The frontcourt is a major area of concern for the New York Knicks. With Tyson Chandler and Amare Stoudemire getting older and becoming more expensive and the Knicks only having Marcus Camby as the lone reserve on the roster, the Knicks may look to address their frontcourt depth problem in the 2013 NBA Draft with the 24th pick. While he's a long shot to have a successful NBA career, could Division III center A.J. Matthews be the answer to the New York's search for a young and athletic big man?
Farmingdale State's A.J. Matthews is a late bloomer by NBA prospect standards, as are most big men. It simply takes bigs longer to develop. However, that may never have been more true than with Matthews who is a Division III player trying to make the nearly impossible leap to the NBA.
"During his senior year, Matthews led all of Division III in rebounding (16.3 per game), while finishing third in blocks (3.67) and 11th in scoring (22.4). He lead the Rams to an 20-8 record and the championship game," he writes.
Matthews, who didn't have qualifying SAT scores coming out of American Christian Academy (Aston, Pa.), has bounced around since high school. While he drew interest from Cincinnati and Oklahoma State early on, he was forced to take the JUCO route because of his low grades. He went from Tallahassee Community College (Florida) to Garden City Community College (Kansas) to Monroe College (New York) to Broward Community College (Florida) to Farmingdale State."
The Knicks are expected to either draft a point guard or big man in the 2013 NBA Draft, although they could very well just go with the best player available with pick number 24. Wednesday, the 6'10", 215 lbs center worked out for the Knicks hoping to earn the opportunity to start his NBA career close to home.
It will be interesting to see exactly how much Matthews can raise his stock before the draft. While being a Division III player makes him a long-shot, Matthews has the size and developing skills to intrigue teams. He's quicker than most bigs, he can run the floor, shows excellent baseline-to-baseline speed, he's an explosive athlete, has a soft shooting touch, is a good free throw shooter and most importantly he is a defensive and rebounding oriented center. While he still needs to develop his game he clearly has the skills to be taken more seriously than most Division III players looking to make the leap to the NBA.
Jeff Eisenberg of Yahoo! Sports reports why Matthews went to Division III instead of a bigger Division I school like Cincinnati, Oklahoma State, UMass, Rutgers or St. John's who had all shown interest in him before seeing his grades.
"When a college coach asked Matthews about his SAT scores during the final month of his senior year, he says he didn't know how to answer.
"I didn't know anything about it," Matthews said. "I said, 'What's the SATs? I don't know what SAT is.' I went back to my guidance counselor and the principal and asked why nobody told me anything about this, but by that time it was too late.""
While it's truly sad Matthews missed out on a chance to make a bigger name for himself at a Division I school, it may help the Knicks get a hold of him. Quite frankly, the 24th selection is too high for Matthews and an unlikely place for the Knicks to take him unless his stock skyrockets before the draft. However, Matthews could very well be worth the purchase of a second round pick and could be a bargain as an undrafted free agent. That's why the Knicks are keeping such a close eye on Matthews.
You could say that playing against Division III kids, he's supposed to put up big numbers. However, that hasn't stopped NBA scouts from coming to watch Matthews play. Scouts from the Washington Wizards, Brooklyn Nets, New York Knicks, Indiana Pacers and other teams have all gone out to Long Island to watch Matthews play.
Alex Raskin of NJ.com reports Matthews is optimistic about his future as a player and his fit with the Knicks.
Matthews sees himself as an athletic big man, more along the lines of a Kevin Garnett than a Shaquille O'Neal (don't fault him for the optimistic comparisons—every prospect does this) and thinks the Knicks are looking for some athleticism off the bench.
"My agent [Lee Melchioni] just kept telling me to work," Matthews said. "He told me that the Knicks like me a lot. They like that I can run, I can play up and down for a big man. I'm long, I'm athletic and they really don't see that a lot at seven-foot, a six-11 guy."
Matthews, 23, has a 7-4 wingspan, so size isn't an issue. Unfortunately he's still raw offensively and could stand to add some muscle (he weights 215 pounds).
Matthews has shown he's willing to put in the hard work to earn his shot. The Knicks should have no problem asking him to play overseas if they were to acquire his rights. He's already taken one of the more difficult paths to the NBA, so there's no reason to think he wouldn't be up for the task of being stashed abroad so he can develop his skills while the team uses his roster spot for someone else.
Matthews will be a bit of a project. He's not exactly a seasoned vet like Mike Woodson would normally look for. However, we've seen some very raw bigs become impact players on the defensive end in the last couple of years. Matthews could do that for New York. Would it be a learning experience and a bit of a baptism by fire? Yes, but if the Knicks are willing to take a chance on Matthews, it could pay dividends in the end.