The heavy-duty vehicle will most likely keep on chugging its way to the Barclays Center in June, with one of, if not the worst record in the NBA. The hope, of course, is for commissioner Adam Silver to step up to the mic, and officially announce the arrival of the 280 pound freak-of-nature out of Duke to the Big Apple. You know the one.
Meanwhile, the Knicks’ 2018 first round draft pick, Kevin Knox, has developed nicely as a potential 3-and-D player (well, he’s got the three down, and I’m sure the D will come). Overall, Knox has had a nice little season, averaging 12.6 PPG and 4.3 RPG, as well as nine games with 20 points or more (as per www.basketball-reference.com).
Knox, the 9th pick out of Kentucky, averaged 15.6 PPG, 5.4 RPG & 1.4 APG in his first (and final) year in college, going on to be named First-team All-SEC, and SEC Freshman of the Year (as per www.sports-reference.com). So, how does that compare to some of the most highly anticipated small forwards heading toward the NBA Draft this year? Let’s take a look at the top ranked players from that position, as per www.nbadraft.net at the time of writing this article:
R.J. Barrett – Duke
Mock draft position: 2nd overall pick
This guy is electrifying. Arguably the most complete player in college basketball, R.J. Barrett can play both the two and the three, and is one of the prize jewels in the Duke crown. Canadian Barrett, a five star high school recruit, played high school ball in his home town of Ontario, before switching to play for a decorated programme at Montverde Academy in Florida.
Almost every top ranked college in the nation were throwing themselves at Barrett, but it was Coach K and the Bluedevils that caught the teenagers eye. Since starting his freshman year, Barrett has blitzed the league, dropping over 30 points on six teams, including highly ranked sides Kentucky, Florida State and Virginia. Barrett’s strengths include his athleticism, able to find his shot from both mid-range and three, and he is very capable of supplying for his team-mates.
2018/19: 23.3 PPG, 7.5 RPG & 4.1 APG
COMMENTS: If it wasn’t for Zion, this guy would be going number one overall, no questions asked. Barrett is as close to a nailed on NBA star as you’re going to get, and pairing him with both Zion and Cam Reddish just isn’t fair. If the Knicks can get this guy at number two, they will still be smarting right the way through Summer League. Stud.
Rui Hachimura – Gonzaga
Mock draft position: 4th overall pick
Rui Hachimura has to be one of the most intriguing players of this year’s draft, if not purely for his background and his route to the league. Born in Japan to a Japanese mother and a Beninese (Benin, Africa) father, Rui played ball in his home country right through his school years, including high school.
He was invited to the Jordan Brand Class invitational in 2015, and after impressing Division One coaches, earned himself a scholarship to join the Gonzaga Bulldogs in 2016. Three years on, Hachimura is now a junior as he completes his third season with Bulldogs, who are a stunning 27-2, and ranked #2 in NCAA basketball.
2018/19: 20.5 PPG, 6.7 RPG & 1.7 APG
COMMENTS: It’s no coincidence why Hachimura is tipped to go inside the top 5. He was named First-team All-WCC last season, and even dropped 25 points on a USA team including Jayson Tatum in the 2014 FIBA U17 World Championships. Gonzaga are a formidable force and looking to go into March Madness with confidence, and spearheaded by Hachimura, they’ll be prepared to knock off Duke once again, just like they did back in November.
Cameron Reddish – Duke
Mock draft position: 5th overall pick
Speaking of Duke, Cameron Reddish has become almost a household name to most college basketball fans, whether that be because of his undeniable talent, or because he shares the limelight in North Carolina with Zion Williamson and R.J. Barrett.
Although he may be considered the ‘third star’ of the Bluedevils, Reddish is a pure athlete, given his 7’1 wingspan and 8’9 standing reach. The freshman from Pennsylvania was a 5-star recruit out of high school, and a McDonald’s All-American in 2018.
2018/19: 14 PPG, 3.6 RPG & 2.2 APG
COMMENTS: Reddish is a lot more of a selfless player than Knox and Hachimura, with his willingness to share the rock apparent with his APG. However at 6 feet and 7 inches, his slightly smaller stature and lesser aggression makes him less dominant on both ends of the glass. Despite that, Reddish will still comfortably go top 10, and quite possibly top 5, depending on team needs.
KZ Okpala – Stanford
Mock draft position: 6th overall pick
KZ Okpala may not be a name that causal college basketball fans will be familiar with, but the four-star recruit from Anaheim was one of the most promising young players coming out of high school in California. He may be a sophmore, but many will consider this as KZ’s first proper year of college ball, having missed the first 11 games of the 2017-18 season due to academic ineligibility.
Able to play both small forward and shooting guard, KZ, who nbadraft.net compare to Rodney Hood considering his playing style, is able to throw it down with authority, and drive to the basket with ease. His downside is his defence, and despite his height, doesn’t pick up a lot of blocks, however he does average just shy of 5 defensive boards per game. He is definitely still one to watch in the draft.
2018/19: 17.8 PPG, 5.6 RPG & 2.3 APG
COMMENTS: PAC-12 side Stanford have had a mixed season, just averaging over .500, however Okpala has definitely been the shining light of their season. With a little improvement on defence, and a strong showing in March Madness, he could find himself creeping into the top 5. More likely a top 10 pick.
Keldon Johnson – Kentucky
Mock draft position: 10th overall pick
Kentucky fans were only a little too excited to see Kevin Knox drafted to the New York Knicks, only to find out that his replacement was a five-star recruit out of Virginia, a McDonald’s All-American, and a bona-fide one and done player heading for the top 10 of the 2019 draft.
Keldon Johnson has been outstanding in his freshman year with the Wildcats. He may look like he is no older than 15-years-old, but Johnson is the real deal, keeping Kentucky inside the top five teams in college ball, and a strong 23-4 record. With good hands and a beautiful looking jumper, Johnson has a high basketball IQ, which comes in handy considering his small frame and 6’6 height being a worry to potential NBA suitors.
2018/19: 13.7 PPG, 5.7 RPG & 1.6 APG
COMMENTS: If Keldon Johnson can start his NBA career like he did his college career, he could be an exciting addition to any team that picks him up. Johnson dropped 23 points on Duke in his first NCAA game, and has backed that up with further 20+ point games against other top 20 ranked teams such as North Carolina and Auburn.
His small stature is a worry, but if he can bulk to half the size of the Greek Freak Antetokounmpo, he could turn into a handy NBA player.