Knicks zero in on James Bouknight at NBA draft combine
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UConn sophomore combo guard James Bouknight met with Knicks brass this week at the draft combine in Chicago and made sure they knew he’s Brooklyn to the bone — worth trading up for.
Some mock drafts have elevated the 6-foot-5 Bouknight into the top 10. However, his name has floated as high as No. 7 and as low as the late teens. The Knicks currently pick 19th, 21st, 32nd and 58th.
The Knicks will look to package their picks and probably can easily get into the late lottery. They’ve interviewed forward Scottie Barnes in Chicago, and no one expects him to fall lower than No. 7.
Some league executives cautioned about giving too much away in a move up, since the consensus is there’s parity between Nos. 8 and 21.
“Being from New York, playing basketball growing up in New York, playing at the Garden, it would be a dream come true,” Bouknight said Thursday on a Zoom call from Chicago. “I don’t even know how to explain that feeling. Going to New York would be fun — hit everyone up I grew up with. That would be like an accomplishment for me. I definitely told them I’m from New York. They kind of already knew.”
Knicks president Leon Rose, in his first draft last November, selected Brooklynite Obi Toppin at No. 8. The Knicks could use more backcourt scoring and a playmaker. Despite a season of progress, 2019 lottery pick RJ Barrett was a disappointment in their five-game playoff ouster.
The bold-talking Bouknight, 20, said playmaking and 3-point shooting are elements with which he will surprise the NBA. He averaged 18.7 points last season but shot just 29.6 percent from 3-point range. ESPN college basketball analyst Seth Greenberg told The Post last week Bouknight should be a Knicks target if they trade up a few notches.
Bouknight said he’s hearing comparisons to Suns superstar Devin Booker, a combo guard.
“I think it’s definitely part of my game that’s underrated,” Bouknight said of his 3-point shooting. “And my playmaking ability. I just feel like the role I had at UConn, being that go-to-guy to go get the team a bucket when we need one, I sometimes took ill-advised, tough shots. That came with the role I had. I’m not worried at all about my 3-point shot. Like at all. I think I’m going to surprise a lot of people.”
The Knicks need a starting point guard. Many of their backcourt wings are free agents, including starting shooting guard Reggie Bullock and key reserve Alec Burks.
“I feel like the Knicks fit would be great — just another guard you can give the ball and ask him to get a basket,” Bouknight said. “I really feel my playmaking ability is underrated. I feel going to a team where I can showcase that part of my game, I feel I can do that for the Knicks.
“Watching the playoffs, you see you need that guy to give the ball, and he can just create a basket and make plays for others and be a go-to guy. I feel I can be that as a rookie. I feel I’m someone you can get the ball to and go get a basket.”
Bouknight originally was a youth baseball star before transitioning to basketball as a freshman at LaSalle Academy, which he led to the New York State Federation basketball title his junior year.
“I was shortstop and pitcher,” Bouknight said. “I got to high school as a freshman and tried something new. Growing up in my neighborhood, everyone played basketball. You didn’t see many baseball players. I said, ‘Let me try basketball,’ and it ended up OK.”
It might turn into a lot better than OK if the Knicks find a way to draft another homegrown star to light up the Garden amid their rebirth.
“A lot of people make the comparison I’m a Devin Booker-type player or Bradley Beal,” Bouknight said. “I didn’t start playing basketball until so late. I really feel my game is so unique and creative in its own type of way. I know it sound cliché but I just want to be like James Bouknight.”
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