No Shortcuts as Knicks Ponder Their Draft Options

Tuesday night’s NBA Draft Lottery was an exercise in frustration.

The cards were unveiled and the Knicks, projected to get the No. 9 pick in the June draft, remained at No. 9.

So, what now?

If the Knicks search for a new coach is any indication, expect president Steve Mills and GM Scott Perry to take a thorough, meticulous approach to identifying the player that will best help the franchise going forward.

[Hahn: Perry’s Focus for Knicks: Talent Acquisition]

Remember, Mills and Perry interviewed 11 candidates in less than three weeks before choosing David Fizdale.

[Robbins: Pressure of New York Won’t Faze Fizdale]

The heavy lifting starts Thursday when the NBA Draft Combine begins in Chicago. The Knicks can meet with a maximum of 20 players at the combine. Additional players can work out and undergo interviews at the team’s training facility.

The educated guess here is that the Knicks reach that 20-player max or come close to it. There are too many prospects that could be available and too many scenarios that could impact the selection.

Mills and Perry have both talked about not taking any shortcuts. There’s every reason to believe they will be looking at character, maturity and basketball IQ in addition to skill.

“To me, that’s as important as evaluating talent,” Perry told reporters in Chicago about the interview process. “We’ve been watching these guys play so we have a little better handle on their physical skill.

“But it’s going to be really important to find out who these guys are as people, what kind of character they really embody and project how they would fit with us.”

The Celtics are worth mentioning here. Rookie Jason Tatum and first-year swingman Jaylen Brown have shown remarkable maturity as the Celtics have advanced to the Eastern Conference Finals.

Mills and Perry have talked about building sustained success which means substance over style. No wonder Perry has hesitated to commit to any player or position.

“I think you have an idea, a loose idea, of where guys may or may not fall in the draft,” Perry said. “Obviously you want to talk to as many guys as you project in your range. But also, historically, I’ve liked to try to broaden that range because going into the draft you never know what could occur.’’

GREENBURG, NY – JULY 17: New York Knicks team President, Steve Mills and Jeff Hornacek of the New York Knicks introduce General Manager Scott Perry at a press conference at the at Knicks Practice Center July 17, 2017, in Greenburg, New York. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2017 NBAE (Photo by Steven Freeman/NBAE via Getty Images)

In order to get as clear a picture of every prospect, Mills, Perry, assistant GM Gerald Madkins, Fizdale and some scouts will all be in Chicago. The more eyes and ears the Knicks can get on each prospect the better.

The question of need certainly will be addressed. The Knicks could use an athletic small forward to complement Kristaps Porzingis. There are several intriguing prospects that should be available when the Knicks pick 9th.

Point guard also is a key position. The Knicks used their first-round pick last year on Frank Ntilikina, who showed flashes of brilliance. He was the second youngest player in the NBA and there’s every reason to believe he will take a big step forward with an offseason of weight training and Summer League.

Whether or not he emerges as the starting point remains to be seen. He might be a better fit at combo guard.

Oklahoma’s Trae Young and Alabama’s Collin Sexton — very different point guards — could be available, but Perry sounds like a man who will remain patient.

CHICAGO, IL – MAY 15: NBA Draft Prospects, Trae Young, Collin Sexton and Jaren Jackson Jr. pose for a photo with American civil rights activist, Jesse Jackson talk before the NBA Draft Lottery on May 15, 2018 at The Palmer House Hilton in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Gary Dineen/NBAE via Getty Images)

“It would only make sense if you feel that guard is far and away better than what you have on the roster,” Perry said. “And we haven’t been able to make that determination yet.”

So let’s leave point guard aside for the moment. In addition to Ntilikina, the Knicks have Emmanuel Mudiay, Trey Burke, and Ron Baker. The competition this summer should be fierce at that spot.

With that in mind, let’s consider the options at small forward.

Mikal Bridges, 6-foot-7, Jr. Villanova

NEWARK, NJ – DECEMBER 10: Mikal Bridges #25 of the Villanova Wildcats in action against the Notre Dame Fighting Irish during the first half of a college basketball game at Prudential Center on December 10, 2016 in Newark, New Jersey. (Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images)

Bridges probably helped his draft stock more than any non-freshman player. He started his career as a long-limbed defender and developed a solid all-around game including the ability to knock down 3’s. Bridges has the maturity and basketball IQ that would appeal to any GM. He also has two national championship rings.

Miles Bridges, 6-foot-6, So. Michigan State

CHAMPAIGN, IL – JANUARY 22: Miles Bridges #22 of the Michigan State Spartans shoots a free throw during the game against the Illinois Fighting Illini at State Farm Center on January 22, 2018, in Champaign, Illinois. (Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images)

You don’t come out of Tom Izzo’s program with being a physically and mentally tough player. At 6-foot-6, Bridges is a little undersized on the perimeter but get him near the rim and hide the women and children. Has the strength and athleticism to emerge as a star if he develops his outside game.

Kevin Knox, 6-foot-9, Fr. Kentucky

ST LOUIS, MO – MARCH 09: Kevin Knox #5 of the Kentucky Wildcats dribbles the ball against the Georgia Bulldogs during the quarterfinals round of the 2018 SEC Basketball Tournament at Scottrade Center on March 9, 2018 in St Louis, Missouri. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

No college coach has mastered the development of the one-and-done player better than John Calipari at Kentucky. The vision of Knox playing alongside KP should make any Knicks fan tingle at the possibilities. He can score from the 3 or 4 spots, catch-and-shoot, off the dribble and go to the basket. Have a feeling his stock will rise.

Michael Porter Jr., 6-foot-10, Fr., Missouri

Speaking of rising and falling stock, no player was more highly regarded going into college than Porter Jr. Think Ben Simmons. But Porter Jr. missed almost all of the season with a back injury that required surgery. Think red flag. If healthy, he’s a breathtaking talent. If healthy.

Those are the four most likely small forwards that will be available when the Knicks pick. But remember so much can happen between now and June 21. Which is why the Knicks have to scrub every prospect, regardless of position or projection.

“There may be trade opportunities to move up or down, whatever the case may be,’’ Perry said. “So I think it’s important for us as an organization to know as much about all these guys as we can regardless of where they’re projected.”

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