I Think I’m on #TeamTradeThePick

I have yet to be won over by RJ Barrett or Jared Culver and am starting to think the Knicks should look to move the pick. Where and for what are open questions, but basically I oppose fighting the board. A given draft cohort distributes what it distributes in terms of star-quality, and the third overall selection carries no insurance against a one star draft. My impression is that neither Culver nor Barrett is a fantastic bet to be a star, however defined. It’s not outrageous to think the salary attached to the third pick is too big a premium to pay for the privilege of waiting on either to develop.

With Culver, the risks are obvious. His athleticism appears to limit his potential as a wing to a 3-and-D role player. Barrett, though not considered a cloud-piercing athlete, hasn’t been rumored to be as athletically limited. With him, I can’t get past 702 shots (i.e., 20.9 FGAs per 40). That feels like a preposterous amount of shooting to me under any circumstances. I feel like we can’t just rationalize that away by saying, “Well, less would be more in the pros.” All the apologia surrounding his freshman season (“It’s injuries!” “It’s Duke’s floor spacing!”) has nearly worn me down though. Its oddly consistent. So I’m like, “Well, maybe I’m just being a grumpy old man about this.” So I pulled up sports-reference.com’s college hoops data just to see how often somebody gets up 700+ shots in a season. Their season leader database goes back to the 85-86 season, which is far enough back to include the 3pt. shot introduction.

  • There are only 21 player seasons of 700+ shots: Interestingly, three occurred in 2018-19. Purdue’s Carson Edwards (703), Barrett (702), and Cal State-Northridge freshman Lamine Diane (701).
  • Freshmen account for three 700+ shot seasons: Barrett and Diane this season and LSU’s Mahmoud Abdul Rauf  (739) back in 1988-89.

702 shots is a LOT of shots. So, I don’t feel like my fear that Barrett could be entirely a creation of volume is unreasonable even if it turns out to be wrong. Among the 21 player seasons at that volume his 53.2% TS is 7th worst. Of course, I don’t want to ignore his age. Barrett is only 18 years old and the vast majority of players taking shots at that volume are 3rd and 4th year players. And, for what it’s worth, Lamine Diane, CSU-Northridge’s similarly sized freshman, was absurdly bad (49.9% TS). So, Barrett’s presumptively better than some random 18 year old jacking up shots. I buy that he possesses NBA upside, but as what? I’m not certain. I can see the DeRozan comp as reasonable, but not some sort of baseline expectation. As a preternaturally strong-but-skinny freshman DeRozan was a good bit better on two point shots overall, and was living death at the rim based on his elite athleticism. With the 9th pick, where we selected Knox, Barrett would seem like the right gamble. At 3rd overall, he forces NY to move a current player to pursue two max contracts. Whoever that might be was likely better than even odds to be moved anyway, to be fair. But he basically gets two developmental years to prove he’s “an asset” before expense becomes a consideration. Pretty much anyone in this class NY might consider at #3 feels like the wrong gamble for this off-season. I won’t cry if the best move ends up being pick the best player available. It be’s that way sometimes.

A few days ago I went in search of college basketball’s top no-conscience gunners to see where Barrett stacked up. Random shout out to Kevin Bradshaw of the now defunct US International University (USIU) in San Diego. He is the great white whale of no-conscience gunners. Back in the heady days of Paul Westhead’s Loyola Marymount teams playing at warp speed, Bradshaw transferred to USIU from Bethune Cookman. That first season, he got up a “modest” 707 shots as a junior–the 17th most in the sports-reference database–and averaged over 30 ppg. But for his senior year (1990-91) he went full Kaiser Soze. He showed so-called men of will what will really was, getting up 867–EIGHT HUNDRED SIXTY SEVEN–comically, laughably, hilariously inefficient shots to average 37.6 ppg. on 51.1% TS. I strongly suspect none of that will ever be bested (or worsted). Bradshaw, who at last check is doing what the old folks used to call the Lord’s work, teaching high school in San Diego, is an interesting sports story of dizzying heights, a near fatal fall from grace, the long road to redemption, and a documentary to go with it.

The Knicks Have the Third Pick in a Three Player Draft. And Maybe It’s Only a Two Player Draft.

