Lingering Draft Thoughts
I had some left over musings after last night.
Good morning (again)! Yeah, I’d say last night deserved a double newsletter, wouldn’t you? If you missed it, check out Part 1 detailing the ins and outs of the night that was, sent earlier today to full subscribers only. If you’re not a full subscriber, I promise you there’s no better time to get on that than right now:
Below are some additional thoughts I couldn’t get out before my brain finally shut down in the wee hours of the morning. Hope you enjoy (and got more sleep than I did)…
Lingering Draft Thoughts
🏀 Once the dust settled on last night’s transactions and people have now had a chance to process things, while many questions still linger regarding the larger wisdom of Leon Rose’s approach and commitment to a singular path, there is at least more of an understanding and acceptance of New York’s moves…with one exception, which I think Sam Vecenie articulates very well here:
In a vacuum, the Walker part of this looks awful, because the Knicks did give up the 13th pick in the draft to unload his contract, while all they got back was a future first that in all likelihood will not be very good. Given how they just signed Kemba less than a year ago, there is no way to truly defend this deal, and in no uncertain terms, it makes the front office look quite bad.
(And actually, if you consider the fact that Thibs - as I and many other have reported - was never in love with the idea of Walker to begin with, and yet they still gave their head coach a starting point guard they knew was not of his preference after his Coach of the Year season was so dependent on him being allowed to play his guys, so to speak, all of this looks even worse.)
With those very important caveats out of the way…
I don’t think they should be getting killed for this as much as they are.
Here’s the thing…if you just look at what Charlotte got for Jalen Duren and what Detroit gave up to get him, you get this:
Hornets received: a lottery-protected 2023 Denver first and four seconds
Pistons gave up: a top-four protected 2025 Milwaukee first
If we pretend that the Knicks never got involved in this and assume that Charlotte still picked Duren and wanted to get the best possible return for him and that Detroit still desperately wanted Duren, these teams would have still been able to work out a trade. It just would have been Detroit sending four seconds1 and the Bucks’ pick directly to Charlotte. Instead, they got to keep all those seconds and instead just sent the Bucks pick out in the deal. The cost of getting that better deal: taking on Kemba Walker.
From this perspective, the price to dump Walker wasn’t really a first and four seconds; it was just four seconds. For as horrendous as the whole Kemba debacle was from top to bottom, from a pure value perspective, if someone had told you after the season that the cost of dumping Walker would have been four second round picks, you’d have held your nose and said “fine, just get it done.”
Which is essentially what happened.
What hasn’t been emphasized enough here isn’t the price it took to dump Kemba, but the middling return the Hornets got for the 13th pick. To respond to Sam’s point in the above tweet, my guess at least is that if Charlotte could have gotten more for 13 elsewhere, they would have done so. But as many speculated in the weeks and months leading up to last night, there was a real value drop off in this draft.
Where did that drop begin? Arguably at 10, probably at 11, and certainly at 12. Think about it: Jalen Williams, who played at the combine because he wasn’t projected to go anywhere near the first round, ended up going 12th. Last year’s combine star, Quentin Grimes, ended up going 25th in 2021. That’s a massive difference.
Obviously every player and situation is unique, but the notion that the 13th pick in this draft had as much value as a normal late lottery pick seems to be flawed, at least based on what we just witnessed. This is probably part of the reason why there were no trades involving picks 14-18, and the 19th pick was only dealt for 22 and 29. In short, no one saw the value in giving up a serious haul to move up into this range. The two teams that did make a move in the 11-20 range - OKC and Memphis - were in a unique position of strength to do so based on extra picks they had to throw around.
Again, none of this is meant to defend the bones of this trade or the larger philosophy of the front office. But given context, the value at play here is not as lopsided as it might have seemed at first glance.
🏀 One thing we didn’t get much of a chance to think about last night is opportunity cost, starting with the 11th pick. Here are the guys the Knicks passed on, a.k.a., the next 10 picks:
The name that will probably stand out to folks the most is Griffin, who was mocked up and down to the Knicks all week.
This is a player who was projected to go in the 5-7 range for much of this college basketball season, and then, after teams got a look at the medicals, fell to 16th despite being one of the youngest players in the draft and having a no-doubt-about-it valuable NBA skill (shooting). Who knows what he’ll turn out to be, but given the relationships at play here (AJ’s dad having coached under Thibs for years, and him being a CAA guy), if they passed, that should probably tell you something.
After that, you probably have to turn to Dieng, who is the closest thing this draft had to a mystery man after Shaedon Sharpe. The mystery with Dieng has purely to do with how comfortable you are projecting a tantalizing skill set. I haven’t done a deep dive on him, but I know enough to say there’s a world where he ends up being a top-five player in this class, but also one where he might not be one of the best 20. He’s boom or bust. If he’s the guy you wanted the Knicks to take, just root for this front office to get fired ASAP, because taking a project at this spot is simply not how they operate.
(I realize many of you probably don’t need any additional reasons for root for that exact outcome at this point).
I’d put Eason in the Dieng category as well. If the shooting mechanics get cleaned up and more repeatable and he makes some advances with his offensive game, that dude is going to be a very valuable NBA player. If the offense never comes around, I’m not sure how big a role he’ll ever have.
On the flip side, Williams and Agbaji are the safe bets. There’s some projection involved in both, and an upside certainly exists with each guy (more with Williams, I’d argue), but if we’re sitting here in three years having a similar conversation to “why the eff did they take Knox over Mikal,” it’s going to be about one of these two guys.
