Knicks hope for World Wide Wes luck in NBA Draft Lottery

New York Knicks vice president and senior advisor William Wesley burst onto the basketball scene more than three decades ago when his best friend, Milt Wagner, introduced him to Michael Jordan in Chicago.

Wesley eventually landed his biggest break — a job at Jordan’s basketball camp and thus began his enduring clout in the basketball circles.

On Tuesday, Wesley returns to Chicago hoping to recapture that luck for the Knicks when he sits on the dais for the NBA Draft Lottery.

The Knicks have not moved up since winning the Patrick Ewing lottery in controversial fashion in 1985. But they are banking on the man known as ‘World Wide Wes’ in the inner basketball circles and ‘Uncle Wes’ to basketball players to break that streak.

The 37-45 Knicks face tall odds to jump from no. 11 after their strong finish diminished their chances. They only have a two percent chance of winning the No. 1 pick and a 9.4 percent chance of moving to the top four.

There’s no consensus No. 1 pick this year, but the top-heavy draft offers four projected franchise cornerstones in Jabari Smith (Auburn), Paolo Banchero (Duke), Chet Holmgren (Gonzaga) and Jaden Ivey (Purdue).

Wesley succeeds his close associate and Knicks team president Leon Rose as the team’s representative in the draft lottery. Rose had no luck as the Knicks fell to No. 8 after entering the 2020 NBA Draft Lottery sitting at seventh.

Wesley hopes to do better and keep the Knicks from sticking to 11th (77.6% chance) or worst, falling to 12th (12.6% chance).

The 2022 NBA Draft Lottery, Presented by State Farm, starts at 8 p.m. Tuesday on ESPN.

Follow this writer on Twitter: @alderalmo

Strong Knicks contingent among curious crowd in Jazz Game 1 win over Mavs

Trade target Donovan Mitchell and free-agent target Jalen Brunson went mano-a-mano in a riveting showdown in front of a strong New York Knicks contingent.

Mitchell scored 30 of his 32 points in the second half to power the Utah Jazz to a 99-93 win over the Luka Doncic-less Dallas Mavericks Saturday in Game 1 of their Western Conference first-round series.

Brunson kept the Mavericks competitive even without Doncic, pouring in 24 points, seven rebounds, and five assists. Mitchell added six rebounds and six assists. The Jazz star shot 10 of 29 from the field and made 10 of 11 free throws in a productive outing after starting cold, missing all his four shots in the opening quarter.

Among the curious spectators were executive VP William Wesley, assistant general manager Allan Houston and director of international and pro scouting Makhtar Ndiaye.

Dallas native and enigmatic Knicks star Julius Randle huddled with them at halftime. Former Mavericks and Knicks guard Dennis Smith, Jr. also joined them.

They got what they bargained for as Mitchell and Brunson showed out. Both players have been linked to the Knicks for quite some time now.

In January, Fox Sports’ Ric Bucher reported a buzz around Mitchell’s murky future with the Jazz, who have been disappointing in the playoffs after strong regular-season campaigns in recent years.

“They’re a first-round exit from Donovan being in New York,” an Eastern Conference scout told Bucher.

Mitchell, a Westchester native, and son of a New York Mets executive, still has four years left on his rookie max extension after this season.

On the other hand, Brunson is set to become a free agent this summer. The former Villanova star has deeper ties within the Knicks organization than Mitchell. Brunson’s father was Knicks president Leon Rose’s first client and also played for the franchise. He was also part of Tom Thibodeau’s coaching staff in Minnesota.

After a disappointing season that ended in a return trip to the NBA Lottery, the Knicks’ moves in Rose’s third offseason will be heavily scrutinized.

Follow this writer on Twitter: @alderalmo

Knicks: Tom Thibodeau dismisses World Wide Wes ‘blame game’ story

After losing 13 of their last 16 games and blowing several 20-point leads in the final week before the All-Star break, New York Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau found himself in a brewing firestorm.

An SNY report cited sources who framed Knicks executive vice president William Wesley pinning the blame — at least in part — on Thibodeau for their disappointing performance this season.

“I talk to Wes all the time. I don’t respond to rumors and any of that stuff,” Thibodeau told reporters after Wednesday’s practice. “You know I know the drill here. I’ve been here before, so I don’t worry about any of that stuff.”

