After shipping Tyson Chandler and Raymond Felton to the Dallas Mavericks for Jose Calderon, Shane Larkin, Samuel Dalembert, and two second round draft picks, Phil Jackson was finally able to get the New York Knicks into what most analysts considered one of the deepest drafts in over a decade. Making his first draft pick as a member of the Knicks front office, the Zen master’s luck continued when the polished small forward Cleanthony Early fell into his hands with the 34th pick in the 2014 NBA Draft.
Strengths: Early is a versatile combo forward with a natural inclination for scoring (16 PPG). He’s a terrific athlete at 6’8 with clean movements, good quickness and explosive vertical bounce. An active mover without the ball, he uses that athleticism to slash & finish around the bucket. While offensive rebound output is down (2.3 to 1.4), it’s unquestionably an area he can impose his presence on the floor. Early is comfortable receiving the ball with his back to the basket where he can elevate over defenders (high release) or utilize a quick spin baseline.
Weaknesses: To occupy the 3-spot at the next level, Early needs to beef up his off-the-dribble dimension. Early’s ball handling and willingness to attack are on the rise, but he’s far from secure. He avoids dribbling into tight quarters and creativity is lacking. Early sometimes has a tendency to get caught watching the action. Awareness and focus can be suspect.
Knicks fans will get their first look at Early when he takes the floor during NBA Summer League starting on July 11th. Until he gets on the court and plays NBA basketball, it’s difficult to project what type of player Cleanthony Early has the potential top be, but as of today it looks like Phil Jackson and the Knicks may have struck gold in the second round.