The “Knicks” and “draft picks” have been used in the same sentence as sparingly as “Knicks” and “contenders” in recent years, but Phil Jackson has already started a sea chang thanks to the trade that sent Tyson Chandler to Dallas. In the deal, the Knicks got two second-round picks, and Phil elected to use both of those selections to upgrade the Knicks depth at small and power forward–something the Knicks are going to need if Carmelo Anthony doesn’t re-sign .
Phil may not have been successful in finding a trade partner to get into the first round, but two second-round picks are better than zero picks, which was the expected scenario up until a week ago. No matter who the Knicks ended up with on draft night, it was nice just be included in the festivities again.
With the No.34 pick, Phil took SF/PF Cleanthony Early out of Wichita State. Early had first-round talent, but fell into the Knicks lap due to some reaches during picks 20-30 that had fans scurrying to Draft Express (Bruno Caboclo? Josh Heustis?)
Early shares an almost identical frame as former Los Angeles Laker forward Devean George — both are 6’8 and weighed in around 220 lbs entering the league. George was an important role player during Phil’s Laker years, so if Phil and Derek Fisher can mold Early into the same type of player in the Triangle, that’s a home run for an early second-round pick.
Early only played two seasons for the Shockers, but they were memorable ones for those that follow college basketball. Sure, the Shockers fell short of expectations in March, but it definitely wasn’t due to Early’s performance. Early had a very impressive 62.7 True Shooting Percentage this past season, up from 56.5 percent during his freshman season, per sports-reference.com. Early’s numbers improved in 2-point field goal percentage, 3-point field goal percentage, free throw percentage and points per game in his sophomore season, which should be a good indicator of things to come.
To be clear, Early’s not going to be an adequate replacement for Melo if he ends up signing elsewhere this summer, but Early does figure to be a solid rotation player for the Knicks for a long time regardless of what other star or stars dot the roster, and that’s all you can really hope for out of second-round picks. Getting a modern-day Devean George (or James Posey 2.0 if you’re feeling particularly optimistic) may not be the most exciting thing in the world in a vacuum, but for the Knicks and the culture Phil is trying to instill that’s more-than-solid start.
I’ll probably never be able to properly spell his name without a solid internet connection, but I can deal with that if the Greek Freek’s older brother, and New York’s other second-round pick, Thanasis Antetokounmpo, is anywhere near as exciting and electric a talent as Giannis proven to be.
The bad news? The only time Knicks fans might get to see Thanasis in a Knicks uniform this season will be during Summer League. According to Marc Berman of the New York Post, the Knicks 51st pick in the draft may play next season in Greece depending on how he plays in Las Vegas.
Six-foot-six Thanasis Antetokounmpo, the 21-year-old defensive specialist whom the Knicks drafted with the 51st pick, may play next season in Greece, where there is interest from teams. He will play in the summer league for the Knicks in July and they will decide if he’s ready after.
The older brother of the Bucks’ Giannis, he played for the D-League’s Delaware franchise but is said to be raw offensively.
With the Knicks purchasing their own D-League team in Westchester earlier this year, one would think the better long-term solution would be for the Knicks to have Thanasis spend the 2014-15 season learning the Knicks’ system in Westchester. Thanasis did just that last season with the Delaware 87ers. From a Knicks-centric perspective, it would seem that learning the intricacies of the offense (and Westchester will definitely be running something involving a geometric shape) would be preferable. But there’s a big difference between what New York can pay and the salaries in the top Greek Pro League. Thanasis may decide that he can have his baklava and eat it to. I.e. work on his game and get that paper at the same time.
In any case, like his brother, Thanasis is a defensive-minded forward, but he’s much more limited on the offensive end of the floor. With Delaware, Thanasis averaged 14.8 ppg per 36 minutes, but he shot 30.9 percent from 3-point land and 66.7 percent from the charity stripe. If Thanasis can develop a league-average 3-point shot, especially from the corner, along with upping his percentage at the free-throw line a bit, he could eventually be another intriguing rotation wing for the Knicks long-term.
Phil may not have been able to wiggle his way into the first round, but he still did very well by ending up with two talents bursting with athleticism and upside in Early and Antetokounmpo the Older.