Pros and Cons: NY Knicks drafting James Bouknight in 2021 NBA Draft

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James Bouknight treated image
James Bouknight treated image

While it’s unclear where the Knicks may end up picking in the 2021 NBA Draft with two first-round and two second-round selections to juggle, they’re set up to take advantage of this latest crop of talent coming in.

Let's take a look at some of the pros and cons of potential draft options for the Knicks, starting with UConn's James Bouknight.

The case for drafting Bouknight

Bouknight, a 6-5, 190-pound guard and Brooklyn native out of UConn, has been rising up draft boards over the last few weeks strictly based off his scoring potential. The sophomore put on a scoring display from all three-levels of the floor last season for the Huskies, finishing the year averaging 18.7 points per game.

As a bigger guard, Bouknight’s finishing at the rim was by far his best asset in college, where he showed a knack for attacking the hoop to get UConn a bucket when needed. A highlight-reel dunk could be expected at any moment when he was on the court.

Bouknight was a master craftsman at creating space for a mid-range shot or drive towards the rim, using hesitation moves, step-backs and ball fakes to mix up defenders all season. He shot an extremely efficient 52.8 percent from inside the three-point arc on 9.6 shots attempts per game last year.

Even as he battled through an elbow injury while holding the defense’s attention on most nights, Bouknight’s confidence and athletic ability were more than enough to help lead UConn to a No. 7 seed in the NCAA Tournament.

His three-point shot could use some work (29.3 percent last season), but that’s an easy thing to fix when you have that type of raw talent at your disposal. He reportedly shot the lights out during his pro day, so his touch and release may have already gotten better since we last saw him in March.

At 6-5 with a 6-8.5 wingspan, playing defense against either guard spot could come easy, with his on-ball defense already proving to be solid after averaging 1.1 steals per game last year. He also grabbed 5.7 rebounds per game as a sophomore.

Though there were lapses there at times, all he needs to do is buy in (maybe through the right coach in Tom Thibodeau) to the defensive side of the ball to potentially become an elite defender at the one or two spots.

Mar 20, 2021; West Lafayette, Indiana, USA; Connecticut Huskies guard James Bouknight (2) shoots the ball over Maryland Terrapins forward Donta Scott (24) as Connecticut forward Isaiah Whaley (5) looks on during the second half in the first round of the 2021 NCAA Tournament at Mackey Arena.
Mar 20, 2021; West Lafayette, Indiana, USA; Connecticut Huskies guard James Bouknight (2) shoots the ball over Maryland Terrapins forward Donta Scott (24) as Connecticut forward Isaiah Whaley (5) looks on during the second half in the first round of the 2021 NCAA Tournament at Mackey Arena.

The case against drafting Bouknight

For a potential mid-first rounder, Bouknight will have to learn pretty quickly that he won't be the focal point of the offense on whichever team he ends up with.

Bouknight's 'red flags' at UConn were his playmaking and tunnel vision on offense. His decision-making when looking for shots -- and not really looking for teammates (1.8 assists per game last season) -- got him into trouble more often than he would've liked.

While his handle can look impressive at times, Bouknight had the ball poked out of his hands often while trying to create at the top of the key. As his role in the offense grew from freshman to sophomore year, so did his turnovers, moving up from 1.8 per game in Year 1 to 2.8 in Year 2.

He was in the driver's seat of an offense that didn't have any other NBA-caliber talent on it, so trying to do too much is understandable. But that's something that won't fly on a Thibodeau-coached team.

His three-ball could use some work, as highlighted earlier. Guards are expected to come into the league in today's game with the ability to be snipers from three just as well as they can pass the ball.

Defensively, his off-ball production was spacey at best. He'd often get lost on cuts and fighting through screens. If you don't put in the effort on defense, Thibodeau isn't going to give you the minutes on offense.

Nonetheless, Bouknight's stock has risen a lot during the draft process, and it would be surprising to many if he was available for the Knicks at No. 19 or 21.

Scouting Report

From a scout to SNY's Ian Begley:

"You know he’s going to score and he’s going to get by guys off the dribble at this level. But the question for (Bouknight) is, what else can he do up here? That’s what teams have to weigh. A patient team can help him along as a defender. But if you’re not patient with him, it might not work out. I do think that he will benefit from NBA spacing, so I’m not as concerned about his shooting and passing numbers from last year."

Another scout to Begley:

"I love him but I think you have to give him time. He's one of the best scorers in this draft. But I worry about him defensively. Fit/organization will be so important (for Bouknight)."

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