling, Grimes didn’t stop playing.

He rebounded the ball, made plays for his teammates, and played resolute defense. 

Sampson was not worried, but still, he sent a text of encouragement to his former star.

“He started out like a rookie,” Sampson said. “I’m sure there were some anxiety and nerves. He was playing with a shoot-first point guard, whereas he played with a pass-first point guard in college. So he’s gonna have to be able to adjust with different styles and players, knowing that he’s not gonna be the first option. It took him a game or two to adjust, but once he did, you saw how good he is.”

Grimes finished the Summer League on a bright note. His final numbers were solid: 15.3 points, 6.3 rebounds, and 3.0 assists with nearly a steal and a block per game.

Grimes shrugged off his poor shooting start and ended up with a staggering 41-percent clip on nine three-point attempts.

In a loaded Knicks team, it will be hard to replicate those numbers in the regular season. Minutes would be hard to come by for rookies. But Sampson believes Grimes can earn his way into the rotation.

“He’s a smart kid,” Sampson said. “He knew that he’s not gonna be the first option. But even if you already know that, it will take some time to adjust.”

“He’s gonna be filling in a role. If you think about the NBA, everybody is a role player. For the best guys on that team, that’s their role. For the guys who take the most shots, that’s their role. So Quentin will settle into a role. Once he does, he has to accept it. Be the best that he can be at it. Each year, try to get better. That’s the key,” Sampson added.

Grimes’ initial role could be a 3-and-D spark off the bench when the veterans ahead of him, such as Alec Burks, Evan Fournier, and RJ Barrett, go down with an injury or having off nights. But during his introductory presser, Grimes was adamant that he’s more than just a 3-and-D guy.

Sampson agrees. 

“If you watch [Quentin] play with the Knicks this summer and with us and also at the [Draft] Combine in Chicago, he showed that he could make plays. He is an outstanding defender and a three-point shooter. But he also can put the ball on the floor and create,” Sampson said.

“But as a rookie, he’s just gonna go get in and sacrifice and figure out what coach Thibs wants him to do and do that. If he wants him to be a and 3-and-D guy, then be that guy. If they give you the freedom to do some other things, then make sure you’re ready to do that.”

Sampson, like Thibodeau, has built a reputation as a winner everywhere he goes. Grimes has been wired like a Thibs’ guy. So there’s no doubt in Sampson’s mind that Thibodeau will be able to find a role for Grimes.

“The Knicks organization knows how to win,” Sampson said. “Thibs has been doing that longer than anybody that has been commenting or writing or talking. He knows what he’s doing. He’ll put Quentin in the best position, and more importantly, their team to succeed.”

The Knicks identified what Thibodeau wanted and needed to succeed. Their thorough scouting and sleuthing led them to Grimes, an underrated talent and a high-character guy who will put in the work and put winning above all else.

“Good players, at some point, have to embrace winning over statistics. If all you care about is statistics, then you’re not about winning. Winning is far more important than putting up stats,” Sampson said. “Coaches want to see how much you impact winning, not how many points you can score.”

That is what the Knicks saw in Grimes. The former five-star prospect overcame adversity and repaired his shattered confidence once he embraced the Cougars’ culture and learned to impact winning. Sampson unlocked his true gifts and, in the process, molded him to become a quintessential Thibs guy.

Follow this writer on Twitter: @alderalmo

Knicks land G Rokas Jokubaitis after trading 32nd overall pick to Oklahoma City

Rokas Jokubaitis, knicks

The Knicks have enjoyed an eventful draft up to this point, trading the 19th pick to the Charlotte Hornets for a future first round, the 21st pick to the Los Angeles Clippers for the No. 25 pick and future second-round, and selected Houston guard Quentin Grimes to bolster their shooting.

Grimes is the perfect 3-and-D fit for the Knicks, who have the majority of their veteran shooters hitting the market, including Reggie Bullock and Alec Burks. With one of the best defenses in the league last season, Tom Thibodeau is clearly trying to retain that status. However, the team still desperately needed a young point guard to add to the roster, but they went in a different direction with Lithuanian native, Rokas Jokubaitis.

With the No. 32 pick, the Knicks moved back with the Oklahoma City Thunder, acquiring the 34th and 36th picks in exchange, per Woj of ESPN.

What does Rokas Jokubaitis bring to the Knicks?

Jokubaitis is certainly an interesting selection for the Knicks, who are gaining a player who averaged just 7.0 points, 2.5 assists, and shot 45% from the field last season with Zalgiris in the Euro League.

His measurables:

  • Height: 6’5″
  • Weight: 194 pounds
  • Wingspan: 6’9″
  • Position: Guard
  • Birthdate/Age:  November 19, 2000, 20 years
  • International: Zalgiris, three seasons
  • Stat line:  7.0 points, 1.7 rebounds, 2.5 assists, 0.5 steals
  • Home Town: Mazeikiai, Lithuania

Solid showings on the international stage have jolted his stock, as Kevin O’Connor of The Ringer believed he could sneak into the first round. As a combo guard with upside, the Knicks took a flier here, but one that could pay off if he develops correctly.

