There is an 86% chance the Knicks do not draft Zion Williamson this June. Backup plans are not only appropriate, but necessary.
Ja Morant, the new consensus No. 2 overall pick, announced Wednesday night that he will enter the draft. Of course he will. America plans to file taxes this month, too.
Morant’s availability is not what’s relevant to the Knickerbockers, though — his talent is, and the inescapable reality that’s been true for most of the last two decades: The Knicks need a point guard.
There are a few options available to them. Maybe Kyrie Irving comes to town and plugs that hole straight away. Dennis Smith Jr., Emmanuel Mudiay and the embattled (and now injured) Frank Ntilikina are all here as well. At a glance, point guard ought to be the last position the Knicks look to strengthen in the draft.
Irving may end up in the Garden, but plenty other teams have eyes on him. There’s his Celtics, of course, and also the team from Brooklyn that is currently fighting for a more favorable playoff matchup while the Knicks hobble to the finish. He would represent the first premium free agent to come to the franchise since the team got Amar’e Stoudemire on an open box special.
Smith has promise, but remains a work in progress as a player who can run an offense. Morant matches Smith’s athleticism, but is as good a passing prospect as can be on top. He has a more consistent shooting motion, as well, which the scouts say should make his learning curve on that front smoother than Smith’s.
Mudiay just turned 23, and has improved from his disastrous first few seasons, but is a longshot to contribute meaningfully to a contending team. Ntilikina is bursting with talent, but has not received consistent minutes, and the team seems to be just about done with him.
Morant, meanwhile, is a better prospect than any point guard the Knicks have rostered since Stephon Marbury. He is a visionary passer, a violent dunker, an athletic dynamo, and a mature floor presence. He can be a superstar.
The other draft prospects not named Zion are easier to pick apart.
RJ Barrett is a ready-made NBA wing who came up small when the stakes got large.
Cam Reddish has a prototypical NBA body and skillset, and disappeared for long stretches of the season, and for long stretches of important games.
Rui Hachimura is a mobile, athletic, hungry hybrid wing/big man who would thrive in today’s NBA — much the way that Mitchell Robinson already does. The two could play together, and alongside Durant as well if it comes to that, but the fact remains that someone on the Knicks must play the point, and play it well.
Or even two someones.
The Houston Rockets are a model. With James Harden playing at an MVP level as a super-charged Mike D’Antoni-styled point guard, the Rockets went out and traded for Chris Paul. Two point guards, one ball, and a team with the best shot at dethroning the Warriors since Kevin Durant turned heel.
It would be a risk. The NBA Draft falls about a week and a half before the official start of free agency. Fickle as these things tend to be, the team drafting Morant could scare Irving off. Everyone knows, of course, that modern NBA free agency maneuvering begins months, often years ahead of that start date. If that’s a legitimate concern, the franchise would — or at least should — know well ahead of time.