An Oldie But A Goodie
Draft week is here.
Good morning! A jam-packed newsletter awaits to get you primed for draft week, and let me tell you, if there was ever a time to convert over to a full 5-day subscription, it is now:
The KFS Newsletter will be your one-stop shop for all draft, free agency and trade content over the coming weeks. And based on this weekend’s news, it’s going to be as busy a time as ever…
🗣 News & Notes ✍️
🏀 Bradley Beal might be requesting a trade:
Or he might not be:
Or actually he might be:
There were other things floating around, about preferred destinations and wish lists and the like, none of which mention the Knicks, and none of which I’m paying attention to at the moment.
And that’s because I’m not sure the discussion about Bradley Beal is all that different from the one about Damian Lillard. Dame is the superior player, and given the fact that he directs an offense and is far closer to Steph than he is to Beal as a bender of defenses, I think he might be so by a significant margin. That said, Beal is three years younger, and given his impending free agency, the cost may be significantly cheaper, depending of course on how active a role Beal takes in trade talks, should said talks even occur.
For example, if his camp makes it publicly known that he will only sign an extension with certain teams (something he’s able to do this summer, even after a trade), then Washington’s bargaining power would seem to be diminished.
Either way, the cost won’t be cheap, and assuming the Knicks are on Beal’s “list” should one become known, all the same issues that exist with a possible Lillard trade would still be there with a Beal trade - i.e., would the Knicks leave themselves too thin, and would it be wiser to let their young assets appreciate a bit more before taking such a swing?
(For what it’s worth, I’d happily offer six firsts and two swaps, all unprotected, provided Beal agreed to extend this summer: the 19th pick this season, a 2022 first, the better of NY/DAL 2023 firsts, a 2024 first, a 2025 swap, a 2026 first, a 2027 swap and a 2028 first. I’d then relinquish every cap hold I had, use the remaining cap space this summer to sign the best point guard I could, and roll with Point Guard X, Beal, RJ, Randle, Mitch, Vildoza, IQ, Obi, Taj and whatever wing I could draft at 21. Melo could even take his retirement tour in NY.
No, the Wizards are not making this trade)
For now though, let’s file this one under “wake me when there’s something to worry about.” And who knows…if the initial report is to be believed, that may be sooner than we think.
🏀 Team USA lost its Olympic opener to France 83-76 as they were badly outplayed down the stretch after gaining a seven-point lead. Frank Ntilikina was a last minute injury scratch and did not see the court.
🏀 Reggie Bullock is a priority for the Knicks to bring back according to Ian Begley.
Begley notes that if they attempt to use Bullock’s cap hold to re-sign him, the max they could offer is four year and $47 million, which would almost assuredly get the job done. They’d probably want some flexibility on the final season though, as Bullock is 30 yeas old.
A few notes on the cap mechanics for the curious among you, as Bullock is a nice instructive case on how this stuff work…
Bullock’s cap hold is only $5.46 million because NY has Early Bird rights on him. You can get Early Bird rights a few different ways, one of which is when a player is under contract on your team for at least two years, which Bullock has been. The “cap hold” of a player with Early Bird rights is 130 percent of his previous year’s salary, which was $4.2 million for Bullock.
The whole benefit of cap holds is that they allow you to go over the cap to sign a player, and here’s how: the “cap hold” stays on your cap sheet as if it were an existing player, so if the Knicks choose to retain Bullock’s “cap hold,” they’ll essentially have $5.46 worth of Bullock on the books when free agency begins. Early Bird rights then allow you to sign a player starting at a figure up to 105 percent of the league average salary, which in this case is $9.5 million. You math whizzes will have already noticed that $9.5 is about $4 million more than Bullock’s cap hold, which means the Knicks can exceed the salary cap by up to $4 million in order to retain Bullock.
Here’s the catch though: they’d wait until they spent up all their space before making the signing official. That’s because once you sign the contract, the player is on the books for his new number and not his cap hold.
This whole cap hold/Early Bird rights thing only matters because Bullock is going to get a salary higher than $5.46 million. Sometimes, cap holds are for far more than a player is worth. For example, Frank Ntilikina’s cap hold is well over $10 million. In other news, I’ll bet you a doughnut that the Knicks will be relinquishing Ntilikina’s cap hold at some point this offseason. That’s the other thing about cap holds: they stay clogging your books until you tell them to go away.