 

 

Knicks finally execute, selecting Quentin Grimes with the 25th overall pick, what does he bring?

quentin grimes, knicks

After trading away the 19th and 21st overall picks, the New York Knicks finally landed a player with the 25th overall selection. Passing on several point guards, including Miles McBride and Sharife Cooper, the front office decided on Houston sharpshooter Quentin Grimes.

The Knicks worked Grimes out several days ago, as the 6’4″ shooting guard impressed. Having transferred from Kansas to Houston in 2019, he has been on their radar for quite some time. As of a month ago, he was expected to be a late first-round or early second-round selection, so landing him at 25 could be a bit premature.

Nonetheless, Grimes is a high-end shooter, averaging 17.8 points last season with Houston. He connected on 40% of his 8.3 times from three, providing essential shooting with five veterans expected to hit free agency this off-season. Averaging 32.8 minutes per game, he’s clearly ready to make the transition to the NBA.

The Knicks were reportedly interested in Chris Duarte out of Oregon earlier in the draft, but he was taken well before their selection. Grimes offers a solid 3-and-D wing, who contributed 1.4 steals last season, a career-high.

Quentin Grimes this past season:

-84th percentile in overall offense

-92nd percentile in transition

-86th percentile P&R ball handler

-70th percentile isolation

-72nd percentile off screens

-81st percentile on handoffs

The Knicks have the 32nd and 58th overall picks, so they can address the point guard position shortly.

BREAKING: Knicks trade 21st pick to Clippers, completing first round sweep

New York Knicks, Tom Thibodeau

After trading away the 19th overall selection, the New York Knicks elected to take a similar path with the 21st overall pick, trading it away to Los Angeles Clippers.

With serious needs at point guard and need at center behind Mitchell Robinson, the front office is taking an interesting approach that centers around patience. It’s clear they’re gearing up for the future, where they can allocate draft capital to trade for a bonafide star. In the Knicks’ place, the Clippers will select Keon Johnson out of Tennessee.

However, the Clippers sent them the 25th pick in return in addition to a future second-rounder. A solid deal for a team that feels they can grab their top target on the board while adding more draft value for the future.

Report: Knicks in trade talks for Magic’s Terrence Ross; Lakers offered Kyle Kuzma

terrence ross, knicks

The New York Knicks‘ phone lines are busy exploring all their options ahead of tonight’s NBA Draft — from trading up into the lottery and swapping their picks for a veteran.

Chris Duarte remains the trade-up target for the Knicks, according to several reports. At the same time, Kevin O’Connor of The Ringer added that they are also in trade talks to acquire veteran guard Terrence Ross from Orlando Magic. Ian Begley of SNY was the first to note Ross’s involvement in trade discussions with several teams.

“League sources say the Knicks are involved in trade talks for Magic guard Terrence Ross. They would also like to move up in the draft, possibly to select Chris Duarte,” O’Connor wrote.

Ross is owed $24 million over the next two years and is due for a $12.5 million salary next season. With the Knicks having an ample cap space this summer, they can just absorb Ross’s salary in exchange for picks. The 30-year old guard is coming off his finest season, averaging a career-best 15.6 points and 2.3 assists. He shot 34 percent on 5.7 three-point attempts.

Ross torched the Knicks last season with a pair of explosive games. He had 19 points on 4-of-8 three-pointers and three assists in their first meeting back in January. He came back with a 30-point outing on 5-of-6 shooting from deep in their second meeting that he laced up with six rebounds, four assists, two steals, and two blocks.

The Knicks are looking to add more shooting and veteran presence at the wings with Alec Burks, and Reggie Bullock set to become free agents.

Meanwhile, the Indiana Pacers balked at the Knicks’ offer to trade up for their 13th pick in the lottery with their eyes on Oregon swingman Chris Duarte, per J. Michael of Indy Star.

“The New York Knicks have cap space and have expressed interest in jumping up from Nos. 19 and 21 for a shot at Duarte. They’re open to part with players on their roster to get it done but they don’t have a desirable group,” according to the Indy Star report.

Kevin Knox, who is still on a rookie contract with a cap-friendly $5.8 million owed next season, used to be high on the Pacers’ list, but that has dipped after the former lottery pick failed to carve out a meaningful role under coach Tom Thibodeau last season. Suffice to say that there’s no clear pathway for the Knicks to move up to the Pacers’ spot in the lottery.

“A little more than a season ago, Kevin Knox generated some interest from the Pacers, league sources said at the time, but that never went anywhere and he has since fallen off. With their cap space, the Knicks are able to absorb any undesirable contracts to make a deal but the Pacers don’t have any,” the report added.

Interestingly, according to the same Indy Star report, the Knicks were one of the teams who received a call from the Los Angeles Lakers involving Kyle Kuzma.

“They offered Kyle Kuzma to Indiana for a pick swap that was declined (also have offered him to Utah, Minnesota, Cleveland, New York, and likely others),” the report said.

It is not clear if the Knicks-Lakers discussion gained traction. But it seems that talks are dead now as the Lakers have reportedly pivoted and stepped up their efforts to land Sacramento Kings’ Buddy Hield with a package centered on Kuzma.