The Knicks haven’t been as successful as they would have envisioned when they signed Kemba Walker and Evan Fournier to infuse more shot creators in their offense that stalled in last year’s playoffs. Walker had been shut down for the remainder of the season while Fournier battled inconsistency. Last year’s All-Star Julius Randle struggled to play with them until he’s appeared to have figured it out before the pause.

Thibodeau is on his third coaching job after quickly wearing out his welcome in Chicago and Minnesota. He is familiar with how tough the New York market is, having been an assistant coach to Jeff Van Gundy in the late 90s to early 2000s. It remains to be seen if he can survive this challenging season — an undesirable sequel to their magical playoff push last year.

The All-Star break gave Thibodeau and the Knicks, who are 3.5 games out of the final play-in spot, to reflect on their spiraling season.

“It’s just a reset. It’s a chance to look at exactly where we are, the things that we did well, the things that we didn’t do as well as we would’ve liked, focus on what we want to improve upon, and just get ready for the next game,” Thibodeau said.

The Knicks are expected to get a boost with the impending return of Derrick Rose to the fold after Walker’s exit. The rotation logjam still exists, which the Knicks front office tried to solve at the trade deadline to no avail.

Thibodeau dismisses any talks that he’s not in sync with the front office led by his friend and former agent Leon Rose, who has close ties with Wesley.

“I talk to Leon every day. I talk to Wes every day. So that doesn’t change,” Thibodeau said.

But despite dismissing those talks, Thibodeau can only shut down the outside noise by producing results. Having the fourth most brutal remaining schedule while delicately balancing winning and player development will be a tough challenge.

Follow this writer on Twitter: @alderalmo

When fate meets faith: Knicks’ Quickley rises as big-time shotmaker

Immanuel Quickley ran to the corner. He received the pass. Set his feet squarely on the floor. Then a quick release. His follow-through stayed in the same position until the ball touched the net—poetry in motion.

Quickley’s corner 3 gave Kentucky its first lead of the second half, 58-57, against eventual NBA top overall pick Anthony Edwards and Georgia. It was the first meeting between the two SEC schools in January last year, 10 months ahead of the NBA Draft. Quickley’s big shot fueled the Wildcats win over the Bulldogs and perhaps his wild journey to the New York Knicks.

After the game, Dice Yoshimoto, who was Georgia’s director of basketball strategy and video at that time, quickly called Tom Thibodeau.

“Watch this kid, Quickley,” Thibodeau said of his conversation with Yoshimoto last year. “He’s like all the small guards that we had in Chicago. He said he had saved every big shot for Kentucky.”

At that time, Thibodeau was out of the league. He was still looking for his next NBA job. Still, that did not stop Thibodeau from following Quickley’s rise to becoming SEC’s Player of the Year under John Calipari at Kentucky. He called William Wesley (World Wide Wes), a powerful behind-the-scenes NBA power broker and a close friend of Calipari, to learn more about Quickley.

“Wes gave me the background on him. And so I continued [ watching him]. I don’t know where I was going to be, but he was someone who was on our radar,” Thibodeau said.

Five months after that phone call, Thibodeau and Wesley found themselves together in New York, tasked to help their close friend Leon Rose rebuild the Knicks franchise. Two months later, Yoshimoto rejoined Thibodeau in his staff. Kenny Payne, Calipari’s top assistant at Kentucky, also joined the Knicks, bringing a wealth of inside intel on Quickley.

Calipari had a glowing recommendation of Quickley ahead of the NBA Draft.

“Immanuel Quickley was the Player of the Year in our league. He’s right up there with the hardest workers spending the most time in the gym, most committed players that I’ve ever had,” Calipari told Empire Sports Media via Zoom call one month before the 2020 NBA Draft. “You better give him a second, third, or fourth look before you pass on him because he’s another one.”

“He spaces the court because he’s making threes. It’s what everybody knows. It’s where the league is going right now? You better be able to make threes. If you can’t, you better have some unbelievable talent; you better have ESP or something like that if you can’t shoot. The game has changed,” Calipari added.

Thibodeau didn’t need more convincing. It did the opposite as it took away some of the Knicks’ advantage on Quickley. Rival teams scampered to get a hold of the quick-rising prospect.

