Cam Reddish will be a risky pick for whoever drafts him, but he’s even riskier for the New York Knicks because of how David Fizdale handled Kevin Knox’s rookie season.
Earlier today, a report from Ian Begley tied the New York Knicks to Cam Reddish in the draft process. Obviously, all of the normal caveats apply here, which he says as much in the tweet. It’s very early in the draft process, the lottery hasn’t even been drawn yet so teams can move up or down out of the range that they might not take whatever player they do like, and so on. But let’s assume that the Knicks do end up with Reddish, and they do so in the most feasible asset-optimal way, after falling to the No. 5 overall pick via some mild bad luck: Reddish would still represent a significant risk for them, even more so than the risk he already represents as a general prospect.
To start, no matter how high you are on Cam Reddish, there’s absolutely no way around the fact that taking him involves significant risk.
Tons of ink has already been spilled about how unprecedented his stats are, and almost all of it is in a bad way — 35.6 field goal percentage, an AST:TOV around 0.73, and a Box Plus-Minus ranking 10th on his own team. While he had the occasional good game, he also had some absolute clunkers, going 1-of-7 against Texas Tech, 1-of-8 against Clemson, 1-of-11 against Georgia Tech, 2-of-15 against NC State, and 2-of-11 against Syracuse. If you were purely required to black box the draft and judge someone only based on what a statistical model can see, he likely would go undrafted.
Even the eye test on him was a little weak. His handle was loose, he looked athletically normal, and by and large, it looked like there wasn’t a plan for him. And that’s just the times that he was noticeable because there were often large stretches of time where Reddish seemed almost less involved than even guys like Javin Delaurier or Jack White.
But the result of there not being a clear plan for him is that while it makes his eye test worse, it also casts doubt on how much of his performance is about him and how much is about his unique situation. Not many NBA players are the fourth option on the offensive side of the ball in college. Plenty are used outside of their future role, but they don’t tend to be nearly as miscast as Reddish, who went from running the point in high school, even in settings like for Team USA, to being a spot-up shooter first and an occasional driver from the wing rather than driving from the center of the court. Those that are miscast at the college level tend to be guys like Chimezie Metu or Daniel Gafford, who are posting up because college offenses still do that, even though they basically won’t ever at the professional level, meaning that you see them miscast above their ability, not below.
And a reasonable, albeit potentially misguided, response to the idea that Reddish is miscast, is to look at his high school tape and see where he had success there. That tape will show, unsurprisingly, that what he did in high school didn’t really match up with what he did in college at all. There were fewer spot-up attempts, sure, and he handled the ball a lot more than he ever had a chance to at Duke, but I’d contend the biggest difference in terms of his potential future success was where and how he was handling the ball.
It’s not a secret that Duke didn’t run much pick and roll this year. Zion Williamson, who will likely take a lot of possessions next year as a roll man, totaled nine possessions finished as the roll man in college. That’s a small enough number that I have to spell it out according to our style guide. In the scope of a college career, that’s nothing. And Reddish, meanwhile, with the aforementioned questionable first step, was harmed more than anyone. While he did get to run some side pick-and-roll with Marques Bolden, and often used it to get into the teeth of the defense well because college defenses don’t properly ICE, the results were mixed because Reddish, as a driver, uses the pick-and-roll to create space first and then uses his basketball IQ and relative ambidexterity to force the defender one way before crossing over to the other. But when a player curls from the wing into the paint, there’s only one direction they can really go. The defender is already forcing them into the paint naturally by the way they recover, and the help defense already knows where it has to be.
A highly observant coach, similarly, might run him off actions similar to this one, which comes straight out of the Utah playbook a few years back for Gordon Hayward:
Instead of depending on his weak first step, Reddish takes two steps back and gets a running start into catching the pass. This puts him at an advantage over his defender and creates more than enough space for him to get into an open pull-up. Actions like that are where Reddish’s upside in the NBA lies, not having to create his own space, but doing something special once space is created for him.
