The Knicks averaged 88 points in the playoffs, despite having bonafide scorers like Carmelo Anthony, J.R. Smith, Iman Shumpert and Chris Copeland on the roster.
Sure, they were pummeled in the paint and on the glass by the larger Pacers in the Eastern Conference semifinals, but the real problem was the lack of scoring punch. There were simply too many wide-open misses from their usually reliable shooters, and an offense that bogged down whenever the ball wasn’t in Anthony’s hands.
To rectify that problem, the Knicks have worked out a slew of perimeter scorers who were known to put the ball in the hole in college. Notable names that have been invited include scorers like Nate Wolters, of South Dakota St.; Allen Crabbe, of California; Tim Hardaway Jr., of Michigan; Reggie Bullock, of North Carolina; and Tony Snell, of New Mexico. All have scoring credentials and fit a need — especially since Knicks coach Mike Woodson is likely to keep the 6-foot-7 Anthony miscast at power forward.
Placing Anthony at power forward is certainly a mismatch for opposing defenses because the burly small forward is strong enough to handle the rigors of banging in the paint, while causing headaches to slower-footed natural power forwards on the offensive end.
But that strategy leaves a gaping hole at the small forward spot. Shumpert was also miscast for most of the season at small forward, so Woodson will likely put him back at his natural position, shooting guard — or try him at point guard, if Shumpert’s Las Vegas Summer League trials go according to plan.
The Knicks would actually like to shore up their point guard situation first — should their main target, Miami’s Shane Larkin, fall to them because the backup point guard position is a big need with Jason Kidd leaving and Pablo Prigioni still deciding on coming back for another season, or going home to Argentina. In a perfect world, the Knicks would probably like to use their No. 24 pick on Larkin, but that’s more of a pipe dream since Larkin’s agent, Happy Walters, didn’t even let his client work out for the Knicks because most draft pundits don’t think he’ll last into the 20s.
Wolters isn’t regarded on the same level as Larkin, so he’ll likely be available. The feisty, combo guard said it doesn’t matter where he lands as long as he gets the chance to push Raymond Felton every day in practice, while also helping the Knicks in whatever role necessary. There aren’t too many mock drafts that even have Wolters being selected in the first round, but his size (6-foot-5) and three-point shooting (38-percent) are very intriguing to the club.
Wolters knows this and is confident his skill set will translate well in Woodson’s system.
“They like to spread the floor out and shoot a lot of 3’s, so I think I’d fit in perfectly,” he said. “This would be a great fit. Jason Kidd just retired and Raymond Felton is a solid point guard, so I definitely feel I can add to it. Hopefully, I get the opportunity. I’m really good with the pick-and-roll game and I know they run a ton of pick-and-roll. I can also spread the floor and get it to shooters.”
The sharpshooting Wolters disputed the notion that he can’t handle point-guard duties at the NBA level because he had the green light in college.
“I know I can also be a facilitator and I think it’d be natural for me. I can be more a facilitator than a scorer,” said Wolters. “It was necessary for me to score in college, so I had to put up a lot of shots. But I think my natural position is passing point guard and making others around me better.”
If the Knicks decide to go with size in the draft, bigs like Jeff Withey (Kansas) and Gorgui Dieng (Louisville) have garnered the most chatter around the team’s facilities. Both will likely be available at No. 24, and are shot-blocking menaces with better than expected offensive games. Withey, in particular, will be the most likely player still available of the two, according to most mock drafts.
Withey, who blocked 3.9 shots last season, said he wouldn’t mind if he fell to the Knicks, as he feels he’d provide immediate interior help.
“I like to model my game after Tyson Chandler, defensively,” Withey said, noting they are both California boys who would get along great. “It would be awesome to be able to come here and learn from him, get some stuff from him, and mentor underneath him. They definitely do need that. I would love to be that person. It’d be great playing here.”
The 7-foot, 230-pound Withey definitely brings a great college resume, as he shot 58.2-percent from the field last season with averages of 13.7 points and 8.5 rebounds. The shot blocking would be of great help to a Knicks squad that looked rather small against an Indiana frontline that bullied New York for most of their playoff matchup.
Withey said he watched the Knicks’ playoff run feeling as if he could have definitely helped out the struggling frontcourt.
“Unfortunately, almost every big got hurt last year,” he said. “They definitely needed that [more size], needed a backup center, so I’d love to be that person. But you never know with this stuff, so all you can do is go on and work as hard as you can in these workouts.”
Knicks bounce passes
» J.R. Smith will opt out of the final year of his contract, worth $2.9 million. While it didn’t come as a surprise to management, considering his career season and Sixth Man of the Year award, it should give the Knicks some consternation that they could lose their second-best scorer to free agency. Coach Mike Woodson has publicly said he’d like to have Smith back, and the New Jersey native said he’d like to return and stay close to home. The team will likely make an offer since they own his Bird Rights — and can even use a portion of their reduced, mid-level exception toward his services. But if a team with tons of cap space, and a starting position, makes an unrealistic offer, then Smith would likely head for greener pastures. League dregs like the Detroit Pistons and Milwaukee Bucks are two teams that are reportedly interested in Smith, so it’ll be interesting to see how this saga unfolds.
» The Knicks may be in search for even more shooters should they also lose Chris Copeland. The 6-foot-8 forward surprised many — even Woodson’s staff — by making the final roster cuts in training camp, then persevering through spurts of playing time and random benchings in the regular season. The New Orleans Pelicans are reportedly very interested in Copeland, a restricted free agent. The Knicks can match any offer, as they own his Bird Rights, but if a team like the Pelicans offer an insanely rich deal, the cap-strapped Knicks will likely be forced to let the forward depart.