Grading the New York Knicks’ 2014 NBA Draft Class

Phil Jackson Knicks

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Earlier in the week, it looked as though the New York Knicks would be shut out of the loaded 2014 NBA Draft because of trades made previous seasons. Phil Jackson coveted picks in the draft this season, though, and he got his picks in a trade with the Dallas Mavericks that saw Raymond Felton and Tyson Chandler sent packing. Armed with the 34th and 51st overall picks, it was time for Jackson to make his first selections in the front office. He also bought the 57th pick from the Indiana Pacers, as the Knicks had a more active night than anyone could have imagined waking up Wednesday. Here is how they graded out:

The 34th overall pick: Cleanthony Early, SF, Wichita State

The Knicks got the steal of the draft with Early, who was projected to go as high as 14 overall by some analysts, but fell all the way to the second round. The biggest knock against him that plummeted his stock is his ball-handling, which some teams feel will keep him from playing small forward successfully in the NBA.

That’s about where the concerns stop for Early, as the 6-foot-7 forward has a great combination of athleticism, strength and toughness. All of those things helped Early finish through contact, as he finished with 30 and-one’s last season.

He is developing range on his jump shot as well; becoming a more consistent threat from the three-point line is what he needs to continue working on for his offense. With that said, he is capable of scoring on the interior and perimeter, which Kentucky learned the hard way in the NCAA tournament when Early scored 31 points in the Shockers’ only defeat of the season.

He is also a good rebounder for his position, and at worst will provide the Knicks depth behind Carmelo Anthony if he does return, something they have not found during his time in New York. If Anthony does decide to leave, the door is wide open for the 23-year-old to be the small forward of the future for the Knicks if given the chance. The Knicks were lucky to have him fall and should enjoy watching him take it out on the rest of the teams that passed him up.

Grade: A

The 51st overall pick: Thanasis Antetokounmpo, G, Delaware 87ers

The older brother of the Milwaukee Bucks’ 2013 first-round pick, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Thanasis is super athletic. He actually possesses better athleticism than Giannis, something the Knicks hope they can use to their advantage.

At 6-foot-6, Antetokounmpo has a seven-foot wingspan that helps him finish at the rim effectively when coupled with his athleticism. He had a strong showing in the D-League last season, averaging 12 points and 4.3 rebounds per game with the 87ers. He does need to work on his offensive game, though, as his jump shot needs work.

How he will endear himself to the Knicks’ coaching staff is by playing defense. His size and athleticism make him a strong defender, something the Knicks lack on the wings and desperately need. It is tough for second-rounders to carve out roles in rotations, but playing defense is definitely one way to get noticed.

People will also point out that the organization in which he played in the D-League for last season passed on him, which is a red flag to some. But the Knicks like his athleticism and defensive potential, and hope he can continue growing.

Grade: B

The 57th overall pick: Louis Labeyrie, C, France

When the Knicks traded for this pick, many people thought it would be to snag Florida center Patric Young. Instead, it was used on Labeyrie, who has little chance of ever coming over to the NBA. The 22-year-old averaged only 2.3 points, 2.7 rebounds and 0.5 blocks in 12.8 minutes per game last season for Paris-Levallois. Currently, this seems like a pretty poor use of the cash they sent to the Pacers for Labeyrie’s draft rights.

Grade: D

Kenneth Teape is a New York Giants writer for RantSports.com. Follow him on Twitter @teapester725, “Like” on Facebook, or join his Google network.

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