Mar 18, 2014; New York, NY, USA; New York Knicks new president of basketball of operations Phil Jackson is introduced at a press conference at Madison Square Garden. Mandatory Credit: William Perlman/THE STAR-LEDGER via USA TODAY Sports

Phil Jackson Is Just Getting Started

The 2014 NBA Draft occurred a few nights ago. Fans witnessed one of the deepest draft classes the basketball landscape has seen in a while.

I still remember watching Andrew Wiggins first hoopmixtape video, the same one in which he posterized opposing defenders as a 6’6” eighth grader (and I thought I was tall in eighth grade…) like Tom Chambers did on Mark Jackson.

Not only was seeing Wiggins being picked first overall and Jabari Parker being picked in succession was cool, but the New York Knicks, a franchise notorious for their nefarious picks on draft day the past 10-15 years, went out of their comfort zone by doing the unthinkable: making logical decisions in and outside of the draft.

A few days ago, Phil Jackson went ahead and traded away defensive anchor Tyson Chandler and Raymond “Pending Jail Time” Felton to the Mavericks for Jose Calderon, Samuel Dalembert, Shane Larkin, Wayne Ellington and two second round picks (more on the picks in just a second).

I never thought I would see the Knicks, in the many years of my painfully stressful fandom, snag draft picks and, ultimately, more than what the other team got in return in a trade, rather than dumping them for heavily damaged goods. He certainly is rolling the dice, but his inaugural picks as a front office man, Wichita State scoring machine Cleanthony Early and Giannis Antetokounpo’s (I actually didn’t have to use Google to spell his surname) elastic brother, Thanasis, are two underrated picks to scrutinize in the best way possible (more on them in a little bit).

Also, Jackson went ahead and acquired the rights to Frenchman Louis Labeyrie, who was picked 57th by the Pacers, who the Knicks will probably stash like the Sixers will do with Croatian sensation Dario Saric.

People call Jackson the Zen Master for a reason, right? I mean, he got rid of Felton in the midst of the crappiest time in his career, and, despite being the defensive guardian angel ever since he became a Knick, Chandler’s $14.5 million expiring deal. What Jackson did the last week is on the trail of something completely different and something incredibly comprehensible.

As the title of this post suggests, Jackson is just getting started.

The Derek Fisher hiring (and tampering, heh) was the first step, the Chandler-Felton trade being the second, and now his first draft as a front office man being the current apex (I don’t really count Lamar Odom signing a non-guaranteed deal a step, but you can if you want). That apex will be raising a lot more in the future to come. The fact that the Knicks got three (THREE) picks out of the deepest draft in years is saying something.

Jackson did not just sit in his office chair waiting for the opportunity to come or wasting the opportunities when they came like James Dolan is right now in his MSG/Cablevision office; he took initiative by making sensible moves.

Summer League, which starts on July 11th, will be the perfect time for Early and Thanasis Antetokounpo’s (I didn’t need to use Google to spell his last name) to showcase what they’re capable of doing. And with their skill sets, it’s hard to dispute with what they bring to the table.

As I mentioned, Early was the Shockers’ scoring warehouse, averaging 16.4 points a contest on 48% shooting with a .246 WS/40. Per 40 minutes, he averaged 24 PPG, as well as posting a 121.3 ORtg throughout the Shockers undefeated 31-0 regular season, eventually losing to Kentucky in the third round of the tourney.

Early was also the cardinal glass cleaner, topping the team in RPG, averaging 5.9. He also posted a 12.5 TRB%. Early and assists are polar opposites and is pretty much a pure scorer. That might be a hiccup when running the noted triangle offense; iso-ball was the quintessence of the Knicks offense last year.

The interesting thing with Early is that he was projected as a first round pick, but somehow slipped down to an early second rounder. This is where the draft steal part comes into play: (I might be biased here, but here goes it) The Knicks really did get the best steal in the draft with picking Early. Yes, people can consider him the college version of veteran leadership since he’s 23, but let’s sweep the doubters to the side.

He was the offensive focal point and basically the team leader for the two years he was a Shocker. His other reputable accolades? 2013 NCAA All Final Team, 2013 MVC Newcomer of the Year, 2014 Consensus second team All-American. I don’t know if you can get a better resume than that for an early second round pick.

On the flip side, Antetokounmpo spent his time in the D-League last year with the Delaware 87ers, the Sixers’ affiliate and played in his native Greece for Filathlitikos (I needed Google to spell that) a couple years prior. Thanasis ended up with the 87ers, because he moved to the States, due to Giannis playing in Milwaukee. Like Giannis, Thanasis’ offensive game is relatively limited, but having a 7 foot wingspan means opposing ball handlers are going to get vexed often, along with his chop-chop footwork.

People say “well, three second round picks are nothing.” Well, you’re wrong. Second round picks are just as good to have as first round picks, just ask Sixers GM Sam Hinkie, who stockpiled five second round picks for this year’s draft. He’s probably laughing like Jafar from Aladdin at everyone that believes assets are not important.

A while ago, when I wrote about the Kyle Lowry trade rumors, I elaborated on the idea of building the future by keeping assets. Collecting assets is just as significant as possessing a superstar player. Remember, this is pre-Phil, when Dolan was still, unfortunately, running the show with his CAA henchmen. If Carmelo Anthony ends up going to Chicago, Houston or whatever suitor outside of New York, Phil is moving that Foucault pendulum in the right direction with his future team building.

For the first time in a very long time, Jackson’s complete autonomy is making the Knicks a palpable franchise by making these moves. Again, so what if he only acquired second round picks? He got three draft picks, more picks than successful first round picks the Knicks have had in the past few years. We, as Knick fans, should be commending Phil’s efforts to make this team better.

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Tags: Cleanthony Early New York Knicks Phil Jackson

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