The NBA Draft is just two days away, and the league is awash in trade rumors, including a new one late on Tuesday night that could have a direct impact on the New York Knicks.
In the most recent edition of “The Stein Line,” Marc Stein reported that “The LA Clippers have left various rival teams with the impression through their Draft Week conversations that they are, at a minimum, attempting to gauge Paul George’s trade value…”
Paul George being traded would shake up the NBA in many ways.
George just turned 33 years old. He’s an eight-time All-Star, six-time All-NBA honoree, and four-team All-Defense selection. Of course, due to injuries, he hasn’t played more than 56 games in a season since 2018-19, but nobody can knock the performance when he is on the court.
Last season, George averaged 23.8 points, 6.1 rebounds, 5.1 assists, and 1.5 steals per game while shooting 45.7% from the field and 37.1% from beyond the arc. In fact, in his four seasons with the Clippers, he has shot 39% from deep, which would be a major boon for the Knicks, as would his defensive acumen.
He was the 13th-ranked small forward by Wins Above Replacement (WAR) and was tied for the 10th-ranked small forward based on defensive RAPTOR.
With shooting and defense being New York’s two biggest needs, George clearly fits this version of the Knicks team better than other rumored players like Zach LaVine or Damian Lillard.
George could also be a strong veteran presence on a young team.
Earlier in the week, Julius Randle appeared on Paul George’s podcast “Podcast P,” and it’s clear how much Randle looks up to George.
Randle mentioned learning about off-season preparation from George and also revealed that he called George directly when he was rehabbing his ankle in the last weeks of the season, hoping for insight on how to battle through the pain.
The Knicks forward also mentioned that he watches film of George to see how he can continue to evolve his game, and it was clear from the conversation that George values the mental side of the game. Considering how much mental immaturity impacts Randle’s performance on the court, having a player he looks up to like Paul George to keep him in check may be exactly what the Knicks need to get the best out of Randle.
It also doesn’t hurt that George seems to like Knicks head coach Tom Thibodeau. During the podcast, George discussed playing for Thibodeau on the USA basketball team and admitted, “I love Thibs, I had an unbelievable experience and relationship with Thibs…He’s a hard worker.”
Of course, George did go on to say that “We got the All-Star USA team, and he’s still drilling us like we in training camp trying to make a team…One of the running jokes when we was with USAB…’Yo Thibs, give it a break!’”
It’s possible that a 33-year-old with a long injury history wouldn’t actually want to go back and play for a coach who will work him that hard. It could simply be more fun for PG 13 to reminisce about playing for Thibodeau than to actually play for him again.
Another potential issue with trading for George would be where he fits in on this current Knicks team.
George can play shooting guard, small forward, and power forward, but his best fit remains at small forward or small-ball power forward. Therein lies a bit of a problem for the Knicks.
Assuming that Randle and RJ Barrett were not part of the Knicks’ trade package for George, that would mean either George or Barrett would need to slide to shooting guard. Considering Barrett graded out as a poor defender at the small forward position, moving him to shooting guard against smaller, quicker players might not be the best decision.
The Knicks could also choose to trade away Mitchell Robinson and move Randle to a small-ball center and slide George in at power forward, but playing small isn’t something Thibodeau has shown a desire to do in the past.
The other option would be for the Knicks to include Barrett in the trade. Perhaps a package of RJ Barrett, Obi Toppin, and three first-round picks would be enough to land George.
The Knicks would likely also need to include Evan Fournier in the trade for salary reasons, but that wouldn’t impact the team much on the court since he rarely plays. With Obi Toppin also being under-utilized and likely on his way out of town, the Knicks would need to weigh how much they believe in RJ Barrett’s playoff growth before making this trade.
Barrett is just 23 years old so there is plenty of time left for him to develop; however, he has also been in the NBA for four years and his defense, despite his renewed effort, has never graded out above average and his shooting remains an issue. While he got to the basket more in the postseason, and his court vision and passing were clearly improved, if he doesn’t become a reliable shooter and defender, he will always cause some lineup limitations for the Knicks.
Moving the three first-round picks would be a tough pill to swallow, but the Knicks have four in just next year’s draft, and there is also no guarantee all these picks convey.
The Dallas pick is top 10 protected and should transfer to the Knicks next year, but we saw what happened this year, so it’s not a lock.
The Washington pick is top 12 protected in 2024 and considering the Wizrads just traded Bradley Beal and Kyle Kuzma is now a free agent, there is a strong chance they’re one of the worst teams in the league. It’s unlikely the Knicks see that pick in 2024.
The pick would then be top 10 in 2025, which is still not a lock to convey, and then top-eight protected in 2026. If the Wizards have a top-eight pick in 2026 then they would keep their first-round pick and the Knicks would get a 2026 second-round pick and a 2027 second-round pick instead.
There’s a similar situation with the Detroit pick. It is top 18 protected in 2023-24, which almost assuredly means it won’t go to the Knicks since the Pistons are a rebuilding team. The pick is then top 13 protected in 2025, top 11 protected in 2026, and top nine protected in 2027. It’s likely that the Knicks would be able to get the pick in one of those years, but if not, it just becomes a 2027 second-round pick.
In 2025, they have Milwaukee’s first-round pick, which is just top-four protected, so the Knicks should get that pick in 2025, along with their own.
All of which is to say that the Knicks could trade the Washington and Detroit picks and maybe their own first-round pick in 2017 and still have five first-round picks in the next three years. That would make moving Barrett and the picks for George a more palatable possibility because they would not be mortgaging the future.
Would a lineup of Jalen Brunson, Quentin Grimes, George, Randle, and Robinson be an NBA title contender?
It’s hard to say unequivocally given PG13’s injury history, but it would undoubtedly be a more well-rounded and versatile lineup and one that would give the Knicks a much better chance of reaching the top of the mountain.