I will thank fellow citizens of Knicks Land–traditional media and bloggers–to stop telling me how to feel about the 2019 NBA Draft Lottery. For all the losing and misery of the past two-plus decades, we should all be well-acquainted with disappointment. And, we should all know that it need not stem from a sense of entitlement or some other moral failing. It’s a big part of being a Knicks fan. Like any half-sensible fan, I knew that a 14% chance of the getting the top pick meant an 86% chance of not getting it. A golden ticket to Zion was always highly unlikely and yet not getting it is still worth mourning for a few days. For those Knicks fans who, like me, are still on the head-shaking portion of the famous Zo .gif, we can get to the head nod without all the lecturing and shaming. Thanks.

To be clear, I’m far from feeling whoa-is-me despair but the tenor of the past few days post-lottery have felt too weird and Stepford Wife-y for my taste. So, here’s my “gritty realism” take on where things stand.

  1. All hail our Pelicans overlords. Only New York and New Orleans could effectively “control” the offseason coming out of the lottery. And in truth, NY’s control, even with a golden ticket to Zion Williamson, would have been mostly theoretical unless and until Kevin Durant actually signs. With NO winning the lottery, it has the equivalent of two infinity stones already in hand. It’s not just that NY didn’t get its way. It’s that the lottery gifted the only other actor with the potential to shape the entire offseason with precisely that power. Do people not understand that it is David Griffin’s world now? This, incidentally, raises another question. Is he the secret son of Lucifer? Because, I mean, come on. That man has had way too much NBA lottery fortune for any Arizona State alum. (Ed note: #BearDown.) Meanwhile, the Knicks have STILL never drafted above (and rarely even at) their record since 1985.
  2. NY’s trade assets have no clear competitive advantage in any potential Anthony Davis deal. The only routes to star-quality veteran talent are free agency, the trade market, and the draft, which are interconnected. We can ignore free agency here since we cannot know NY’s odds of signing Durant or any star. The lottery outcome ensured that NO got the draft’s lone consensus star, the only trade asset that could’ve prevented an auction for Anthony Davis. (As we know from economics, auctions are usually hella expensive for the buyer.) With that outcome conditions are now ripe for a Davis auction involving (at least) the Celtics, Knicks, and Lakers. All can offer vaguely comparable packages, depending on Griffin’s strategy and preferences. And, of course, if he really is the son of Lucifer as I suspect, maybe he gets Davis to stay in New Orleans to play with Zion.
  3. Pending new info or insight, color me skeptical of RJ Barrett. New York may prefer, or be forced by circumstance, to draft and develop the #3 pick. Obviously, no one controls the distribution of talent in a given draft. (This must be true because no one with the power to stop it would have allowed the 2000 draft to happen. Jamal Crawford–who I love–might have the best career in that class. Yikes.) I’ve been told this is a three player draft. Are we sure? The more I read about the presumed #3 prospect, the less I like him. I’m no scout, but I wonder why we should consider Barrett a substantially better prospect (if at all) than, say, Miles Bridges. So much of what I’m reading about Barrett seems overly-reliant on counting stats, puffery, and an unreasonable amount of apologizing for a LOT of selfish play. He’s middling or bad on every advanced metric, save rebounding. It’s VERY easy to overvalue basic percentages for an 18 yr. old prospect, but what are people hanging their hats on with Barrett? It’s not cloud-piercing athleticism. It’s not a fabulous stroke, is it? Now, he is an elite rebounding wing. But even that makes me wonder whether he was an early bloomer who got reduced to a mid-range chucker by ACC-quality athletes. So much of his ballyhooed productivity seems like an artifact of a frightening usage rate that generated over 700 shots but only a 1.3:1 assist-to-turnover ratio. Obviously, none of this dooms him as a prospect. But if Mills & Perry are buying into Barrett as much as virtually everyone else they better work him out to within an inch of his life and know exactly what he’s made of before pulling the trigger.

All that said, it’s a better time to be a Knicks fan than in a long time. The team is well-positioned to make a significant move in its journey toward decency this offseason. Yet the unlikeliest of teams–The New Orleans Pelicans–will play a bigger role than anyone would have imagined a week ago in determining just which paths the Knicks can and cannot travel on that journey. To sum things up, in the words of the great Bill Connolly of SBNation, “sports are dumb.”