Even with six games left, the New York Knicks offseason has already begun. That much was decided when Duke was booted by Michigan State.
Zion Williamson has likely played his last game in a Duke uniform. For New York, every effort to get him into a Knickerbockers uniform begins now.
The Duke Blue Devils’ March Madness run ended abruptly in an Elite Eight loss to the Michigan State Spartans. The stunning result likely means an end to the college careers of Duke’s Big Four: Tre Jones, R.J. Barrett, Cam Reddish, and Zion Williamson.
Aside from Jones, the other three are all in play for the New York Knicks in the 2019 NBA Draft. With the league’s worst record they’ve got a 14.1 percent chance at the first overall pick.
A look at the three players emerging from Duke, and the weight of New York’s upcoming draft selection.
Solidifying the Core
After trading away franchise face Kristaps Porzingis, and potentially saying goodbye to point guard Frank Ntilikina, the Knicks’ youth core has seen a shake-up.
Dennis Smith Jr (for now), Kevin Knox, Damyean Dotson, and Mitchell Robinson make up the remainder of Knicks’ youth.
This year’s draft selection may be the last that New York picks in the upper realms of the lottery. So this player, assuming things go as planned, could be the final installment to the youth core.
Zion Williamson is a one-of-a-kind prospect, having been compared to the likes of Anthony Davis and LeBron James.
He dropped a season-high 32 against NC State in February.
He’s the kind of talent that changes that trajectory of your franchise, especially when it’s coming off of six straight sub-.500 seasons. Drafting Williamson could catapult the franchise regardless of its success in free agency.
And it seems he’s ready to move on from Duke, which shouldn’t be much of a surprise. But what is surprising is how candid Williamson was about his future following the team’s loss.
Duke’s Zion Williamson just said it’s a high likelihood he enters the NBA Draft.
Credit for an honest answer in a tough moment.
— Jeff Zillgitt (@JeffZillgitt) March 31, 2019
Elsewhere among the Blue Devil’s soon-to-be NBA rookies, guards R.J. Barrett and Cam Reddish will both be top-14 picks.
Barrett is a more than capable two-guard with court vision who can keep any offense afloat. He displayed such in Duke’s 75-73 win over Virginia Tech in the previous round.
Reddish, the Blue Devils’ starting two-guard is a sharp-shooting wing defender. He’s less of a sure-fire talent than his other two teammates, but has tremendous upside as a three-and-d.
Reddish shot 33 percent on 7.5 three-point attempts per game in his lone season at Duke. His best shooting display came in a 94-72 Duke routing of Army back in November.
While Zion is the clear cut number one pick, both Barrett and Reddish offer NBA-ready skill sets to whichever team selects them. For the Knicks, any of the three would be a welcome addition to their band of youth.
Free Agency Hopes
As much as the draft holds weight for the future of this franchise, New York’s free agency has been set up to be pivotal all the same. They’ve opened up two max-salary slots, and have been tied to the likes of Kyrie Irving, Kevin Durant, and Jimmy Butler.
Where Zion Williamson lands, presumably already a starting NBA talent, will have some effect on the league’s free agency. Guys are going to want to play with the first overall pick and New York could grab even more attention with his selection.
Drafting Zion and consequently signing an Irving-Durant or Irving-Butler duo immediately places the Knicks in the playoffs picture. Even with the eastern conference finally growing competitive in the aftermath of LeBron James exit to Los Angeles.
Or, in a less likely scenario, the Knicks could offer the likes of Zion in exchange for a third star. Maybe Anthony Davis?
It’s already known that they’ve got their eye on Davis, who requested a trade from his only franchise through seven seasons. Back at the trade deadline, they reportedly offered a package centered around Porzingis to New Orleans.
The Pelicans may have been wise to turn the deal down without knowing who would hold the first overall pick. But once that becomes apparent, and if it’s New York, could Davis be had?
Nonetheless, in regards to every facet of the Knicks free agency aims, this draft pick is everything. Essentially, it’s Zion or bust. You land him, maybe you pull through and sign two stars.
But if you don’t, that’s one less bullet point for your PowerPoint presentation in those free agency meetings. And the New York Knicks need all the selling points they can get.
Dates to Watch
The summer is going to be long, especially with New York’s starting this early. So, here’s a quick reminder of upcoming dates:
- April 21: The last day for players to announce their eligibility for the 2019 draft.
- May 14: The NBA’s Draft Lottery, which will determine where the Knicks pick in the upcoming draft.
- June 20: The 2019 NBA Draft
- July 1: The beginning of free agency.
Either Zion Williamson, Cam Reddish, or R.J. Barrett would be welcomed in Madison Square Garden. As it stands, each of them would fill some hole in the Knicks youthful lineup.
Or, at the very least, they could contribute to a promising supporting cast, provided New York makes the splash they’ve nearly promised in free agency. Welcome to the 2019 offseason New York Knicks fans.
It’s gonna be a big one and it starts now.