Quickley met with all NBA teams except the Portland Trail Blazers, who shipped their first-round pick for Robert Covington. The Knicks were one of the six teams who interviewed Quickley twice.

“As far as the Knicks are concerned, I think they know more about him more than anybody team in the NBA,” Jide Sodipo, Quickley’s trainer, told Empire Sports Media ahead of the draft.

It proved prescient.

Upon Thibodeau’s recommendation to get a shooter, Wesley reportedly pressed Rose and other front-office members to get Quickley on draft night. Some major sports outlets nitpicked that pick as a reach, but Quickley proved them wrong. He turned out to be a revelation in his rookie year.

On Monday night, it came full circle for Yoshimoto as Quickley did precisely the same play that made him text Thibodeau on that fateful night in January last year.

Quickley’s go-ahead corner 3 with 5:03 left fueled a gut-check 92-84 win over the Indiana Pacers that snapped their two-game losing skid.

Quickley tied Kemba Walker with a team-high 16 points on 4 of 4 three-pointers, each shot a big one.

He was in middle school when Walker had his Cardiac Kemba moment at Madison Square Garden.

The energy and the vibe of that shot and the celebration never left his mind. Quickley always dreamed of hitting big shots on the Garden floor. That’s one of the reasons why Quickley hops up and down the length of the floor in celebration of every big shot he makes.

“It’s just fun playing in the Garden. I ain’t gonna lie. The energy is just crazy,” Quickley said.

The shifty guard quickly became a fan-favorite in New York ever since his signature floater and a long three-pointer became a New York staple as a rookie.

So when Quickley hit the sophomore wall early this season, it was jarring to read a quarter of the #Knicks Twitter crucifying him. In his first nine games, Quickley’s shooting had regressed. He managed to make only 7 of his first 31 three-pointers. It wasn’t what everyone was expecting.

Quickley’s faith was tested. But he was unmoved and unafraid.

“I don’t really look at it as a slow start,” Quickely said. “I look at it as the ball wasn’t just going in and it’s eventually going to go in. The numbers are always going to fall in the place where they are supposed to.”

The early shooting slump did not deter Quickley. Instead, it drove him to work harder and cling to his faith tighter.

“Quick has to be the guy that’s in the gym the most out of everybody.” his teammate RJ Barrett said recently.

The Knicks’ Tarrytown practice facility became an extension of Quickley’s place, just 10 minutes away.

Quickley has always been a relentless worker who possesses a faith that is bigger than his trials. He got those two success-defining traits from his mother, Nitrease Quickley, the former Morgan State sharpshooter and currently a vice principal in Harford County, Md., and his father, Marcellous Quickley, a Christian pastor.

“If you just stick with it, you keep doing and keep working on all the things that you’re supposed to and keep your faith first, everything gonna falls into place,” Quickley said.

True enough, his shots began to fall. Over his last five games, Quickley’s numbers have risen to 13.0 points on a 49/56/92 shooting split, 2.6 rebounds, 3.0 assists, and only a single turnover in 21.5 minutes off the bench. He had connected on 14 of 25 3s. The last two were much needed by a struggling Knicks team on the brink. The first one tied the game at 74 against the Pacers and the second one, the go-ahead 3, lifted the Knicks over the hump.

“I think we all had a high sense of urgency. Coach [Thibodeau] stressed in the shootaround that we needed this one to get back on the right track,” Quickley said.

Quickley hitting big shot after big shot is nothing new to him and to people who know him. It’s the reason why Yoshimoto was so high on him. And it’s the same reason why Thibodeau and Wesley pushed for him in the draft.

“They (coaches and teammates) always give me a lot of confidence. Obviously, my faith is a big part of who I am so that gives me a lot of confidence when I’m on the floor, and then also I think playing at Kentucky where pretty much every game is a big game. So, it’s a combination of all that stuff,” Quickley said.

The former Nitrease Hamilton was Quickley’s first coach. She watched her son hit his first big shot when he was an eight, nine years old skinny kid. Since that moment, Quickley fell in love with the game.

“I hit a walk-off, stepback three for the game,” Quickley recalled. “Everybody was holding me up high. I’ll never forget that shot. It’s like a dream.”

Quickley is living his dream.