Follow this writer on Twitter: @alderalmo

LOTTERY-BOUND I 10 lottery teams eye Auburn star I Bruce Pearl to NBA teams: Sharife Cooper is a ‘once-every-10-year’ point guard

knicks, sharife cooper

There are two particular big games in Sharife Cooper’s young career that convinced his coaches he’s going to be an elite point guard in the NBA.

In 2019, with McEachern’s perfect season on the line, Cooper led the Indians to a come-from-behind win against his AAU teammate-turned rival BJ Boston and Norcross in the state semifinals.

“I’ll always remember playing against Norcross in the state semifinals during his junior year,” McEachern coach Mike Thompson told Empire Sports Media.

The game was a rematch of the previous year’s quarterfinals, where Norcross knocked off Cooper’s team. It looked like a deja vu was in the offing.

“At halftime, we’re getting beat. He and Isaac (Okoro) were not playing very well. Sharife had not played well in his freshman or sophomore year in the last game that we had. And I wore him out really bad. I got on him as hard as I’ve ever got into a kid at halftime,” Thompson recalled.

Then something happened. Cooper turned on the switch button.

“He looked me in the eye and took everything that I’ve said. He went out and dominated the second half against Norcross and took us to the state championship. And we won the state championship,” Thompson said.

Cooper willed the Indians to an epic 66-62 win. He led the scoring with 26 points while Okoro, his partner-in-crime and the fifth pick in last year’s NBA Draft with the Cleveland Cavaliers, had 18 after the duo combined for only eight in the first half.

“[Sharife] was very coachable and I was always excited for him because I felt like that was the time he took the most pressure-packed moment and he turned into the very best player in that situation. That I will never forget,” Thompson said.

That year, the Indians went undefeated in 32 games for McEachern’s first state title in school history and became the first undefeated team in the highest Georgia classification since 1995. Cooper averaged 27.2 points, 8.1 assists, 5.6 rebounds, and 4.3 steals per game in an MVP season that spilled over several tournaments after that historic run. Prior to his stellar high school career, his AAU team went undefeated during his middle school.

Fast forward to January of this year, Cooper’s much-anticipated college debut after missing Auburn’s first 11 games due to eligibility issues.

“Players of less character and less commitment to the team would have walked away,” Bruce Pearl told Empire Sports Media.

“He came in everything that he was allowed to come to. He was 100 percent supportive of his teammates throughout that process. And I tell you what, that is rare. That fervent leadership with nothing to be gained by him. He was gonna stay ready.  He missed 72 days of practice. And the night before we played Alabama, an early afternoon game, he found out he was eligible and he came out the next day. He scored 23 in the second half in his first game.”

Cooper is a hooper. Without a single practice in the last two-and-a-half months, he was thrown into the fire but still dominated the game. He overcame a jittery start and ended up with a game-high 26 points and nine assists in a narrow 94-90 loss to in-state rival Alabama.

Right at that moment, Pearl saw up close how special Cooper is. He was as good as advertised.

“Sharife is a once-every-ten-year fast-breaking, playmaking, transition, and ball-screen floor general with his ability to make plays for himself and others,” Pearl said.

Cooper supercharged a lethargic Auburn offense. He produced 39.6 points per game via his own scoring or assists, the best in all of the college basketball last season, per Synergy. He tops all guards in the upcoming NBA Draft in points created via assists, per Shot Quality.

In the 12 games that Cooper played, Auburn averaged 83 points while its offense sputtered and coughed up only 72.5 points in 15 games without him. 

 

“He had a pied piper effect. He has the ability to bring other guys along with him which is great for a point guard,” Pearl said.

Ira Bowman, Pearl’s assistant coach and the guy assigned to Cooper during his time in Auburn, marveled at the point guard’s effect on the team.

“[Sharife] is one of those guys who see what the group needs. He is the guy that’s gonna be vocal when he needs to. He’s a leader by example guy but he’s a guy that brings people together. There are guys who are good distributors, good playmakers but he’s the type of guy that makes people around him really, really good,” Bowman told Empire Sports Media in a separate interview.

“Sharife is a unique player. I’ve been in the SEC for five years but I’ve never seen anyone like him. He’s one of the hardest-working kids I’ve been around and he’s a sponge for the game. He has certain God-given gifts that you can’t teach. His ball-handling, his passing, his vision, his leadership are unparalleled.”

The NBA Playoffs saw how Trae Young made Clint Capela a lob threat, how Chris Paul unlocked Deandre Ayton. Cooper had the same effect on every team he’s played with, from AOT in the AAU circuits to McEachern and Auburn.

“If you look at Isaac Okoro, who was the fifth pick in last year’s Draft, he’s a much different player when he was playing with Sharife. You talk about BJ Boston, looking at a lot of these mock drafts they have him in early second round. But when he played with Sharife, he was a Top-5 player in his class. Then there’s Allen Flanigan, Devan Cambridge and so on,” Bowman said.

“That’s just kind of what he does because he’s elite with playmaking, passing with either hand. Because no one can stand in front of him and he can get to wherever he wants to go on the floor. He’s naturally gifted who looks to make a pass first and find easier shots for the other guys. Again, there are people who train their whole life that can’t do those things and he’s naturally gifted,” Bowman said.

The Cooper effect in Auburn was on full display during his brief stint there.

