The common denominator in the Knicks’ late-game struggles and their stagnancy in pushing the ball is a familiar, gaping void.
The Knicks, who lost yet another close game to the Nets on Sunday and entered play Monday as the fourth slowest-paced team in the league, according to metrics, sure could use a point guard.
You have heard the tale by now: The Knicks haven’t had an All-Star orchestrator since Mark Jackson in 1988-89. Kemba Walker was not the answer, and Alec Burks has not been, either. Immanuel Quickley has shown flashes, but his shot has fallen off. Second-round pick Deuce McBride has not played enough for an accurate appraisal.
The 28-40 Knicks were five full games back of the 10th-place Hornets entering Charlotte’s contest Monday, with 14 games remaining, and a long-shot run to the play-in appears out of reach after their loss at Barclays Center. The most important games the Knicks’ front office watches over the next few weeks may be played at the college ranks, where perhaps their point guard of the future can emerge.
But there’s a problem with that hope.
“Nobody really jumps out necessarily as a great, quote, unquote, ‘point guard,’ ” ESPN college basketball analyst Dalen Cuff said over the phone Monday. “You have guys that are wings that can score, guys that are good ball guards, but a guy that is a more traditional ‘point guard,’ quote-unquote, this is not exactly a class loaded with that.”
The Knicks were tied with New Orleans for the ninth-worst record in the league Monday, which would give them a 17.3 percent chance at a top-four pick and 3.8 percent chance at the pingpong balls bringing them the No. 1 selection.
If they wind up in the back half of the lottery picks, they might miss the best wings and be positioned for one of the few top point guards, such as TyTy Washington Jr.
The Kentucky freshman has mostly played off the ball this season, but when point guard Sahvir Wheeler was out with a neck injury in January, Washington set the school record with 17 assists in a win over Georgia.
“He showed his ability to grow into [a true point guard], but he’s still a young player that’s going to continue to develop,” Cuff said of the 6-foot-3 Washington, who has averaged 12.8 points and four assists. “The spacing [in college] is way different. The reads are different. The rotations and things are different in the NBA than they are in the college game. And he could actually grow into that, but he’s not there now.”
If not Washington — whose pedigree as a John Calipari disciple might help his case with the Knicks, who have Kentucky products Julius Randle, Nerlens Noel and Quickley — Tennessee’s Kennedy Chandler is another to watch.
Despite Chandler’s stature — he’s listed at just 6-foot and 172 pounds — Cuff thinks his game “100 percent” translates to the NBA and to a team such as the Knicks, who need someone to take control of their offensive rhythm.
“A guy that’s really fast to the ball, very good decision-maker, very tight with the ball in terms of his handle, uses his body well,” Cuff said of the Memphis native, who has averaged 13.8 points, 4.6 assists and 2.1 steals while shooting 46.3 percent from the field. “Not big. I think he’s still pretty frail.
“But his understanding of the game, his change of pace, his ability to create his own shot or create for his teammates is something that’s going to be coveted at the next level.”
After Washington and Chandler is a “step down,” Cuff said, and Alabama’s JD Davison is on the next tier.
The point guard needs to improve his jump shot — he has hit just 29.3 percent of his 3s this season — and is not necessarily a pass-first point guard. But as he showed in throwing down a dunk over 7-foot Auburn center Walker Kessler this season, there is still reason for the Knicks (and their fans) to pay attention.
“He is as explosive as it gets,” Cuff said of the 6-3 Davison, who averaged 2.8 turnovers this season. “But I think his feel for the game still will need to develop — as will most of the guys.”
But barring a jump during March Madness, none of these point guards likely will be found at the top of the draft.
If the Knicks receive rare lottery luck, wings such as Purdue’s Jaden Ivey and Wisconsin’s Johnny Davis or forwards such as Auburn’s Jabari Smith and Duke’s AJ Griffin or centers such as Gonzaga’s Chet Holmgren project as better pros.
The draft will have help, but maybe not where the Knicks most need it.
“The most abundance of guys are the wing players in this draft,” Cuff said.