On the flip side, sometimes a player’s cap hold is very different from the max salary they can earn, as is the case if the Knicks decline Mitchell Robinson’s team option for 2021-22 and make him a restricted free agent. His cap hold in that case would be about $3 million, whereas his next contract can start at about $12 million. That means the Knicks would be able to exceed the cap by about $9 to re-sign him by this method.
Back to Bullock: I hope the Knicks bring him back. Even if his role gets reduced - say to a 20-25 minute a game reserve who can start in a pinch - he’s worth $10 million a season. Unless, of course, the Knicks can draft a player who would be like an upmarket version of Bullock (on offense at least) that will make about $12 million over the course of his rookie contract.
But where ever could they find such a player…
🏀 Shams Charania of The Athletic reported what many others have said (and which Givony & Schmitz later mentioned in their Sunday ESPN+ mock draft), which is that New York is “having discussions to try to trade picks Nos. 19 and 21 to move up in the draft.”
Two other Athletic tidbits which could effect the Knicks over the next few weeks…
The Grizzlies and Pelicans have discussed a trade that would send Eric Bledsoe and the 10th pick to Memphis for 17. We’ll see if New York wants to get in the business of taking on the remaining two years and $35 million worth of Bledsoe (reminder that the second year is only guaranteed for $4 million).
The list of Kyle Lowry suitors allegedly includes 76ers, Lakers, Heat, Mavericks and Pelicans; i.e., two contenders, two pseudo-contenders, and a team hopelessly desperate to convince its young star that it will someday be a contender. In other words, New York need not apply,
🏀 Chris Duarte had a solo workout with the Knicks on Friday according to Ian Begley, and Shams later reported that New York is “among the teams eyeing Duarte.” Begley subsequently noted New York’s interest in Duarte, along with Kentucky’s Isaiah Jackson.
Jonathan Wasserman later reported that Duarte was scheduled to have a second workout with Warriors this weekend, along with Troy Murphy III, and Jonathan Givony later added that Moses Moody and Davion Mitchell were also involved with the Duarte/Murphy workout, with the 14th pick being in play for one lucky winner (even though Moody and maybe Mitchell will be gone by then).
Much more on Duarte below…
An Oldie But A Goodie
A few weeks ago, I wrote my annual “no shit, Sherlock” column; aka, the big thing we can learn from these NBA playoffs. The big reveal: shooting matters.
They don’t pay me the big bucks for nothing, folks.
Specifically, I looked at how regular season effective field goal percentage had become a better barometer of postseason success than any other metric over the last decade, and especially over the last several years.
Over the finals weeks of the postseason, we were reminded of by why this was. With elite talent and time to game plan, defenses are able to take away so much of what a team is normally able to do on offense, and only the very best shooting teams are able to overcome that. Milwaukee’s offense was a clusterfuck at times in each of their last three series, but they had enough shot makers to overcome that deficiency.
On a related note, we’ve spent most of the last two months trying to figure out how the Knicks can get more shot creation on their roster, and specifically, more efficient shot creation.
Needless to say, efficient shot creation is the Peter Lugar of NBA skills - there is that, and then there is everything else. There is no price tag you can put on it. It’s why we have these discussions about giving up our first born children for Damian Lillard; if anyone is worth it, it is him.
I thought of this concept when I was digging around some of last year’s stats in an attempt to prepare for the weeks ahead. Basically, I wanted to see if there were any commonalities in Knick wins or losses where specific player production was concerned. After digging through Julius and RJ and finding nothing worth noting, I went over to Immanuel Quickley, and wouldn’t you know what I discovered:
Immanuel Quickley eFG% 65.0 or higher: 14 wins, 2 losses
Immanuel Quickley eFG% 28.0 or lower: 5 wins, 10 losses
In conjunction with this, in 12 of those 16 games with at least a 65.0 eFG%, Quickley also had at least a 22 usage rate. In eight of them, he had at least a 24 usage rate, and the Knicks were undefeated in those eight games. Meanwhile, the Knicks were just 3-6 in games where Quick had a usage rate below 18.0 and 4-4 in games he missed altogether.