In the 12 games Cooper played, Cambridge had 8 double-figure games. JT Thor, the other Auburn player expected to go in the first round of the NBA Draft, had also hit in double figures in eight games. Flanigan did it in 11 games, including four with at least 19 points.

In the 15 games without Cooper, Cambridge could only hit the double-digit mark in just six games, Thor in eight games, and Flanigan in 10 games.

“I felt like at Auburn, if they had anybody who could knock down shots, he might have averaged 20 assists a game there,” Thompson said.

Cooper will greatly benefit from the floor spacing and better overall talent in the NBA than the young team he had at Auburn.

As much as he’s adept in making plays, he’s also producing buckets in a variety of ways. Those are the two swing skills that intrigued Pearl when Cooper was making waves in Georgia.

“His ability to score and play in traffic. That being undersized, you thought physically you could bounce him around. But he has an uncanny way of delivering passes on time, and on target, and scoring in really crowded places. The other thing is he is ambidextrous. Whatever he could do with his left hand, he could do with his right hand,” Pearl said.

It’s so easy to nitpick his size or the lack of it. But Bowman swears he doesn’t see Cooper regressing in the next level.

Despite being undersized, Cooper has that competitive edge, dog mentality which Bowman attributed to his father Omar, who grew up in the New Jersey-New York area before uprooting his family to Atlanta.

“When you go up against Sharife, the things that you’ll realize is that he’s faster than you think, he’s bigger than you think, he’s stronger than you think. I’ve been around him probably half his life and I haven’t seen him bullied on defense and I’m a thousand (percent) sure it won’t happen in the next level,” Bowman said.

Cooper joined Young as the only freshmen to average 20 points and eight assists in college basketball in the last 30 years. Aside from sharing that record with Young, Cooper also draws comparison to the Hawks’ rising superstar for his propensity for drawing fouls. In 12 games with Auburn, Cooper averaged 8.6 attempts and converted a solid 83 percent.

“I think he’s gonna be a championship-level point guard who’s gonna be a multiple All-Star guard. I’ve been around long enough. I watched Kyrie as a freshman — before he went to St. Patrick’s School, before he became who he was. I watched Chris Paul before what people thought he was. The crazy thing is that Trae Young, having the success that he’s having now, Sharife did what Trae did in the EYBL circuit,” Bowman said.

“There’s no doubt in my mind that the teams that doubted Donovan Mitchell, that doubted Trae Young, they will be the same teams who’ll wish they have [Sharife] because again the things he brings to a team, you can’t teach,” he added.

The last seven NBA champion teams have an elite point guard — Tony Parker (Spurs), Kyrie Irving (Cavaliers), Stephen Curry (Warriors), Kyle Lowry (Raptors), and Rajon Rondo (Lakers). Paul is trying to join that club this season. Young could soon follow.

Each point guard has his own strengths and weaknesses but what stand out is the elite vision, playmaking, and championship poise that propelled their team to greater heights.

Cooper possesses those qualities. If there’s an only blemish on his dominant college run, it was his shaky outside shooting. But his coaches believe that he is a better shooter than what his 23-percent clip from the three-point range suggests.

“I think because he’s so gifted getting into the rim and getting others the ball that his mindset was to make a play and score first, shoot last,” Pearl explained. “That was a function of why he didn’t shoot a great percentage. And of course, he didn’t have a lot of opportunities. I think he’ll really be a good NBA shooter because there will be times when he will be hunting for his shot. He’s so productive breaking his opponent down. That’s his first and second thought.”

Bowman offered another layer of context.

“People say, look at his shooting percentages. But he’s a much better shooter than his shot and the numbers he showed in the sense that he played the season after sitting out for 72 days of practice and never really got his legs. All the stuff that he does, he’s a leader. I’ve been in this [coaching] for a while and never coached a kid that can do everything on the floor. And obviously, he’s gonna will his way to be a great player. He will never be satisfied with being great,” Bowman said.

“As far as working on his game, he’s shooting thousands of shots a day. The percentages don’t show where he is but he’s always been a good shooter. He’s gonna be a great shooter with a year of training camp because like I said, he jumped right in the middle of the season and didn’t have his legs and played catchup for the rest of the year. Because he’s so gifted in doing the other things and nobody can stand in front of him, it’s just one of those things where he got settled with some of those shots. So, I’m not concerned at all.”

Thompson, meanwhile, pointed to Cooper’s shooting display in his Pro Day at the Draft Combine in Chicago to prove that it was just an outlier.

“He shot it really well during his junior year and I think he really did a work on that heading into the Draft Combine and his Pro Day. And he showed in his Pro Day that he can really shoot well. As a matter of fact, he got a standing ovation from a lot of executives,” Thompson said.

In the EYBL circuit during his junior year, Cooper shot 35 percent on 5.7 attempted 3s in 10 games, per Real GM. There were no available statistics that show his shooting percentages during his undefeated run with McEachern. But his solid free-throw shooting clip in college provides hope that Cooper’s struggle from long-distance at Auburn is just an aberration.

More than 20 NBA teams have reached out to Pearl and spoke with him at great length about Cooper. All of them had the same question: “At his size, what do you think? Is he gonna make it as a star in the NBA?”