But we’re 876 words in and I still haven’t actually talked about the Knicks and what makes him especially bad for them, and to do that, you have to go back to what Kevin Knox was in the pre-draft process.
The most common casting was as a volume scorer. He had occasionally filled that role at Kentucky, albeit somewhat by necessity, but it was considered highly unlikely that he, who struggled to get to the rim and didn’t necessarily make a high enough percentage of his looks from 3-point range, would be an ideal volume candidate in a league whose stars are taking progressively more and more efficient types of looks. The role some people, myself included, advocated for him was more in line with the role Markieff Morris played in his most effective years in Phoenix. He still wasn’t extremely efficient, but he took shots as they came to him from all distances and made them at a rate that at least forced the defense to remain honest. But more importantly, he was a highly versatile defender, who was especially effective at switching down onto smaller players from the power forward.
That’s what Knox should have been. It was a more realistic path to success for him, and it hasn’t been followed in the slightest. Knox drove 396 times this year, per stats.nba.com. Actual point guard Patrick Beverley drove 392 times this year, despite playing 10 more regular season minutes. And you can go down the list of guys that drove less than Knox this year and it doesn’t get any prettier. Luke Kennard, Jaylen Brown, Harrison Barnes, Marcus Smart, Tyus Jones, heck even guys like Joel Embiid, Karl-Anthony Towns, and Nikola Jokic, who are non-drivers but still should’ve been putting the ball on the floor from the perimeter more than Knox.
And hey, maybe Knox figured out the defensive side of the ball so quickly that he could afford to take on a little bit of offense for a struggling team, right? Except Knox finished the year 512th out of 514 eligible players in DRPM, beating only fellow rookie defensive catastrophes Collin Sexton and Trae Young. It basically looked like he was told explicitly to only focus on the offensive side of the ball, and then he was miscast on that side too. Alternatively, they tried to squeeze a Markieff Morris shaped peg into a Tim Hardaway Jr. shaped hole, and the results were about as you would expect.
And you may say “but what about Trier and Robinson? Didn’t Fizdale do a fine job with them?” To which I’d point out that both of them, by nature of their draft status, were given much, much smaller roles by virtue of how committed to them the franchise was, and then excelled within those. Reddish is far more likely to take a simultaneously large and miscast role because if the Knicks draft him, he will be the highest draft selection on the roster. His situation, where the team is trying to get him any volume they can regardless of how good it actually is for him, is more similar to Knox than to the other two rookies.
And for Knicks fans, what is happening with Knox should absolutely scare them off of Reddish too. Because it’s only smart to take Reddish if you are confident that your coach won’t try to force a square peg into a round hole. You can’t take Reddish if, say, your coach is the kind that has all his wings take a large number of shots off screens and off handoffs, as the Knicks were in the top 10 of both categories league-wide, largely off Hardaway Jr., Damyean Dotson, and Knox all ranking in the top 50 in both categories purely from their time. And for Hardaway Jr. and Dotson, that makes sense. But pushing Knox, and eventually Reddish, into that role even though it doesn’t suit either of them, will burn both of them as assets, and waste lottery picks in back-to-back years.
All that isn’t even to say that Reddish himself would be a bad pick for the Knicks. The Knicks run a lot of the pick-and-roll that Reddish needs to thrive, and they could use a guy that’s a slightly more willing passer than their current pick-and-roll ball handlers to get the ball to Mitchell Robinson. Plus Fizdale has shown himself to be an effective and creative offensive coach when given players that can adapt to different roles well. Should he figure out how to use Reddish instead of deciding what he wants to run and then running it without regard for his personnel, the Knicks might be able to turn an unfortunate loss in the lottery into a very good player, even in one of the weakest drafts in recent history. But knowing what we do know about the Knicks’ last lottery pick, the potential risk at hand is significantly multiplied, and the chance to fail is very, very present for a franchise that, admittedly, is fairly immune to failing because they print money anyway, but still would surely rather not see more years down the drain.