In other words, while the Knicks occasionally overcame poor performances from IQ, games that IQ didn’t assert himself, or games IQ missed altogether, it was nearly impossible for opponents to overcome games where Quickley lit it up. It’s why, at certain points of last year, he truly did feel like New York’s second most important player.
At the very least, we should acknowledge that Quick was the lone effective perimeter creator on New York’s roster. According to Cleaning the Glass, only 41 percent of IQ’s makes came via assist, joining Elfrid Payton (34 %), Derrick Rose (35 %) and Julius Randle (46 %) as the only Knicks under 50 percent in that metric. Accounting for position though, Quick’s eFG% of 49.7 percent was in the 36th percentile, which wasn’t at Rose’s level (70th percentile) but was better than Randle (22nd percentile) and far better than Elf (14th percentile). Rose, notably, was not taking many off the dribble 3’s.
Comparing him to other young players around the league, IQ’s accomplishment is even more impressive. The only 22-and-under players who played at least 1000 minutes and were assisted on fewer than 41 percent of their made baskets were Luka Doncic (13 percent, 100th percentile), Cole Anthony (25 percent, 80th percentile) and Ja Morant (35 percent, 61st percentile). Again, if we bring efficiency into the equation, Quickley blows away Anthony (46.5 percent, 16th percentile) and is even a bit ahead of Ja (48.9 percent, 34th percentile).
Quickley’s excellence in this area was one of the reasons I ultimately picked Knicks in 7 over Atlanta. Quickley scored more points against the Hawks than any other team he played this year, averaging 17.3 points in those games on a 69 effective field goal percentage. Both of those numbers were fourth best among teams he played at least twice. When Quick was on the court against Atlanta, New York had an obscene 137.0 offensive rating, second best among any any opponent.
Fast forward to the playoffs, and it was a completely different story. IQ averaged just 5.8 points with a 36.4 effective field goal percentage over the five games.
This isn’t meant to be critical of Quick; he’s not the first rookie to struggle on a bigger stage and he won’t be the last. Instead, it’s meant to emphasize how much New York relied on his ability to generate offense, especially from deep. RJ Barrett and Reggie Bullock combined for seven unassisted threes all season; Quickley had 43 by himself.
All this is to say a couple things:
Quickley should probably become an even bigger part of the offense next season.
They need to get some other guys who can do the stuff that he did for them.
Much of the attention as to how to make this happen has been focused on free agency, and I wrote about several such options at point guard on Friday. Aside from Lonzo, whose self-generation issues I discussed at length, all of those players would help in this area to varying degrees.
But there’s also the draft, which may provide some of its own answers, starting with none other than the man the Knicks brought in for a solo workout on Friday, Oregon swingman Chris Duarte.
For the unfamiliar, Duarte is not only the oldest player slated to be picked in the first round of this draft, but the most senior first round selection in over a decade. His stock is also on the rise, with Golden State bringing him back for a second look this past weekend, and other teams apparently joining their level of interest.
On one hand, you can look at his age as a glaring negative and a reason not to trade up to get him. Why, after all, should he be so special after so many other older prospects have been bypassed because of their lack of upside? On the other hand, if he’s 24 years old and teams are still climbing over themselves to make him their pick, shouldn’t that be sign there’s something to him?
Let’s first take a look at the age. Older prospects have a bad rep in the league, but the reality is a little more mixed. Last season, the oldest prospect selected in the first round was another Oregon Duck who was two months shy of his 23rd birthday, Payton Pritchard. The 6'1" Pitchard was taken 26th overall, went on to average 7.7 points in 19 minutes on 48/41/89 shooting, and looks like he’s going to be a high level backup for a long time. He was also reportedly William Wesley’s backup plan if the Knicks couldn’t get Quickley.
After Pritchard, the other 22-year-old first rounders included our boy Obi Toppin, followed by another good looking rookie combo guard Malachi Flynn, and maybe the steal of the draft besides IQ, Desmond Bane. Detroit’s Saddiq Bey, four months shy of 22, was the next oldest off the board in the first.