It was his fate to land on this Knicks team. It was his faith that guided him to navigate a difficult start to his sophomore season.

Follow this writer on Twitter: @alderalmo

Julius Randle owes Knicks new regime: ‘They saved me’

Julius Randle had just one of the worst games of his career — eight points on 4-for-13 shooting in 27 minutes.

It was a nightmarish start to the Julius Randle era in New York as the Knicks plunged into a 1-6 record after a 113-92 beating at the hands of the Sacramento Kings. They trailed by as many as 32.

Randle expected it to be tough. He knew what he signed up for. But the pain hit him differently when his first season with the Knicks began to unravel.

The weight of the expectation that came with the $63 million worth of three-year contract he just signed a few months earlier is starting to pull him down.

On that night of November 3, 2019, the seed of what is shaping up to be one of the most memorable seasons in the Knicks’ franchise history was planted.

Randle was wallowing in pain in a restaurant somewhere in Manhattan. Then his phone rang. It was his agent, Aaron Mintz from the Creative Artists Agency.

Randle picked up the call. A few moments later, Mintz, along with his CAA associates Leon Rose and Wesley William, more famously known as ‘World Wide Wes,’ sat on the table listening to Randle’s ranting.

Kenny Payne, Randle’s coach and confidant at the University of Kentucky, was also there that night as the Wildcats were in town set to play the Michigan State University a couple of nights later in The Garden.

“They’re like picking me up because I was down,” Randle recalled that night on ESPN NBA Insider Adrian Wojnarowski’s podcast.

They quizzed Randle.

The former Los Angeles Lakers lottery pick was already tired of losing. He hadn’t been to the playoffs in his first five years in the league up to that point.

“What is it that you see? What are you feeling? What’s going on?”

The season has just begun. But it felt like an exit interview.

Randle poured out his heart to Rose and co. He was complaining about a lot of things that’s been bothering him on his new team.

“Wes really took it to heart,” Randle said. “Honestly, they saved me.”

Four months later, Rose became the Knicks’ new team president. Wesley and Payne soon followed.

With that heart-to-heart talk back in November still fresh on Wesley’s mind, he called up Randle.

“What do you need to become an All-Star? What do you need to lead this team,” Wesley asked Randle.

“One of the things that I really told him is [that] I need a coach who will hold me accountable, a coach who will push me,” Randle said.

Enter Tom Thibodeau, a no-nonsense coach who has built a winning culture founded on accountability everywhere he went but whose reputation has been hit because of the same demanding, old-school style.

But Randle and Thibodeau hit it off. It was a match made in heaven. Thibodeau was effusive in his praise. Randle used the past season debacle as his fuel. He reported to Thibodeau’s minicamp with his motor running on fumes.

“I really think that’s where me and Thibs, from the very beginning, hit it off,” Randle said. “He saw how serious I am about my craft. I know that’s how he is. He’s serious about his craft. He loves basketball. I love basketball. I want to get better. I want to improve. I want to be coached.”

Then Randle turned from being New York’s most unwanted to most beloved. The city craved for a star. Randle became one.

All because of his maniacal work ethic that perfectly matched with Thibodeau’s demanding style and culture of accountability.

“For me, it’s about winning. In this league, you have a lot of freedom in certain situations. One of the things I did last summer when the season was over was to look at my tapes. I didn’t want to,” Randle said.

He begrudgingly watched his tapes last season. It was painful to watch. But it was the only way to effect real change. You can’t change what you don’t acknowledge.

”You look and see you’re getting away with things that you shouldn’t get away with,” Randle said. “Or you’re not being coached the way you should be as far as pushing me. And that’s what I told Leon, and that’s what I told Wes — I want a coach that’s really going to hold us all accountable for every night that we stepped out there on the court, that winning is the most important thing.”

That’s Thibodeau’s tenet. Winning is everything.

“That’s really what this team is all about. That no matter what’s going on throughout the season, whatever it’s thrown at us — injuries, tough schedule — we always found a way to win.

Randle and the Knicks went through hell.

From the long nights where he heard boos every time his spin moves turned into turnovers to the best nights of his life hearing chants of M-V-P at The Garden, Randle has come a long way.

Fate has a funny way of writing destiny. And Randle can circle back to that one fateful night in November.

