The New York Knicks need to up their presence on the wing and this NBA Draft class provides options across both rounds.
The small forward/wing position is a big question for the New York Knicks next season.
RJ Barrett can play it well, but Tom Thibodeau clearly prefers playing him at shooting guard. Reggie Bullock proved a great three-and-D last season and is a free agent, but the Knicks also hold his Bird rights. This means they can go over the salary cap without consequence if they wish to re-sign him.
But behind Bullock, the Knicks don’t really have anyone who can effectively play the wing. Kevin Knox II’s shortcomings on defense saw New York often utilize smaller lineups down the stretch, thus the combined successes of Alec Burks, Derrick Rose, and Immanuel Quickley.
Cut to the New York Knicks struggling to shut down the Atlanta Hawks in the playoffs. Suddenly, the importance of having a tough defensive wing in a high-scoring league is all the more important.
The free agency market has some intriguing options, but the NBA Draft is just as important. If Leon Rose and Scott Perry are inclined to rely more on youth, these five young wings should stick out on Draft Day.
No. 5: Johnny Juzang, UCLA
Juzang played mostly guard in college, but can handle the wing at a long and lean 6-foot-6, 210 pounds. He was instrumental in leading the Bruins to the Final Four and averaged 22.8 points per game in the NCAA Tournament. Juzang isn’t much of a defender, but is still just 20 years old. He has more than enough time to improve and continue developing.
Juzang also transferred to UCLA from Kentucky, where he was a teammate of Quickley and played under current Knicks assistant and former Kentucky assistant Kenny Payne. He left Kentucky not because of any animosity, but simply so he could be closer to home during the pandemic. As a second-round steal, he’d be a strong fit in New York.
No. 4: Trey Murphy, Virginia
Lots of the wings in this year’s NBA Draft class are a bit raw defensively and Murphy is no exception. In his sole year with the Cavaliers, he posted a defensive box plus/minus (DBPM) of 2.4. He’s also 6-foot-9, 206 pounds, and only managed 11.3 points and 3.4 rebounds last season.
There’s no doubt Murphy needs to hit the weight room, but Thibodeau could really use his length and defense off the bench. He’s not the prettiest draft pick, but easily one of the more practical ones as pertains to the New York Knicks.
No. 3: Isaiah Livers, Michigan
Like any Big Ten forward, particularly out of Michigan, Livers just bleeds toughness. He averaged 13.1 points and six rebounds for the Wolverines last year before a stress fracture kept him out of the tournament. He had surgery and is expected to need six months’ recovery. Even though he’ll miss the start of the season, he has a strong build at 6-foot-7, 230 pounds.
Throw in that Livers can also play power forward, and the New York Knicks have yet another reason to draft him in either round.
No. 2: Ziaire Williams, Stanford
Ziaire Williams was not a particularly good offensive force for the Cardinal in his one year with the program. He averaged just 10.1 points, shot 37.4% from the field, and under 30% from three. Yet, Williams posted a 1.5 DBPM. That’s a modest number, but one which signifies he can handle playing defense on the NBA level.
The New York Knicks need exactly that: capable defense off the bench. If Williams can provide some while also improving his shooting, all the better.
No. 1: Franz Wagner, Michigan
Our last entry takes us back to Ann Arbor to take a look at Franz Wagner, easily one of the most dynamic players in the 2021 NBA Draft class. The 19-year-old German posted 12.5 points and 6.5 rebounds for Michigan last season and shot 47.7% from the field, plus 34.3% from downtown.
Better yet, Wagner proved a phenomenal two-way player in college and posted a 6.1 DBPM out of a total 11.9 BPM. Forget Kristaps Porzingis, folks. Franz Wagner could be a unicorn of a different kind for the New York Knicks, and not the spazzy kind like Charlie. As a two-way wing off of Tom Thibodeau’s bench, he could play some quality minutes in New York.