In an NBA Draft the Knicks did not believe would solve their size woes, along comes USC's 6-foot-11 Nikola Vucevic squarely into the picture.
Vucevic was back for another Knicks workout yesterday, and he's in the mix for when the team picks at No. 17, according to multiple sources.
Vucevic is not the Knicks' razzle-dazzle choice. Some of the higher-rated and sexier backcourt possibilites, BYU's Jimmer Fredette and Washington State's Klay Thompson, probably won't fall to the Knicks, nor will prized Florida State defensive swingman Chris Singleton. Fredette, Thompson and Singleton were invited to the green room in Newark for Thursday's draft; Vucevic was not invited.
That the Knicks will trade up into the lottery for Fredette or Thompson appears unlikely because multiple sources said the club is not willing to give up either of its two biggest trade pawns, Landry Fields or Toney Douglas, to do so. Plus, outgoing team president Donnie Walsh
does not have a second-rounder to add to a deal because that pick was surrendered in the Carmelo Anthony
Vucevic, a junior who was born in Montenegro, is not a shot-blocker, but he is a good rebounder, solid positional defender and a capable scorer from the post and mid-range. He averaged 17.1 points and 10.3 rebounds this past season, is only 20 years old and may still be growing. Amar'e Stoudemire said the Knicks must improve defensively, and Vucevic would help in that area.
Reached yesterday in Hawaii, USC coach Kevin O'Neill told The Post, "He knows how to play, he's got legitimate size, rebounds well in his area, can guard the 4 and 5 and he's only 20. His best days are ahead of him."
Vucevic's Knicks workout yesterday was solid, but the Knicks also were impressed with Michigan point guard Darius Morris, who has risen on their draft board. Morris outplayed Kansas guard Josh Selby, who is being viewed by the Knicks staff as too big a risk at 17. Georgia Tech point guard Iman Shumpert and Selby could be available later in the first round, and Walsh is confident he will buy more picks as he has done in the past.
Big men, the Knicks' biggest need, are a scarcity in this draft. The Knicks feel they more likely can snare a good point guard late in the first round or in the second round.
The Knicks hope to have last year's second-round acquisition, center Jerome Jordan, join the team next season, but there is concern they still won't have enough big men. If the new collective bargaining agreement does not allow for a mid-level exception, the Knicks are going to be hard-pressed to find a solid starting center.
"[Vucevic will] be most attractive for a team whose biggest need is size," O'Neill said. "He can be a backup 4 right now, and he can start at the 5 as a young player. There's no size in the NBA.
"I don't think he'll be an NBA shot-blocker," O'Neill added. "But he can guard 5s well. He's a positional defender, not a great shot-blocker."
The Knicks' centers following the Anthony trade were Jared Jeffries, Ronny Turiaf
and Shelden Williams.
Vucevic did not have a lot of buzz until the last few weeks, but he did well at the Chicago combine and during workouts, impressing teams with his basketball IQ.
"He doesn't drink, doesn't smoke -- he's a basketball player," O'Neill said. "And he's going to get better because he works hard."
There have been renewed whispers the Knicks have inquired about Suns point guard Steve Nash, who lives in SoHo in the offseason. The Knicks have talked internally about trading Chauncey Billups
for Nash as both have expiring contracts. But there does not appear any reason for Suns owner Robert Sarver to make a move and give Mike D'Antoni a chance to reunite with his favorite son.
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