“That question has always been asked. It’s been asked in his high school career and he was the national player of the year and went undefeated during his junior season. It was asked in college and he averaged 20 points and almost 10 assists. And so, it’s gonna be asked at the next level but Sharife has always proven everybody wrong. That’s for a fact,” Pearl said.

How will he do that? By just staying true to himself.

Bowman gave us a peek at what made Cooper successful in every level he’s been to, which will translate well in the NBA.

“I’ve been watching him since the seventh grade. You see young kids that make mistakes and just shrug it off but he’s somebody who was obsessed with not turning it over, obsessed with making the right plays. I’ve seen him do things that didn’t work and come back and make adjustments. He does it on the fly. You rarely see him make the same mistakes twice. Those are things you can’t teach. That’s the basketball junkie that he is. He’s obsessed with being great. That’s what’s gonna happen,” Bowman said.

During his one-and-done season at Auburn, Bowman and Cooper were almost inseparable.

“He’s somebody that made me stay in shape with the amount of time that he was in the gym,” Bowman said in jest. “It’s just like having another whole job. Being able to make sure he’s getting satisfied with his basketball skill work. It was refreshing in the sense that it’s a throwback. He’s not somebody that sits around and hopes things happen. He’s gonna figure out what to do and how to make it happen.”

Cooper starts his day with what he called a ‘Breakfast Club’ at 6’o clock in the morning with basketball on his plate. After an early morning shootaround, he eats his real breakfast and attends his class. After lunch, he hits the weight room before going to practice. Then after practice, he does extra shooting before retreating to the film room. After dinner, he comes back for more extra work until 11 at night.

“He’s a gym rat,” Bowman said. “Night, morning, he’s always in the gym. He’ll do everything that we, coaches, asked our players to do and he’s gonna do more. He’s not gonna get outworked. The first guy in the gym, the cliché, last to leave but he’s also coming back. His work ethic is unparalleled. His mindset was already a pro.”

Any team in the NBA would love to have that type of player. He blew away a lot of teams during his Pro Day workout.

Auburn’s Sharife Cooper is touted to be the next elite point guard to make the NBA jump. (Getty Images/Walt Beazley/Arkansas Athletics/USA Today Sports)

Young went No. 5 in his class, Paul went No. 4. So his coaches believe that Cooper, who had done stuff that Young did in high school and college and has the court smarts of Paul that elevates his teammates, is lottery-bound.

Overall, 10 of 12 the teams in the lottery have either met or scheduled to meet with Cooper: Houston Rockets (No. 2, 23, 24) Cleveland Cavaliers (No. 3), Toronto Raptors (No. 4), Orlando Magic (No. 5, 8), Oklahoma City Thunder (No. 6, 16, 18), Golden State Warriors (No. 7, 14), Sacramento Kings (No. 9), New Orleans Pelicans (No. 10), Charlotte Hornets (No. 11) and Indiana Pacers (No.13).

The other teams from the outside (of the lottery) looking in who are confirmed to have either met Cooper or worked him out are the Washington Wizards, Chicago Bulls, Boston Celtics, Philadelphia 76ers, Portland Trail Blazers, Los Angeles Clippers, Milwaukee Bucks, Minnesota Timberwolves, and the Hawks.

According to a source, that list is expected to grow to 25 teams before the NBA Draft on July 29.

“Everything (mock draft) I read has him going to New York. I think that’d be a great fit. They need a point guard. I think he’d be great in that city. That city would embrace him,” Thompson weighed in.

“He’s spent a lot of times in New Jersey. That’s where his family is originally from. He knows [the Knicks] really well. I think his mind — his psyche – that’s one of the strongest suits he has. I think he’ll just be fine there. He’s an entertainer and he will be a perfect fit in New York,” he added.

Curiously, the Knicks haven’t met Cooper yet. However, ESPN’s Draft Analyst Jonathan Givony noted on ESPN’s latest NBA Mock Draft after the Combine that “the Knicks’ front-office brass and head coach Tom Thibodeau were front and center in Chicago for Cooper’s pro day, where he had a strong showing.”

Pearl also highlighted Cooper’s New Jersey roots.

“Here’s the thing, he identifies with New Jersey. That’s where he’s born. That’s where his dad played ball. Even if he played high school ball in Atlanta, he knows his roots. He knows where he’s from. He’s just a loyal kid that is grateful for the opportunity,” he said.

But both the New York teams are outside the lottery. According to a source, the Knicks have a level of interest after doing their due diligence on Cooper. With Cooper already on the radar of eight lottery teams, both the Knicks and the Nets might have to trade up if they really want the star point guard out of Auburn.

Bowman believes Cooper is the best pure point guard of this class, and he’s a plug-and-play guy right away, noting the impact of Trae Young and Chris Paul in this NBA playoffs.

“At this point, you don’t know who has the most interest. Everybody is doing their due diligence. I will just say that there’s a group of teams that needs a point guard,” Bowman said. “That they would be more successful if they have a guy like Sharife and I’m not saying who I like or who I don’t like. But I’m gonna say, whoever gets him will be lucky.”

