The NCAA Tournament is chock full of top-flite prospects who the New York Knicks will definitely be keeping an eye on.
The New York Knicks are the least talented team in the NBA—by far. If that isn’t clear by now, then people aren’t paying attention. They have the worst record in the league (14-58) with a three-game cushion. Despite some promising young talent, they don’t have enough difference-makers on the roster.
Of course, part of that was by design when the team made the shocking move to trade Kristaps Porzingis. That monumental deal cleared the room for two max free agent slots. As a result, the Knicks can add tons of talent in free agency this summer.
But even before free agency begins on July 1, the 2019 NBA Draft will take place on June 20. That’s another opportunity for the Knicks to add significant talent to the roster. Who the Knickerbockers draft will depend a lot on how the lottery goes, but here are a few players in this year’s NCAA Tournament who will undoubtedly be on New York’s radar.
If you haven’t heard about Zion Williamson, you must live under a rock. The Duke University star is the biggest name in college basketball and he is electrifying the sports world. Any general manager who doesn’t draft Williamson deserves his pink slip. That goes double for Knicks GM Scott Perry.
Williamson is only a few games into his return after suffering a strange injury where his foot blew straight through his shoe. That kind of bizarre injury only happens to freak athletes like Williamson and myself.
Upon returning in the ACC Tournament, Williamson didn’t miss a beat. In three games, he averaged 27 points and 10 rebounds. Even more ridiculous, he shot 77 percent from the field including a 13-for-13 night from the floor against Syracuse University.
Duke takes on North Dakota State at 7:10 p.m. ET on Friday.
Ja Morant’s rise to the top of draft boards came out of nowhere. The Murray State Racer took home Ohio Valley Conference Player of the Year honors this season. His 24.6 points and 10.0 assists per game launched mid-major Murray State to a 12 seed and a strong 27-4 record. Furthermore, the rising star dropped 36 points in the Ohio Valley Conference Tournament Final against 11th-seeded Belmont University.
Morant is as dynamic as can be and he might be enough to guide the Racers to the common 12-seed first-round upset. In the NCAA Tournament, the best players usually shine and guards have a tendency to grab the spotlight.
There might be no better guard in the country and even a run to the Sweet 16 could solidify Morant’s place as a top three pick come June. He won’t leapfrog Williamson, but he has a legitimate shot to go second overall. The Knicks might not have a glaring need for a point guard, but at the top of this weak draft, go with the best player available. Morant might be No. 2.
Murray State takes on fifth-seeded Marquette University at 4:30 p.m. ET on Thursday.
RJ Barrett may be overshadowed by his freshman counterpart—Zion Williamson. But it’s hard to overlook Barrett’s immense talent. Going within the top five is a near certainty for the super-talented wing.
He’s averaging 22.9 points, 7.5 rebounds, and 4.1 assists per game. He can do a little bit of everything on the floor and he could be a great option for the Knicks on the wing.
His outside shooting needs some work (30.4 percent from three-point range), but he is a streaky shooter who can catch fire at a moment’s notice. Barrett would be a nice consolation prize for the Knicks should they miss out on the top pick in the draft.
Another Duke freshman on this list? Say it ain’t so.
Even for the most devoted Duke haters, it’s impossible to discredit their freshman class. Reddish is probably the best shooter of their group, but like Barrett, he tends to be hot and cold. He’s averaging 13.7 points per game, but he would likely fill up the stat sheet on almost every other team in the country.
There’s a chance that Williamson, Barrett, and Reddish go in the first three picks of the draft. It seems unlikely at this point, but it’s not out of the realm of possibility. Of course, Knicks fans will be disappointed drafting the third member of Duke’s three-man band, but Reddish is no slouch.
Remember when the University of Virginia fell to University of Maryland Baltimore County in the biggest first-round tournament of NCAA Tournament history? Well, as bad as that loss was for the Cavaliers, it probably wouldn’t have happened with a healthy De’Andre Hunter.
The Sophomore wing opted to return to school for a second season despite the fact that he would have certainly been a first-round pick in 2018. It looks like he made the right decision. Hunter is averaging 15.1 points and 5.0 rebounds per game, but he’s seeing his draft stock soar.
He has top-five potential and if the Knicks fall out of the top three, he’ll be an intriguing option no doubt.
Virginia takes on 16-seeded Gardner-Webb University at 3:10 p.m. ET on Friday.
Jarrett Culver is another player who Knicks fans might not want to draft. A draft where Adam Silver announces Culver to the Knicks means they missed out on Williamson, Barrett, and Morant. But don’t let that distract from the fact that Culver is an absolute stud.
The sophomore shooting guard has Texas Tech University in unfamiliar territory. Culver has the Red Raiders locked in as a three seed for the second time in as many years. Tech is hoping to build on their Elite Eight performance in 2018 and perhaps rise to new heights.
With Culver another year wiser, that seems like a legitimate possibility. The Big 12 Player of the Year is averaging 18.5 points, 6.3 rebounds, and 3.6 assists per game. He’s exactly the type of player who can ride the wave of a successful tourney and build momentum before the draft.
Texas Tech plays Northern Kentucky University at 1:30 p.m. ET on Friday.