Some of the more highly touted prospects may not drop to the Knicks at No. 11 — even the intriguing 6-foot-8 point guard, Dyson Daniels, of the G-League Ignite via Australia.
Indications are Daniels helped his stock tremendously at the Chicago Draft Combine after a Pro Day in which he rained in deep jump shots — one of the question marks about him. So the new narrative is Daniels may crack the top 10.
So if the Knicks’ chances of both filling a need at point guard along with taking the best available player evaporates, they need a backup plan.
They may not care enough for a defensive specialist such as versatile combo forward Jeremy Sochan because he can’t shoot from the perimeter.
And that just happens to be the specialty of 19-year-old Malaki Branham. Few in the draft can rival the 6-5 Ohio State shooting guard when it comes to draining deep shots and it’s why he’s a surprise one-and-doner.
A month ago, the Ohio native was not considered a lottery pick and considered staying at Ohio State for his sophomore year. That has changed, though Branham almost assuredly will be there at No. 11.
Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau doesn’t necessarily like 3-point shooters. He likes 3-point shotmakers. As does the Knicks’ first-year scout, Hall of Famer Tim Hardaway.
The Knicks interviewed Branham on Thursday in Chicago. The Nets also met with Branham but they don’t select until No. 23.
When asked how the Knicks see his role, Branham said, “I’m going to be off the ball a bit [because] of my shotmaking. They like how I make shots.
“I feel like I’m already fitting in. Scoring the ball at three levels, shooting at a high clip. I feel like I’ll be a better defender when going against the best players in the world.”
At Ohio State, where the season was interrupted by a COVID-19 outbreak, Branham shot 49.9 percent overall, 41.3 percent from 3. He averaged 13.7 points but committed 1.78 turnovers per game and isn’t much of a rebounding guard.
Can the Knicks use another shooting guard? It’s debatable.
They already have Evan Fournier as a starter and he set the franchise record for most 3-pointers made in a season. But because of his tepid man-to-man defense, Thibodeau often didn’t play him down the stretch. They are grooming two-way shooting guard Quentin Grimes, their 25th pick last season whom Thibodeau pushed to select.
Branham makes the most sense if the plan is to deal Fournier in the offseason. The Knicks looked to move Fournier at the trade deadline but his long-term $78 million pact made it tricky. Most scouts agree Fournier ranks as one of the worst starting shooting guards in the NBA.
Enter Branham, more of an athlete than Fournier or swingman RJ Barrett.
“I feel I’m in the lottery, yeah,” Branham said.
The Knicks’ interviews focused on trying to get a feel for how players handle adversity. One of the major themes of playing in New York is dealing with the fans’ wrath on social media and the heavy scrutiny of the Gotham press corps. Julius Randle failed last season.
“They kind of want to get to know me, that I’m a hard worker,” Branham said. “If adversity hits, I’m not going to stop there. I’m going to get over that adversity. All these teams just want to get to know me and see how hard a worker I’m going to be.”
Matt Babcock, the former agent who covers the draft for Basketball News, tweeted at the combine: “I’m not sure there has been a name buzzing in Chicago this week more than Malaki Branham’s. At this point, I think there is a strong possibility that he will go in the lottery.”
Branham said he’s not paying attention to the mock drafts.
“Just being in the NBA is my dream,” Branham said. “I’m excited to keep developing my story. I don’t care about the mock drafts. I didn’t want to be distracted [from] the main goal. I don’t want to look at them and get thickheaded.”