There have been even more oldies but goodies in the five years prior as well:
Cameron Johnson - 11th pick in 2019; 23 years, 114 days on draft night
Brandon Clarke - 21st pick in 2019; 22 years, 279 days on draft night
Terrence Mann - 48th pick in 2019; 22 years, 250 days on draft night
Devonte’ Graham - 34th pick in 2018; 23 years, 125 days on draft night
Derrick White - 29th pick in 2017; 22 years, 361 days on draft night
Josh Hart - 30th pick in 2017; 22 years, 114 days on draft night
Malcolm Brogdon - 36th pick in 2016; 23 years, 200 days old on draft night
Buddy Hield - 6th pick in 2016; 23 years, 194 days old on draft night
Delon Wright - 20th pick in 2015; 23 years, 65 days on draft night
Larry Nance - 27th pick in 2015; 22 years, 180 days on draft night
Meanwhile, the only clear firsts round busts from these drafts who were on the older side are Denzel Valentine (14th pick in 2016; 22 years, 225 days) and old friend Jerian Grant (19 pick in 2015; 22 years, 264 days), with Grayson Allen (21st pick in 2018, 22 years, 262 days) coming pretty close to establishing himself as a solid rotation player. Dylan Windler (26th pick in 2019; 22 years, 276 days) spent a year in the G-League and was a fringe rotation player last season, but there’s still hope. Even if he doesn’t pan out, that’s still not a bad hit to miss ratio.
In the case of Valentine and Grant, their issue has simply been an inability to hit shots, which doesn’t seem like it’ll be a problem for Duarte. Last season, the former JUCO Player of the Year was in the 95th percentile of all college players in overall efficiency, generating 1.117 points per possession according to Synergy Sports.
Even more impressive was how he came across those points. As we were just reminded by this postseason, the value of a role player in the NBA today is determined not only by how proficient they are off the ball, but how easily they can temporarily masquerade as an on-ball player as well.
To that end, I looked up the points per possession, total possessions, and percentile rank for the projected first round wings when they took off the dribble jumpers, shot as the pick and roll ball handler, and took spot ups last season:
As you can see, Duarte is the only player in the 90th percentile or above in all three categories. His closest comp, the 22-year-old Corey Kispert, had a little more than half of Duarte’s possessions as a pick and roll ball handler and took less than a third as many off the dribble jumpers.
Compared to Trey Murphy III, who took just 12 off the dribble jumper and finished six possessions as the pick the roll ball handler, Duarte is in a different stratosphere. In terms of volume, only Cam Thomas and Quentin Grimes exceed Duarte, but neither can equal his across-the-board efficiency in all categories.
Thomas, of course, will be on his second NBA contract by the time he turns 24 years old. The same goes for Moody. Bouknight, Murphy and Grimes will all be 21 for the majority of their rookie years. And then there’s one more player who won’t turn 21 until February and dominated both off the dribble and in the pick and roll…
…but is a little too small to be a starting wing, and doesn’t appear to have the passing chops to be a starting point guard.
And then finally, we have another prospect with all the passing chops in the world and who just turned 20…
…but who leaves a bit to be desired when he puts the ball on the floor (although those spot up numbers are encouraging!). He’s also barely six feet tall. Womp womp.
Those are some concessions with Mann and Cooper, just like efficiency is a concession with Grimes and Thomas, versatility is a concession with Moody and Murphy, and age is a concession with Kispert and Duarte. This is obviously an oversimplification, but the fact remains that there are no perfect options available for the Knicks, who are left to pick which concession they want to make, and whether they want to move up in the draft for the chance to make it.
Given that all of these options are likely to be gone by 32, if Walt Perrin asked for my advice (which would clearly be a good decision…duh), I’d probably package 32 with 21 and see if I could move up a few spots, even if only to 16 or 17, and then take two of the above names, ideally with some diversification (Duarte and Cooper, for example, or Thomas and Mann).
Two thoughts to put a bow on our conversation above:
New York would do well to get at least one rookie in the IQ mold: an off the dribble threat from the perimeter who can also put the ball on the floor and spot up if need be.
Theist 24-year-old taken in the first round of the draft? That would be a distinguished gentleman by the name of Taj Gibson.
Maybe the oldies are back in style after all.
That’s it for today! If you enjoy this newsletter and like the Mets, don’t forget to subscribe to JB’s Metropolitan. See everyone soon! #BlackLivesMatter
And why it remains a crime against humanity that he did not make All-Rookie First Team. No, I will not get off this hill.
Luca, meanwhile, is in another universe, in the 70th percentile for eFG% despite generating nearly all of his own offense.