“But you look at the Knicks and what Trae Young did to them, and the Sixers on what Trae Young did to them, and you look at the Lakers on what Chris Paul did to them. So you talk about the Lakers, Clippers, the Rockets who are rebuilding who don’t have a point guard. There are tons of teams who can plug him in and help immediately. But obviously, being from the Northeast, we talk about, you see the Knicks and the Sixers how they played.”

“Any team that sees the value in a true leader and a guy who’s gonna make people around him better, I think anybody would be lucky to have him. But I like Golden State. I don’t think Steph Curry is a point guard in a grand sense of things because he’s coming off so many screens and can do a lot with the ball if he had somebody who can set him and Klay Thompson up coming off the screen. I just see [Sharife] getting successful at about every stop,” he explained.

Pearl views Cooper in the same mold as the top point guards in today’s NBA. And he hopes whichever team that picks his former star player will trust him the way he did, akin to how Monty Williams trusts Paul that propelled the Suns two wins away from an NBA championship.

“Obviously, [Sharife should go to] a team that truly wants a point guard. In this day of positionless basketball, sometimes coaches have different people bringing up the ball on the floor. It’s got to be a coach who wants to put the ball in Sharife Cooper’s hands and let him run the team,” Pearl said.

“Lead point guards are not for every system, not for every coach. And I think that’s where the question – does Chris Paul, Trae Young, Kyrie Irving, Damian Lillard, their ability to run a team and break people down and get everybody involved interests you? – if that’s a fit for that head coach, then great. But if he’s a coach who doesn’t care who leads the break and brings the ball up the floor, then Sharife wouldn’t be attractive to them. I couldn’t do anything more productive offensively than putting the ball on the hands of Sharife. Give him space, and let him make plays.”

His coaches can’t wait to watch Cooper’s next big game, this time in the NBA, to let his next coach and the fans see for themselves what they saw in him throughout these years.

Follow this writer on Twitter: @alderalmo

Knicks Draft Watch: Corey Kispert models his game after Klay Thompson

New York Knicks‘ most pressing need is a solid starting-caliber point guard. But it seems to be Leon Rose is sold that he can solve the Knicks’ point guard woes via free agency or trade (Hello, Dame Lillard!).

That’s the vibes we’re getting after New York coach Tom Thibodeau revealed last week that the Knicks are looking for wings and guys who can shoot in the Draft Combine in Chicago.

The Knicks have met with more than 20 prospects, and one of them perfectly fits the bill.

Enter Gonzaga’s sharpshooter Corey Kispert.

Kispert is one of the older guys in the Draft, but his floor is so high that he’s been mostly projected to be a lottery pick. His public Mock Draft ranges from as high No. 10 (ESPN & The Ringer) to as low as No. 22 (CBS). Bleacher Report pegs him at No. 14.

It’s not hard to see why there’s a lot of intrigue in Kispert despite being a senior prospect.

It’s going to be out of Thibodeau’s character to bring in four rookies next season, so there’s a league-wide belief that the Knicks will be looking to package their picks to trade up. If they missed out on James Bouknight, the 22-year old Kispert could be a solid option and would be ready to contribute right away.

Ever since the Golden State Warriors changed the game with their impeccable shooting during their dynasty in the middle of the past decade, teams have been looking out for the next Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson.

Shooters have become a hot commodity with the past NBA Drafts yielding rising stars Trae Young and Tyler Herro, Cam Johnson, while unheralded players Duncan Robinson and Joe Harris shot their way into becoming key starters in playoff teams.

Kispert wants to be that next guy.

“The guy that has been the gold standard for me forever has been Klay Thompson,” Kispert said on a zoom call at the Draft Combine. “Whenever I don’t feel good about my game or have a bad night or whatever, I watch him score 60 on 12 dribbles. The way he plays the game, the way he impacts their team. You’ve seen how much they’ve missed him since he’s been out. I want to be as close to that as I can.”

Kispert sure looked like Thompson at Gonzaga. And he was a better shooter than Thompson in college. The Golden State gunner was a 39 percent shooter on 620 three-point attempts in his three years at Washington State. Kispert finished his college career at 40.8 percent on 662 three-point attempts.

But most experts believe his ceiling could be Harris.

“That’s the comparison that I’ve heard most often throughout this draft process. Joe and I are friends,” Kispert said.

In 2019, Kispert linked up with Harris through a mutual friend to study his shot preparation during the offseason.

“It’s an honor to be compared to a guy like him. The career that he’s made for himself from almost being done and out [of the league] to signing a big deal with Brooklyn. So I’m really happy to receive that comparison and honored. Hopefully, I can live up to it,” Kispert added.

Then last year, Kispert went through the Draft process before pulling out to return for one more year at Gonzaga. He made the right decision as his remarkable run with the Bulldogs made him a sure first-rounder.

“Last year was like a runway to my rookie season,” Kispert said. “I have been able to receive feedback from teams and took that advice to heart and was able to implement those things right away.”

Kispert parlayed that into a West Coast Conference Player of the Year run, averaging 18.6 points, 5.0 rebounds while shooting 52.9 percent from the field and 44.0 percent of his 3s on 6.5 attempts — all career-highs. He was one of the two biggest reasons why the Bulldogs went to the NCAA national championship undefeated. The other being Jalen Suggs, a projected top-four pick.

