Knicks Draft: A scout and non-believer talk Aleksej Pokusevski

New York Knicks draft (Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images)
New York Knicks draft (Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images) /
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(Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images) /

Knicks Draft: Is Aleksej Pokusevski the guy?

I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t intrigued. The combination of shooting, playmaking, and rim protection is more than appealing, and after years of Knicks draft failure (and I’m not talking about any of our current TBDs), I love hearing that a prospect’s bust potential is “pretty low.”

But the term bust is subjective. If the Knicks use a Top-10 pick on a player who only becomes a “spot-up shooting big” who can pass a little bit (which was Spencer’s floor), is that worth the pick?

Part of the downside of being draft-obsessed for as long as I’ve been is that I let the past create present fear and skepticism. The allure of the 7-footer with guard skills – 3-point shooting, passing, handle, or any combination of the three – is nothing new, and while we’ve seen some mega-hits on guys like KD (who was a sure thing) and Giannis (much more of a project), my fear with Poku is that the Knicks end up with the next Nikoloz Tskitishvili or Darko Milicic or Yi Jianlian or Austin Daye or Jan Vesely or Perry Jones or Dragan Bender or Thon Maker or Skal Labissiere…

Sure, some of those are bad comparisons – Poku’s uniqueness is why we ditched a traditional comp exercise in the interview above – but the point remains: drafting the 7-foot unicorn project with guard skills is historically a boom-or-bust proposition that most often ends in bust (apologies to those mentioned who are still developing). It’s a dangerous gamble.

Unless of course you’re picking outside the lottery. Then it becomes a value pick. If it hits, you’re geniuses, and if it misses (like Daye and Jones above), no big deal. Such was the case with Bertans: drafted 42nd by the Spurs in 2011, stayed overseas for five years, and finally broke out eight years after his name was called. Had he never come over, or shown no potential upon arriving, no one would’ve cared. He could’ve been drafted 21st, and still no one would’ve batted an eyelash. But 6th? 8th? That’s a bust that lives forever. Which is why:

Top-10 pick? I am nowhere near brave enough to pull the trigger here. People say “Scared money don’t make no money,” but it doesn’t lose money, either. The Knicks, who nabbed starters / potential stars in each of the past two drafts and will enter this season with more hope than any in recent memory, need to hit. That doesn’t mean they need a superstar, nor does it mean they should play it super-safe. But safer than this.

With the 26th pick? Go for it. Many teams outside the lottery – Dallas, Miami, Milwaukee, Denver, Philly, etc. – seem like they can afford the Poku risk, but at the same time contenders might feel more comfortable with a surer contributor. Today alone, I’ve seen Pokusevski mocked at 17, 19, 24, 28, and outside the first round. While it may be unlikely, it’s possible he’s available here.

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Trade up to get him? Sure, why not? If Rose & Co. get the sense he’ll go before 26, and they can package the LAC pick and the 2020 or a future second to move up a few spots, they have my blessing. Small price to pay for a potential unicorn.

For more elite NBA Draft analysis, follow Spencer Pearlman on Twitter @skpearlman and check out his work on The Stepien.