While the postseason push is heating up for teams around the NBA, both professional teams in New York, the Knicks and Brooklyn Nets, are simply playing out their schedule as the playoffs are nothing more than a goal for future seasons.
Put a stress on that word “future” as the Knicks and Nets will keep their eyes on down the road as they continue trying to build a contender in the Eastern Conference.
That all starts with the 2018 NBA Draft in June.
The Knicks are slated for a top-10 pick, though a two-game win streak has their chances for a higher lottery selection decreasing. As of Wednesday night, the Knicks are slated to pick ninth.
For the Nets, holding the league’s sixth-worst record will only ensure that the Cleveland Cavaliers get a high pick as the Brooklynites are continually haunted by their 2013 trade with the Boston Celtics as they gave up their future for Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Jason Terry.
The Cavaliers acquired the Nets pick from Boston in the deal involving Kyrie Irving.
Instead, the Nets will likely pick toward the bottom of the first round, somewhere near No. 28.
It’s never too early to start looking at possible selections for the upcoming draft and this week in college basketball will provide both the Knicks and Nets with an ample opportunity to do so.
The Sweet 16 of the 2018 NCAA Tournament kicks off on Thursday night and concludes Friday before the Elite 8 takes center stage on Saturday and Sunday.
With eight games over the next two days, there will be plenty of first-round options on the floor for Knicks and Nets. Here is who they should watch:
Knicks prospects to watch:
Mikal Bridges, SG/SF, Villanova
The Knicks could be looking at a logjam at either the shooting guard or small forward positions depending on how things play out with Frank Ntilikina’s development at the 2 and Tim Hardaway’s success at the 3. But Bridges could become a franchise talent at either spot given his abilities on the wing. He can shoot from deep and defend well on the perimeter, making him one of the best two-way prospects this draft class has to offer.
Kevin Knox, SF/PF, Kentucky
If he can be slated at the small forward position, Knox could be a nightmare for opposing teams to match up with. With a 7-foot wingspan, the Kentucky product is a force on the boards and difficult to stop when he’s driving to the basket as he can find a way to get a shot off around and over opponents. His defense is still a work in progress but has come a long way since the start of this season.
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, PG, Kentucky
Gilgeous-Alexander likely would not be the Knicks’ first choice of point guard if they wish to go in that direction. At 6-foot-6, the freshman stacks up similarly to Frank Ntilikina and Emmanuel Mudiay, who will continue to be a work in progress in New York. His outside game will need polishing at the NBA level, much like the Knicks’ two young point guards, where he inflicts the most damage driving to the hoop.
Nets prospects to watch:
Jalen Brunson, PG, Villanova
While this is no knock to what Spencer Dinwiddie has done this year, the injuries of Jeremy Lin and D’Angelo Russell proved that the Nets need more depth at the point guard position. Brunson is a physical floor general with a winning pedigree having won a national title with the Wildcats in 2016. He’s an efficient scorer, shooting over 53.5-percent from the field over the past two years.
Kendall Stephens, SG/SF, Nevada
The Purdue transfer is making waves with No. 7 seed Nevada this season as he’s showing flashes of becoming a serviceable scorer at the NBA level. At 6-foot-5, Stephens will best be utilized as a shooting guard, which again would add more competition in the Nets’ backcourt. However, his ability to shoot from deep might be too good to pass up. This season, after sitting out a year after his transfer, Stephens shot 44-percent from three-point range with the Wolf Pack.
Moritz Wagner, PF/C, Michigan
Any time you get a prospect from Germany, you immediately think of Dirk Nowitzki. That’s just how these things go. But the 6-foot-11 Wagner shows an awful lot of promise given his versatility for a player his size. Obviously, he’s a hassle to deal with on the glass and scoring down low with an arsenal of moves to get an open look. But his range from outside makes him such an appealing prospect with a 40.3-percent mark from downtown.