“It just really came full circle,” Randle said. A year ago, at that start of the season, it was tough. A lot of things in the league are about opportunity and that kind of stuff. It really came together — coaching, opportunity, and the team and how we believe in each other, and how Thibs has everybody buying in.”

Follow this writer on Twitter: @alderalmo

Beal or No Deal: Knicks reportedly interested in Beal; Barrett on the move?

Is Bradley Beal New York-bound?

Beal remained adamant that he’s not quitting on the Washington Wizards. But an influential New York Knicks executive is reportedly cooking up a Beal trade.

Last week, Michael Kay reported that Knicks vice president and senior basketball advisor William Wesley, more famously known as World Wide Wes, is working through back channels to land Beal in New York.

“I’ve got it from a very good source that the Knicks are quietly interested in a Bradley Beal. How’s that gonna happen? He’s signed to a long-term deal. He has not said he wanted to be traded. But you forget, the Knicks have World Wide Wes on their side. He’s been in the ears of some of Beal’s people and kinda nudging them that this might be the time to push for a trade,” Kay said on his ESPN radio show last week.

Brightest star in the biggest market

Beal is fresh from getting his first All-Star starter nod, ranking first in fans, media, and players’ votes among all Eastern Conference guards. He’s leading the league in scoring with a career-high 32.8 points per game on 47/34/90 shooting splits. The 27-year old star is also putting up career-best 5.2 rebounds, 4.7 assists, and 1.3 steals. But despite his spectacular numbers, the Wizards are in the bottom three in the East though they have won their last three games.

On the flip side, things are getting rosy in New York. The Knicks are in the playoff conversations and are quickly becoming an attractive destination. New team president Leon Rose, along with Williams and head coach Tom Thibodeau, has dramatically changed New York’s culture.

The appeal to Beal in New York is a chance to become the biggest star in the biggest NBA market. And if he wins in New York, that will cement his basketball legacy.

Aggressive buyer

Along with their early on-court success, a treasure trove of picks, and a $15 million cap space, the Knicks are in a prime position to be an aggressive buyer in the trade market.

They own all their first-round picks plus two more from Dallas via the Kristaps Porzingis trade. All in all, the Knicks have seven first-round picks and eight second-rounders through the 2025 NBA Draft.

Stefan Bondy of the Daily News reported that the Knicks are also monitoring CJ McCollum’s situation in Portland. But ESPN’s Front Office Insider and former Brooklyn Nets’ assistant general manager Bobby Marks told Empire Sports Media that the Trail Blazers are not trading him.

Potential Beal package

If Beal and the Wizards decide to part ways, the asking price would be in the James Harden trade neighborhood.

When asked what the Wizards could seek from the Knicks in exchange for their long-time cornerstone, Marks told Empire Sports Media that it would require giving up both the first-round picks from Dallas (2021 unprotected, 2023 top-10 protected), a minimum of two unprotected first-round picks, pick swaps and sophomore swingman RJ Barrett. 

A package like that could still leave the Knicks in a good position to contend in the East with a core of Beal, Randle, Mitchell Robinson, and Immanuel Quickley, all of whom are still under 30 years old and plenty of cap space to chase another star.

Follow this writer on Twitter: @alderalmo

New York Knicks: Calipari explains Payne’s impact on Randle’s All-Star rise

The New York Knicks‘ status as a real playoff contender will be legitimized by a Julius Randle selection in the NBA All-Star Game.

Randle is knocking on the All-Star Game door after an impressive start to the season. He’s dragging a young Knicks team to the playoffs conversations in a season many analysts thought would be a lottery year.

Randle is in the midst of a career year in the NBA — 23.2 points, 10.9 rebounds, 5.5 assists, and 40.7 percent from deep, all career-highs. And more importantly, as Tom Thibodeau pointed out, Randle has impacted winning in New York.

With Randle leading the way, the Knicks have won 14 of their first 30 games, good for the seventh spot in the East. Barring any second-half meltdown, the Knicks are on pace to outplay ESPN‘s projections (24.7 average wins and 2% playoff chances).

Randle’s Herculean effort hasn’t gone unnoticed as he finished seventh in the Eastern Conference frontcourt starters voting — seventh in fans votes, eighth in players votes, and fifth in media votes.

The coaches are set to pick the seven reserves, which will be announced on Tuesday.

