Ahh, it’s finally here — Draft Day ’08. And as a Knicks fan it comes along with a pleasant feeling knowing this is the first significant moment in the post-Isiah era of the franchise. Yes, the team is still atrocious and will take years to rebuild, but a top 10 pick and a new regime have me excited about pro hoops again at the Garden. Without further ado, let’s delve into how the Knickerbockers should approach the sixth pick.
If we know one thing about Mike D’Antoni’s offensive system, it’s that an aggressive, penetrating point guard that keeps the dribble alive and is an excellent passer is a must. Combine the recent NBA rule changes with D’Antoni’s wide-open philosophy and landing a true point guard should be priority number one tonight. Therein lies New York’s first dilemma — the backcourt players worthy of the sixth pick in this draft are all combo guards. Here’s how we’d rank the top flight guards if we were in the Knicks war room:
- Russell Westbrook (6-3, 192 lbs.), UCLA — Tall, athletic, and effectively ran the point for UCLA while Collison was out. There’s a lot to like with Westbrook. He’s been compared favorably to Rajon Rondo only with a better jump shot. While I’m a bit reticent to wholeheartedly agree with that praise (from what I’ve seen Rondo is a much better pure passer than Westbrook right now), there certainly are similarities. Perhaps the way Westbrook is most like Rondo is on the defensive end. Both are quick and strong with great instincts. Westbrook can be a lock down defender and a huge disruptor on that end of the court. Historically, the type of perimeter players that fit D’Antoni’s offense don’t play much D. Westbrook will. And for the run-and-gun style the Knicks will be switching too, wouldn’t a guy who can turn a steal into a fast break in a heartbeat make sense? On the offensive end, Westbrook would be a solid penetrator; and while he’ll need some time to polish his decision making and shooting, I can be patient with someone with the combination of production and promise Westbrook offers.
- Jerryd Bayless (6-3, 204 lbs.), Arizona — An extremely talented player who impressed the Knicks’ brass during his workout and interview. If the Knicks end up with Bayless, we’d still be happy, but would have our concerns. To start, fair or unfair, we’re always wary of Arizona products. Bayless played on a team with as much raw talent as any squad in the country last year, yet were mediocre all season. Bayless had a fantastic freshman campaign, but his role with the Wildcats was not to run a fastbreak, precision offense, so I’d question how he’d fare manning the helm of a D’Antoni team. Again, they could do worse than Bayless, but they can certainly do better.
- Eric Gordon (6-3, 222 lbs.), Indiana — The rumors that the Knicks are trying to trade up to #4 and select Gordon seriously worry us, even though we don’t believe Walsh is serious about this. We wonder about him as a pro in general after his one season at IU, but plugging him into the Knicks lineup would be an unmitigated disaster for both parties. Please, pass. ***** UPDATE: The Clippers just traded up to #4, so thankfully, the Gordon rumor seems to be put to bed.
The wild card in all this is D.J. Augustin. He fits perfectly into D’Antoni’s offense. He shoots well, he’s dynamic off the dribble, and is a true point guard with excellent court vision to boot — just check out this video:
His defense has come under fire some (as has his height, which we aren’t too concerned about), but Donnie Walsh has always loved shot-blocking centers. Draft Augustin and pick up a center down the line to mask some of his deficiencies. The problem with Augustin is he’s a reach to take at #6. For our money, trading down to get Augustine while picking up a pick later in this year’s first round or next year’s draft (and possibly shed some salary) would be the wisest move. After that, Westbrook would be our choice.
Say the Knicks elect not to trade down, Westbrook is gone and either they aren’t sold on Bayless, or he too has already been selected. What should the Knicks do then? The answer — draft Danilo Gallinari. As always, we have concerns about foreign players, but Gallinari has played against top tier competition in Italy. Also, he has a mean streak not often found in Euro’s. He would provide D’Antoni with an agile, 6-9 swingman that can shoot the three or take the ball strong to the rim, something this team desperately lacks right now. Here’s a few quick highlights of the Italian Stallion:
The Knicks don’t have a pick in the second round, but there is one player we think would be a fantastic fit in NY. If the Knicks can acquire a second round pick and nab Patrick Ewing, Jr. (or sign him if he goes undrafted) we would be thrilled. Besides having a Ewing back in the home locker room at MSG, Jr. is a perfect role player. He doesn’t need the ball in his hands to make an impact. He’s a versatile defender, capable of guarding almost anyone on the floor. He’s athletic and runs the court, something that will be needed with D’Antoni as the head man. And he’s played on highly successful team’s in college. It’s a minor point, especially when your team has a high pick, but this pick/signing would be one of the better, unheralded moves of the day.
Anyway, sit back tonight and enjoy. It’s the dawn of a new day for NY hoops, and may be one of the most dramatic, active draft days we can remember.