Zion Williamson

USA TODAY Images

Schmeelk: Knicks Fans' Guide To Scouting March Madness

John Schmeelk
March 20, 2019 - 2:04 pm
Categories: 

With the remaining games on the Knicks schedule all but meaningless (though Frank Ntilikina’s return will give fans something to watch), Knicks fans should dedicate their time to scouting the NCAA tournament for potential draft picks. Here’s who they should be watching, and when they can watch them in the first round.

#12 Murray St vs #5 Marquette in Hartford (Thursday at ~4:30 on CBS)

Ja Morant, Sophomore Point Guard, 6’3 175 LBS: Already in the top three or four conversation, Morant can help himself by playing well against a power conference team like Marquette. Playing in the smaller Ohio Valley Conference, Morant averaged 10 assists and 24.6 points on .503/.336/.810 shooting. He only had a pair of games against big schools earlier in the year when he scored 63 combined points against Auburn and Alabama. NBA teams are going to see how his athleticism plays against better competition, and how he finishes around the basket through contact. Most of his highlight dunks have come in transition or when he has a running start. Finishing in traffic in the half court is a different story. His shooting is a work in progress. Enjoy his elite level passing but keep an eye on his decision making/turnovers.

#3 Texas Tech vs #14 Northern Kentucky in Tulsa (Friday at 1:30PM on TNT)

Jarrett Culver, Sophomore Guard, 6’5 195 LBS: An excellent all-around player on both ends of the floor, Culver averages 18.5 points on .486/.323/.704 shooting with 6.3 rebounds and 3.6 assists. Not known as a big-time volume scorer (he went a month from January to February without having a 20+ point game). Culver scored 57 total points in his last two games on over 50 percent shooting. If he can continue to score at that type of rate, and hold up on defense and do the other things well he already excels at, Culver might be the second player off the board in June. Keep an eye on his shooting and ability to create his own shot with the ball in his hand in the half court. Those are key skills you need to be a top scorer in the NBA. Worst comes to worst he is a good third option at the NBA level.

#1 Gonzaga vs Fairleigh Dickinson University in Salt Lake City (Thursday at 7:27 on Tru TV)

Related:

Brandon Clarke, Junior Forward, 6’8 215 LBS: Despite the press Rui Hachimura gets, Clarke is the better player. A potential target if the Knicks trade down (he might get as high as 5th), Clarke is an older player at 22 years old after transferring from San Jose State. He might be the best defensive player in the nation and is ridiculously efficient offensively, shooting 69 percent from the field. He plays a big man’s game in college, but will have to play on the perimeter more in the NBA. Watch how he operates there on both ends of the floor. He is not an alpha scorer, and his shot is still a struggle, but he can be a Draymond Green like support player.

Bonus Player: Rui Hachimura, Junior Forward, 6’8 230 LBS: A late lottery pick, Hachimura could be a trade down target for the Knicks. More of a traditional power forward, he averages 20 points per game on .609/..469/.741 shooting. The question is how well he translates to the next level on both ends. I don’t like him as a target.

#1 Duke vs. NC Central or North Dakota State in Columbia (Friday at 7:10PM on CBS)

Zion Williamson, Freshman Forward, 6’7 285 LBS: Don’t overthink this because NBA talent evaluators aren’t going to. Williamson is one of the most dominant college basketball players of this era. He is shooting 69 percent from the field, and is a freak athlete that can get anywhere he wants on the floor at all times, and finish at an elite level. He is a perfect NBA power forward, or even a center in certain lineups. He’s going number one and it isn’t a tough decision. Enjoy watching him dominate March Madness.

R.J. Barrett, Freshman Forward, 6’7 202 LBS: RJ Barrett averages more points per game than Williamson, but he isn’t nearly as efficient, averaging just under 23 points per game on .457/..304/.662. There are real worries for Barrett transitioning to the NBA game. He scores in college by going through or over defenders, often using bully ball tactics. That doesn’t work in the NBA. Can he get past defenders in March? Will he shoot better? His three-point and free throw shooting are worrisome. He tends to get tunnel vision and doesn’t pass well. His defensive effort is often lacking. That’s what fans should be keeping their eyes on. If he improves on his deficiencies he will be the consensus number two player in the class. Either way, he’s going in the top four.

Bonus Player: Cam Reddish, Freshman Forward, 6’8 218 LBS: Reddish might have played himself out of the Top 5 in his freshman season. His shooting has been inconsistent and he hasn’t shown the athletic traits that show he can be a consistent shot creator at the NBA level. He has good size, but he needs to show A LOT more in March to assure himself a spot in the top five of the NBA Draft.

#1 Virginia vs #16 Gardner-Webb in Columbia (Friday at ~3:15 on Tru TV)

DeAndre Hunter, Sophomore Forward, 6’7 225 LBS: Averaging 15 points per game on .530/.457/.784 shooting Hunter is best known for his defense. He can guard positions 1-5 and is a versatile offensive player with range all the way out to the three-point line. If he can show evaluators he can create his own shot more consistently, he can move into the top four discussion.

Bonus Game: #1 North Carolina vs #16 Iona (Friday at ~9:20 on TNT)

Coby White, Freshman Guard, 6’5 185 LBS: White has been garnishing more and more attention in draft circles. He finished the year averaging 16 points on .431/.360/.814 shooting along with 4.2 assists. He can play both guard positions and if he continues to show growth in the tournament he could be an option in the top five.

You can follow me on twitter for everything Knicks, Giants and the world of sports at twitter.com/Schmeelk. You can also subscribe to my new podcast, The Bank Shot, on iTunes -- my most recent episode is with Mike Gribanov of The Stepien, previewing the draft class heading into the NCAA tournament.