While they fell short in the NCAA Finals against Baylor, Kispert believes he can lean back to that experience in the next level.

“It helped me understand what it takes to win a game like that. I’ve never played in a national championship game before. We came out a little bit flat and it cost us the game. So being able to come out for a game like that with enough energy to take on Baylor would have been huge,” Kispert said. “Being in that kind of pressure situation — the Final Four and the national championship game — that’s gonna be able to translate directly to the [NBA] especially with the fans coming back in the arenas.”

What’s holding him back from cracking the Top 10 is his perceived lack of athleticism. Kispert can’t wait to prove his doubters wrong.

“I think I get pegged as the guy who people can take advantage of on defense. And for whatever reason, the guy who can’t run, who can’t jump, whatever. And the numbers I’ve had in the [Draft] Combine were a great start to prove people wrong, and I can’t wait to get on the floor to continue to do that,” Kispert said.

Measuring 6-6 on foot and 6-7.25 with shoes, Kispert has a decent size to defend guards and wings in the NBA. He looked athletic in the drills, posting a solid 3.12 sprint, 30-inch no-step vertical, and his 2.99 shuttle time was just 0.01 short of topping last week’s camp.

It’s so easy to fall into the trap of pigeon-holing Kispert as a shooter. But he offers more than that.

“I’m best at catch-and-shoot, but I’ve grown my game so much off the dribble over the last two years,” he said. “I’ve watched films of myself during my freshman and sophomore years, and I barely recognize the player that I was out there. It’s a testament to how much I can improve in that time. I can’t wait to see how much I can improve from here on out. Definitely, I have to continue to work on putting the ball on the deck and make guys pay for closing out on me. That’s gonna be a consistent theme in the NBA as long as my career lasts.”

As one of the older guys in the Draft, Kispert exudes confidence and a great basketball IQ with experience as his teacher.

The secret to Kispert’s success from behind the arc is his quickness in setting up his shot. And when a defender collapses on him, he can punish him with quick off the dribble to glide to the basket. He shot 63 percent of his two-point attempts last season.

“It’s reading guys out of the corner of your eye. You look at the ball coming in; you could feel the defender. And it’s something that I’m really thankful to have thousands and thousands of reps doing, just being in games. That’s the kind of situation I find myself in a lot. Just continue to work on that and sharpen the tool that I have in my toolbox in every way I can.”

Kispert checks all the boxes for Thibodeau.

“There’s a great value in [character]. You try to measure their drive and intelligence and how players have improved over a period of time. And also if they have gotten through some adversity. You’d like to see that quality as well. There are a number of things you’re looking for,” Thibodeau said.

Kispert not only leans on his on-court improvement last season but, more so, the challenges off the court as a tool to navigate the NBA in his rookie year.

“I had a great year. I’ve grown a bunch as a person having navigated through COVID-19 and all the protocols and stuff we have to work with. It was not an easy task. And team-building with that kind of obstacle is tough,” Kispert said.

There will be plenty of rivals for the Knicks, as Kispert met with almost half of the league last week in Chicago. The long list includes the Boston Celtics, New Orleans Pelicans, San Antonio Spurs, Minnesota Timberwolves, Cleveland Cavaliers, Chicago Bulls, Oklahoma City Thunder, the Warriors, and Los Angeles teams.

In this pace-and-space era, Kispert is a can’t miss prospect. But his drive is what makes him special. There’s a case for him to come out of this class as one of the top 10 players.

Follow this writer on Twitter: @alderalmo

Tom Thibodeau bares what Knicks are looking for in NBA Draft

New York Knicks, Tom Thibodeau

The New York Knicks have four picks (19th, 21st, 32nd, 58th) in the upcoming NBA Draft. But the consensus around the league is that they will not be adding four more rookies to a core that finished fourth in the Eastern Conference this season.

New York coach Tom Thibodeau confirmed that belief on Friday at the NBA Draft Combine in Chicago.

“For myself, I’m catching up. Our scouts have evaluated them. They put a lot of work into it. And then you have to be ready for all the possibilities — whether you move up, move back, or you trade out,” Thibodeau said.

The Knicks have met with some prospects who are mocked out of their range, such as projected lottery picks Scottie Barnes (FSU), Jalen Johnson (Duke), Jaden Springer (Tennessee), James Bouknight (UConn), and Corey Kispert (Gonzaga).

They have to package some of their picks or a combination with one of their players under contract to move up.

Teams who could be willing trade partners are the Golden State Warriors and the Oklahoma City Thunder. The Warriors have two lottery picks (7th and 14th), while the Thunder have three picks in the top 18. The Cleveland Cavaliers, who are picking at No.3, are also rumored to be moving on from Collin Sexton as they can land either Jalen Green or Jalen Suggs.

But the Knicks are also prepared to stick with their picks, looking for two particular skill sets in this Draft.

“I love coming here for the opportunity to sit down and interview with players. You get to know them a lot better. So you’re still gathering information. You see who might be a good fit for you. And again, I think we’re looking for wings and guys who can shoot. So there’s a number of guys that we think are gonna be good pros. So there’s a lot of value here,” said Thibodeau.

So far, the Knicks have zero in on guards and wings who can score in a myriad of ways.