Comfortable being uncomfortable

Randle revealed in the Old Man and the Three podcast yesterday that the Knicks executive vice president William Wesley called him in the offseason and asked him what he needs to go to the next level.

His response foreshadowed what is happening right now: “I need a coach who will push me and hold me accountable.”

Tom Thibodeau is what Randle has ordered. But he got more than what he bargained.

Kenny Payne, the man responsible for whipping Randle and a slew of Kentucky big men into becoming an NBA lottery pick, also came on board.

“One of the things that I told the Knicks when they were considering Kenny is that: ‘Understand now, if you want to see what Julius can be — he’s a good guy because they have a great relationship and Kenny will push him and make him uncomfortable until he’s comfortable being uncomfortable.’ You know how it’s done,” Kentucky coach John Calipari told Empire Sports Media via zoom call.

Unlocking Knox

Calipari also sold Payne to the Knicks as the key to unlocking their other underwhelming Kentucky product.

“And I also told them Kevin Knox, who was playing really good early, you’re gonna find out what he is,” Calipari said.

For the early part of the season, when injuries ravaged the Knicks, Knox had his moments. At one point, he was leading the league in corner three-pointers. However, it was short-lived as the team got healthy and Knox got buried under the Knicks’ new-found depth.

“They’re not playing [Kevin] as much because they’re trying over guys to play snippets and trying to figure out who’s who. But I think it’s been great,” Calipari said.

Big man’s whisperer

At Kentucky, Payne was the good cop to Calipari’s bad cop. In New York, Payne does the dirty work for Thibodeau.

Payne is always on the ears of the Knicks’ big men. Clips of him personally training the Knicks’ frontcourt — from Randle to Mitchell Robinson and Obi Toppin — went viral in the offseason. Oftentimes, on the MSG broadcast, you catch him in the pregame, stretching out Randle and assisting in his shootaround. During the games, you see him barking instructions or explaining the game situations to players from the sidelines.

Randle’s reunion with Payne made his transformation under the very detailed and hard Thibodeau coaching more effective.

“Julius is having an All-Star year. And the Knicks, if they stay in this playoff hunt, and they’re in there, there’s no reason — Julius in the biggest market had averaged in double-double just dragging the team and motivating his team and doing what he’s doing — for that not to happen for him personally,” Calipari said.

If it does happen, thanks in large part to Payne.

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

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

New York Knicks: The Hiring Of One Executive Leaves Polarizing Effect

New York Knicks, James Dolan

On June 24th, 2020, the New York Knicks announced Wesley Williams as their new executive vice president/senior basketball adviser. Wesley, who’s a longtime friend of Knicks president Leon Rose and former consultant at Creative Arts Agency, is known for his relationships with star players around the NBA. He also previously worked with top coaching candidate Tom Thibodeau while at Creative Arts Agency.

The Knicks hiring of William Wesley, also known as “World Wide Wes” as the next Executive Vice President, has garnered hot and cold reactions. Two opposite kinds of reactions and the lack of a lukewarm reception of the hiring makes one wonder the real reason for the hiring of William Wesley, leaving such a polarizing effect amongst certain former players and media.

Stephon Marbury’s reaction towards the hiring of the new Knicks Executive Vice President was of disbelief along with anger, and the reaction also seemed personal. Marbury expressed displeasure as a Knick fan; however, he never fully expressed in detail on why he felt the way he expressed about the hire.

Former Knick Rasheed Wallace didn’t sound too optimistic about the Leon Rose and William Wesley hire either. Wallace mentioned possibilities of other agents getting revenge on Leon Rose by spurning opportunities of current NBA stars and potential stars making their way to the Knicks via free agency. Wallace claimed the reason this could happen is due to the possibility of Leon Rose or William Wesley spurning or doing no favors for other agents while in their former positions. Could their past come back to bite them? That remains to be seen.

Wallace said the following on CBS Sports Radio:

“I mean damn, it’s been getting worse. We all think it can’t be no [worse], they’re going to hit rock bottom, but they keep going lower and lower. I’m just a little confused by it all, if you ask me. It’s one thing to have a former agent and agency coming in and giving you their input here and there, but to hire them full time, you’re taking on a lot. Because now, unfortunately [James] Dolan’s taking on their baggage.”