By Grant Hill
It is without question: point guard has been the Knicks’ Achilles heel. The search to fill the position has been a nightmare for more than 20 years.
Since they possess a high first-round pick in the upcoming NBA Draft, they will be looking to change that. Touted as a “point guard draft,” the chance of finding a franchise floor general is highly probable. It all lies in the hands of Phil Jackson to make the right decision, which is a concerning thought.
The 2017 NBA Draft is absolutely loaded with point guards. Highlighted as the top two picks, Washington’s Markelle Fultz and Lonzo Ball from UCLA are both point guards. Then, there are a handful of other point guards who will likely find themselves taken in the top 10, like North Caroline State’s Dennis Smith Jr, Kentucky’s De’Aaron Fox and French player Frank Ntilikina. Though there are talented players at other positions, like forwards Josh Jackson from Kansas and Jayson Tatum from Duke, the Knicks’ top priority should be a point guard.
As the season is winding down, the Knicks look as though they will probably be receiving the sixth or seventh pick in the draft. The more scoring-oriented Markelle Fultz is the consensus number one pick, so there’s no point in even wasting breath. Lonzo Ball, who is the traditional pass-first player, could slip out of the number two spot. The Knicks would likely need to find themselves in the top four to make that happen. Though Lonzo is a great player whose skill set would seem ideal, it’s a scary thought when you consider his father, Lavar Ball, comes with him. For any other franchise, this wouldn’t be a huge problem, but for the Knicks, having Lavar in the mix smells like a recipe for disaster.
Realistically, the Knicks will land right outside the top five picks. Focus should be centered on De’Aaron Fox and Frank Ntilikina, as most mock drafts have the Knicks picking one of these two players.
The Kentucky Wildcats’ De’Aaron Fox has been impressive all season long. In the NCAA Tournament, he had an electrifying performance against Lonzo Ball and UCLA in the Sweet 16, scoring 39 points along with four assists. Fox is lauded for his speed and defense, which scouts have praised over and over. “That dude can flat-out defend, and loves to defend. Undoubtedly one of the fastest guys in the draft. I just love the way he defends the ball. He’s capable of defending with his eyes,” one scout told David Aldridge of NBA.com. If he can improve on his shooting, Fox’s upside is huge.
Another eye-grabber for teams looking at Fox is his passion. After a tough at-the-buzzer loss to North Carolina in the Elite 8, Fox had a very emotional postgame interview. His tears were genuine, and you could see how much this game and winning meant to him. That’s the kind of guy franchises should covet.
Though Fox is seen as the third-ranked point guard in the draft, many see the Knicks possibly skipping over him for French guard Frank Ntilikina. A premier defender who shoots well and has a solid feel for the game, Ntilikina is seen as a quality fit for Jackson’s triangle offense. Jackson has taken a liking to foreign players who fit his system, so the odds of Ntilikina ending up in New York seems high as he fits the description. However, the question remains: should Jackson really be choosing a player based on his fit in the triangle? The answer should be a resounding no.
The boos will again be loud for the Knicks on draft day if they opt for Ntilikina over Fox, just like when they drafted Kristaps Porzingis. Jackson should be picking talent over system-fit, which would make Fox the clear choice. But if the Knicks are truly going to evaluate these players by how they fit in the triangle, why draft Fox if you likely won’t be getting the best out of him playing the triangle? With such an important pick, the margin for error is very small.