Aside from the five projected lottery picks mentioned above, they have also either interviewed or conducted a workout with Jared Butler (Baylor), Nah’Shon Hyland (VCU), Ziaire Williams (Stanford), Miles McBride (West Virginia), Joshua Primo (Alabama), Aaron Wiggins (Maryland), Jose Alvarado (Georgia Tech), Mac McClung (Texas Tech), Alan Griffin (Syracuse), Marcus Zegarowski (Creighton), Geo Baker (Rutgers), Tyson Etienne (Wichita State) and big men Trey Murphy III (Virginia), Luka Garza (Iowa), Moses Wright (Georgia Tech) and Fardaws Aimaq (Utah Valley).

“These players are remarkable and how well they present themselves. I think they’ve gotten used to this environment. I think the agents are doing a good job in preparing them. You’re also doing a lot more research. You’re talking to a lot of people around them. And then you’re seeing and evaluating whether all the intel matches up to what the players are saying,” Thibodeau said of the Draft process.

“A lot of times, you find a lot of interesting things. I think that’s an important piece of this. It’s not the end-all, be-all, but it’s a big part of determining who would fit into your group,” he added.

Last year, the Knicks successfully picked two rookies — Obi Toppin and Immanuel Quickley — who were gym rats that seamlessly fit into Thibodeau’s culture. The past regimes have more misses than hits in the NBA Draft. But after team president Leon Rose beefed up the Knicks scouting department led by scouting guru Walt Perrin, there’s hope that the Knicks have a much better grasp of the process this time around.

On top of the specific skill sets they are looking for, the Knicks also value their background. They have cast a wide net, including unranked prospects, to have more intel which becomes useful down the road.

It’s a Perrin signature that his former team, Utah Jazz, did in trading for the likes of Jordan Clarkson.

“There’s a great value in [character]. You try to measure their drive and intelligence and how players have improved over a period of time. And also if they have gotten through some adversity. You’d like to see that quality as well. There are a number of things you’re looking for,” Thibodeau said.

Follow this writer on Twitter: @alderalmo

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

Draft steal Tyrese Haliburton haunts Knicks

Tyrese Haliburton made sure the New York Knicks would remember this loss for passing up on him in the NBA Draft.

Haliburton, who slid to No. 12 in the Draft, helped the Sacramento Kings deal the Knicks a stinging 103-94 loss that put an end to their three-game winning streak.

The Knicks went into a black hole at the start of the second half but appeared on track for a comeback in the final quarter before Haliburton made them pay down the stretch.

The 12th pick of the draft hit the dagger three-pointer with 2:35 left — his only field goal in the second half — that gave the Kings a nine-point cushion, 96-87. Then he stole the ball on the other end to seal the win.

“I guess it fueled me personally,” said a grinning Haliburton before pivoting.

“But I love it here. If we did this all over, I pray to God that I slid here. It’s not hard feelings or anything. It is what it is. It’s a business. I don’t care,” he added.

He must be incensed for getting little interest from a team that badly needed a lead guard.

Haliburton showed what the Knicks could have had at No. 8.

“My job is to make them think about that when they go to sleep. So I’m just going to go out there and be the best player I can be. I’m not that big into that motivation,” Haliburton said.

Haliburton entered the game as one of the top rookie performers averaging 11.1 points on 50 percent shooting and 49.2 percent from deep with his unorthodox shot and five assists.

The 6-5 rookie combo guard was the best rookie on the floor Friday night at the Golden1 Center.

Haliburton was all over the court as he finished with 16 points, five rebounds, two assists, two steals, and four of the Kings’ 14 blocks in 31 minutes off the bench.

In contrast, the Knicks’ eighth overall selection Obi Toppin had six points and five rebounds in 12 minutes off the bench, his sixth game since recovering from an early-season injury (strained right calf).

The Knicks, playing on the second night of a back-to-back schedule, started slow and trailed by as many as 10 in the opening quarter. They recovered quickly and grabbed a 26-25 lead.

The Kings, who came into the game with the league-worst defense, stunningly limited the Knicks to just five points in the final 5:47 of the pivotal third quarter. They would grab a 10-point lead midway in the last quarter, but the Knicks charged back and got within two, 89-87.

The Kings lived at the line before Haliburton bailed them out with the big triple — their first field goal in four minutes — to gut out the big win.

”This was a weird, weird game for us,” said Randle, who led the Knicks with 26 points, 15 rebounds, and four assists.

“We started slow, worked our way out of it, and was up at the half. The third and fourth quarter was a little bit of a funk. I don’t even know what happened. The ball stuck a little bit.”

The Knicks’ offense turned cold after a sensational showing the night before in a 119-104 rout of the Golden State Warriors.

RJ Barrett added 21 points, seven rebounds, and four assists, while Mitchell Robinson put up a double-double (12 points, 10 rebounds) but had little help from the rest of the Knicks.

De’Aaron Fox, who trolled the Knicks for landing No. 8 in the Draft Lottery, paced the Kings with 22 points and seven assists.

Together with Haliburton, they outplayed the Knicks point guards Elfrid Payton and Immanuel Quickley, who combined for 15 points and five assists.

The Knicks (8-9) will continue their West Coast trip in Portland on Sunday night.

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