The Knicks, who own the No. 4 overall pick in the upcoming NBA Draft, are intrigued by Murray State point guard Cameron Payne and are seriously considering trading down in order to select him, according to ESPN New York's Ian Begley.
Payne, a 6'2 lead guard, is projected to go in the middle of the first round. Draft Express has him at No. 14, while ESPN's Chad Ford has him at No. 11. This means that if the Knicks decide to draft him, they'd likely trade down first.
This report comes just days after the New York Daily News' Frank Isola reported that the Knicks have become "enamored" with Kentucky big man Trey Lyles, another player projected to be selected closer to the middle of the first round.
Why trading down in the draft makes sense for the Knicks
The No. 4 pick is a bad spot to be in this draft. There are two stud big men available (Karl Anthony-Towns and Jahlil Okafor) as well as one point guard (D'Angelo Russell) that most analysts believe will eventually develop into a high-caliber NBA player. After that, there are a bunch of unknowns.
Emmanuel Mudiay is next on most draft boards, but the season he spent in China might scare some teams away. Mudiay is also a poor outside shooter. This is obviously something that can be fixed, but taking a guard who can't shoot could be problematic if the Knicks are thinking about drafting a player that can play with Carmelo Anthony.
But Mudiay is just one in a group of about four players -- Justise Winslow, Willie Cauley-Stein, Mario Hezonja, Kristaps Porzingis -- all slotted into this third tier. That's why the Knicks got terribly unlucky during the lottery. Falling out of the top three pushed them into this gray area where it seems like they're going to be picking a player who they might not like especially much. Like Mudiay, Hezonja and Porzingis are unknowns. Cauley-Stein is huge and could be an excellent rim protector, but he has limited offensive skills. Winslow is the most intriguing of the bunch, but took a while to fully come on during his one year at Duke.
Maybe the Knicks are right to believe in Payne, who was one of three players in the country to average at least 20 points (20.1) and five assists (6.0) per game last season. Payne is considered a good pick-and-roll player and excellent passer. If the Knicks believe he's just as good as the players mentioned above, then trading down to take him and gaining an additional player or asset would be the prudent move for a team in desperate need of talent and depth.
It should also be noted that the Lakers, owners of the No. 2 pick, are working out Payne as well.
Why trading down in the draft doesn't make sense
There's a reason teams tank frequently: the higher the draft pick, the better odds the player selected turns into a good player. For the first time in years, the Knicks have a top-five pick. Blowing it because Phil Jackson isn't sure if any of those players mentioned above can fit into his possibly-outdated triangle offense is would be awful.
Here's Isola on why Jackson loves Lyles:
While Towns and Willie Cauley-Stein have garnered the most attention, the Knicks for months have been enamored with Trey Lyles, according to a team source. Lyles is a 6-foot-10 forward out of Indianapolis who Phil Jackson sees as a good fit for the triangle offense.
And Isola on why the Knicks are not in love with Mudiay:
Point guard Emmanuel Mudiay may seem like the logical pick, but Jackson's teams historically never feature a top point guard. And with Jose Calderon already under contract and the Knicks convinced that Langston Galloway can be a contributing player on a good team, Jackson may ignore Mudiay, who spent last season in China.
To sum up: the Knicks might not take a 6'5 player who a year ago was considered the top point guard of his class because they think Langston Galloway is a better option and because the 33-year-old Calderon is still under contract. That's exactly the type of thinking that has Knicks fans scared of where the Phil Jackson Era might be heading.
Cameron Payne might be a good player, but there's a reason few seem to have him in the top-10. Same goes for Lyles. The Knicks had one of the worst seasons in franchise history last year, which, given that this is the Knicks, is really saying something.
Luckily, this happens be one of the few times they actually still own their first round pick. Jackson has been given an opportunity, one he won't get again for another couple of years since the Knicks' 2016 first round pick will be heading to Toronto. Passing on elite talent because he's not sure how some of the players fit into his offensive scheme would be one of the dumber things he could do.
Knicks fans would surely like to think that this all a smokescreen, but with Jackson, you just don't know. To him, the triangle is everything. If Payne and Lyles are the two players he believes will best fit into that offense, then anything is on the table.