Full disclosure -- this has been a journey, a quest if you will, that has been a part of my life over the past 10 years. And in studying the craft of scouting, here's what I've learned over that time while evaluating talent. What a player with talent ultimately becomes is largely up to them. But it's the position, the opportunity, that they are put by the scouts and organization, initially, that puts them on their pathway to stardom.
When these two factors come together in perfect harmony they can create greatness like we've seen with Draymond Green and the Golden State Warriors.
I mention Green because he was drafted 35th overall in the 2012 draft and the professional basketball world has been on the lookout for the next Draymond for several years now. While Green did not compete at the 2012 PIT, the reason the Draymond example is so important to note and why it's so valuable is that there are four indisputable truths in my mind to the definition of "true value" in the NBA and it starts where a player is drafted.
This is why virtually every NBA organization had their collective focus on Portsmouth, Virginia this past week for the annual Portsmouth Invitational Tournament. The aforementioned factors, or truths, to defining a potential draft pick's value are:
Every time I watch Green play I wonder how he fell as far as he did in the 2012 NBA Draft. Part of me is pretty sure of the answer, but it's one that I continue to press until satisfied with a more decorous answer. Was it really front office fear from internet blogs and mock drafts that four-year players have lower upside? Maybe. Were Draymond's pre-draft interviews at all an issue or was it just an oversight? Possibly. Whatever the reasons, the teams that missed out on Green's all-around, two-way versatility are on full-alert this year looking to find that diamond in the rough.
In the meantime, several representatives from the Knicks front office, including Allan Houston, were on hand in Portsmouth last week looking for potential pieces to add to the organization. What they witnessed were players who can be developed into potential system pieces in the same manner Langston Galloway was, who convinced them to add him to their organization following the 2014 Portsmouth Invitational. Galloway has been good for the Knicks, but his contract has allowed them to get a long look at him to see if he can be a piece to the puzzle going forward.
Whether it's a situation like Galloway's, a perfect storm like Green or the Bulls' Jimmy Butler, finding the player to fit your system and helping that player reach (and exceed) their potential ceiling is what separates NBA organizations. The idea here isn't to compare these players directly to Green "apples-to-apples", the idea is to point out a few players who can thrive in the Knicks system of basketball through versatility and the ability to be a capable, two-way NBA prospect.
A.J. English, Iona (6-4/190): I've had the chance to scout English for a few years now while at Iona and his MVP performance at the PIT will certainly increase his already solid chances of getting drafted. A big scoring guard, English is terrific off the catch and is a world-class shooter with range evident by his ridiculous 65 percent shooting from three. Not a great dribble-drive player, and needs work defensively, but a solid option for the Knicks who could use help making shots off the catch should they decide to sneak into the second round.
Ryan Anderson, Arizona (6-9/235): Anderson was head and shoulders the best big in Virginia, continuing solid play this year at Arizona. Anderson figures to get serious first-round consideration thanks to his ability to stretch the floor and play both the 4 and 5 spots. He's tough defensively and has a nose for the ball on both the offensive and defensive glass.
Gavin Ware, Mississippi State (6-9/260): Ware learned under the great Ben Howland this year, who has developed 23 NBA players to date from his years at University of Pittsburgh and of course UCLA. Ware's hands and athleticism are both exceptional at his size. He's a legitimate "small ball 5" who could be developed into an asset. The Knicks figure to be set up front, but it never hurts to have a talent with those skills in Westchester.
Dorian Finney-Smith, Florida (6-8/220): Finney-Smith is an interesting prospect at 6-8 with the skills to be a "stretch" four. He can also put the ball on the floor and make plays in transition. Solid, two-way player who could provide depth to the perimeter especially if the Knicks decide to move on from Early, who hasn't shown much in his two-year opportunity with the Knicks.
Bryn Forbes, Michigan State (6-3/190): English aside, the best shooter this week making 13 three pointers to lead all players. He's quick for his size, and has great ability to make plays off curls and cuts. Lightning quick release that is certainly NBA caliber and is coming from a program that knows a thing or two about producing solid pros.
Isaiah Miles, St. Joseph's (6-7, 216): Similar to Finney-Smith in terms of frame and offensive ability, Miles' shooting really stood out. His ability to get himself into a rhythm stood out when his teammates were struggling to get shots off. Miles doesn't have that problem, which is a real NBA skill. Miles was a teammate of Langston Galloway under Coach Phil Martelli and very well may have gotten himself drafted with his play this week.
Isaiah Cousins, Oklahoma (6-4/200): Buddy Hield's teammate did well to make a name for himself this week thanks to tough, ball-hawking defense and glimpses offensively that makes him an interesting, versatile prospect in my mind. He can defend 3 positions as well. Good size for a backcourt player, which is always a positive when talking about Phil Jackson's system of basketball. His All-Tournament selection will only strengthen his chances.
Thomas Walkup, Stephen F. Austin (6-4/190): Walkup burst onto the scene in Brooklyn with a first-round win in the NCAA Tournament and continued that momentum in Virginia. He was all-around efficient passing up shots to move the basketball and make plays for teammates. He averaged 10 points and 5 assists for the week and has good size. His position is a bit undefined, but he appeared to have PG, SG and SF qualities. Good size and great feel for the game, helping lead his Portsmouth team to the tournament championship.
Patricio Garino, George Washington (6-6/210): I kept trying to keep Garino, one of the standouts in the A-10 this year along with Miles, out of the "Greivis Vasquez" mold. Garino has great feel for the game and has good size at 6'6 and, to me, would be a solid system player. He's a passer, cutter, shooter and finisher and can defend 3 positions. The type of player, at the forward spot, who plays with a point guard's mentality. Always looking for the open teammate and the team's best shot.
Michael Carrera, South Carolina (6-5/214): All-around energy player with range who was the only player I saw who was strong and fast enough to defend four positions. He also finished third for the week in three-pointers made. Carrera has a pretty lengthy injury history, but his all-around game and energy makes him an interesting player to potentially bring to summer league in Orlando.
Can we all agree that "the triangle" is only talked about by "the media?" Phil talks about building "a system of basketball." Fans complained during the Scott Layden and Isiah Thomas eras that the team lacked a straight-forward plan. Now the Knicks are trying to implement a system of basketball in the same manner that the Spurs, Warriors and obviously the championship-level Bulls and Lakers did under Phil's watchful eye and people are STILL complaining? This is the Knicks system of basketball, one that has proven extremely successful over its lifespan and people want to ditch it after 2 years and send Phil back to LA? Can't we wait and see how this plays out? The problem with the Knicks franchise is the constant need to pull the plug and not build a foundation of from which to grow upon.
Is there anything more irritating than people who quickly dismiss Kristaps Porzinigis when talking about Phil? He deserves credit for adding what will be a max contract while still having the ability to add max players. That's a tremendous advantage and why hitting the early picks is so important. Porzingis has a ways to go still, but word around the league is that he's going to be an attractive player to play with for years to come. Can we start talking about that more?
One of the real under-talked about is how well the Knicks rebounded this season. They were 7th in the league in defensive rebounding and 10th total rebounding according to basketball-reference.com up from 29th last year. Rebounding is the key to closing possessions and as the Knicks add more offense, it will be critical that maintain, or even improve this number. Just another sign of just how good the Robin Lopez signing was.
The Knicks had a strong presence this year at Portsmouth, which shows that they have some big time decisions to make this summer, not only in free agency. Adding pieces via the draft and to the Westchester development team means they could be active in making trades as well. Despite not having a pick as it stands today, the organization knows how critical this offseason is as a whole to righting the ship towards contention.