And last but not least are the centers, Duren and Williams, which is a bit of a different conversation, because it’s less about projection - we know more or less what these guys are going to be at the next level - and more about two distinct paths.
Path 1: just keep Duren and wrap up the center position for the next four years at a dirt cheap cost with the understanding that he probably won’t become a true “quality” starting center until the end of that contract, after which you’ll have to pay him.
Path 2: make the Detroit trade to open up space for Brunson (we’ll get to him momentarily) and re-sign Mitch to something around the full midlevel.
This is really about Robinson more than it is about Duren. At this point, New York knows him best. If they feel confident that he’s a) coming back and b) will keep his head on straight even after he gets paid, I think this is at least a defensible decision.
Regardless, here’s the plain truth: I’d bet a really good bottle of bourbon that someone taken in the 11 through 17 range is going to become a really, really good player in the league. Probably more than one. Teams that hit on picks in this range get a massive jolt to their team-building process. The Knicks decided that instead of taking that 1-in-7 or 2-in-7 chance, they’d rather play different odds: that they get Brunson, he works out here, and that the additional picks they acquired last night will lead to bigger and better star down the line.
We’ll see how it works out.
🏀 Ah yes, Brunson.
Jalen may wind up being a multi-time All-Star in the years to come and (assuming New York actually gets him) part of the next great Knicks team. Still, it has to be pointed out that two and a half years into the Leon Rose regime, he is moving heaven and earth to prioritize the acquisition of a player who was essentially benched one postseason ago and who the Mavs refused to offer four years and $55 million less than six months ago. I wonder if this was the future James Dolan envisioned when he hired the former head of CAA Sports.
Say what you want about the wisdom of the Jarred Jeffries-for-T-Mac salary dump over a decade ago and its older cousin, the KP trade, but those pursuits were for pantheon level players. LeBron James and Kevin Durant, Brunson is not.
With that noted, we’ve long since learned that the Knicks are not special. They don’t get the benefit of the doubt just because they play in New York. And when Leon Rose took over, they were clearly not an appealing free agent destination (not that free agency is a thing anymore, which is what makes the opportunity to get Brunson such an interesting one to dissect).
Getting Brunson, alone, does not materially move the needle for them. I maintain that they need to get rid of Julius Randle, preferably after he increases his value a bit and proves he is no longer in headcase-mode. And then of course they are still short a true star or two. But getting Brunson is, I’d argue, an important step, even if not a perfect one or the one many figured we’d be at by this point in Rose’s presidency.
🏀 Last but not least, poor Trevor Keels got the short end of the stick last night amidst the hoopla. Let’s rectify that.
For one, do not expect Keels to get a guaranteed NBA contract. Assuming the Knicks convert Jericho Sims to an NBA deal, they’ll have an open two-way spot, and even if they don’t convert Sims, they can waive Feron Hunt and use that slot to sign Keels. Maybe they surprise me and give Keels something like the McBride contract. Either way, this is not someone who will figure prominently in New York’s plans next season.
That doesn’t mean he doesn’t have long term upside though. Recall that Keels was arguably the buzziest name in college hoops after his season-opening 25-point performance against Kentucky. After entering Duke as the 23rd ranked recruit in the country, one of the youngest players in college hoops looked like he might be putting himself on NBA radars in a significant way.
That game was arguably the high point for Keels last season, but even though his meteoric start didn’t maintain quite the same fire throughout the year, he still entered the draft process with a borderline first round grade from most analysts.
The book on Keels is pretty simple in that he has real, valuable NBA skills right now as a ball-handler, driver and finisher. Combined with his fullback-like frame, toughness and penchant for coming up big in big moments, there’s a lot to like. Unfortunately, for as much as Keels has the girth of a sequoia, you still have to play him at guard, and he was pretty inconsistent at some of the basic things you need guards to do in the NBA, namely shooting. Pegged as a plus-shooter coming out of high school, he was wildly inconsistent this season, finishing the year at a 31.2 percent clip from deep but also having 15 games in which he made multiple threes. As a combo guard, his 3.2 assists per 36 minutes are also pretty average. There are issues on defense as well, where he wasn’t always the fleetest of foot and had some difficulty guarding the perimeter.
But even those downsides have silver linings. For starters, his history as a plus shooter is there, and his form certainly doesn’t appear to be broken. On the plus side as a passer was his 2.18 assist to turnover ratio, which is an elite rate.
And then there’s the frame. It’s probably not a great sign when the term “baby fat” gets thrown around by an opposing head coach, but here we are. Here were his ranks at the combine, courtesy of Brendan Marks at The Athletic:
Fourth-highest body fat percentage
Heaviest weight at his position
Third-worst shuttle run, too
Tied for third-worst in vertical leap
Yikes. Again though, bright side: if he gets his ass in shape and the shot comes around, the potential is there for a super-switchable weapon at the next level. Hopefully before Kenny Payne left for Louisville, he left Big Henry behind at the practice facility for continued use.
🏀 Last but not least, the other shoe: does New York move an additional salary before next week, or do they just maneuver to the point that they have a salary dump deal in place but give Dallas one last chance to acquire a player or trade exception in a sign and trade? We’ll find out soon enough.
To free agency week we go…
I’m aware the Pistons have traded away a bunch of their own future seconds, but they also have some extra ones, including Washington’s 2024 and 2025 seconds and a Brooklyn 2027 second, in addition to all of their own seconds in 2027 and beyond.