Just two days ago the New York Knicks looked to be closed out of the 2014 NBA Draft. Without a pick and with very few options to gain one, it looked like it would stay that way. But the day before the draft, Phil Jackson pulled off his first major move as President of the team, trading Raymond Felton and Tyson Chandler to the Dallas Mavericks for Jose Calderon, Samuel Dalembert, Shane Larkin, Wayne Ellington and two second-round picks. The cap relief was nice, but the draft picks were what Jackson coveted, and Thursday showed why when the Knicks got the steal of the draft in Cleanthony Early out of Wichita State with the 34th pick.
Early’s slide down the draft was one of the bigger surprises of the night, as many people had him pegged as a player to be selected right outside the lottery, between the high teens and low 20s. That did not happen, and the Knicks benefited from it.
Early is a versatile forward who can score in all sorts of ways. He is capable of filling it up from the interior or perimeter, and he showcased that during the NCAA Tournament when he scored 31 points against Kentucky. The perimeter scoring he provides is what many analysts thought would push him ahead of the likes of Jerami Grant and TJ Warren. However, Warren went 14th to the Phoenix Suns, while Grant slipped a bit as well, actually being selected after Early with the 39th pick to the Philadelphia 76ers.
Early is also a good rebounder, especially on the offensive boards. That type of toughness will endear him to the coaching staff, and will be one reason he finds his way onto the court as a rookie. The rebounding he provides is possible because of the physicality and toughness that he shows.
Early does have some things he needs to work on, namely his ball handling, which will have to improve at the next level if he is to continue playing small forward. That was part of the reason he slid in the draft, and he needs to continue to get consistency with his jump shot. His perimeter shot is definitely improving; the consistency is just not there yet.
With the current flux the Knicks roster is in, Early has a real chance to make a mark this season. If Carmelo Anthony does indeed move on, there will be plenty of minutes available at small forward and shots to be spread around, both of which Early would benefit from greatly.
He is a little older than other prospects in this draft, as he is already 23 years old, but he is a four-year college player who is as NBA-ready as anyone in this class. There is a legitimate chance that Early finds himself in the rotation early on, especially if Anthony leaves. If that is the case, the Knicks may have found their small forward of the future, and he will have plenty of chances to showcase that this coming season.