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NBA Draft 2022: What the Knicks get in Trevor Keels from Duke

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by Juan Fanta
FOX Sports College Basketball Writer

If he New York Knicks actually selected a player in NBA Night project.

After New York made three trades, acquiring three first-round picks and losing No. 11 pick Kemba Walker and four second-round picks, Leon Rose & Co. had left everyone in awe.

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The entire move was part of a larger effort to sign former Mavericks standout Jalen Brunson to a four-year, $104 million deal. But amid the chaos, the Knicks made a draft pick, taking Duke product Trevor Keels at No. 42 overall.

Keels, a McDonald’s All-American out of Paul VI Catholic High School in Virginia, the 18-year-old Keels caught the nation’s attention, and easily the Knicks, when he scored 25 points to lead Duke to a victory of season opener over Kentucky at Madison Square Garden.

That ended up being his best performance in the first three months of the season by a wide margin, as Keels had ups and downs offensively. He ended up averaging 11.5 points, 3.4 rebounds and 2.7 assists per game, shooting 42% from the ground and 31% from beyond the arc for the Final Four Blue Devils.

Keels was one of the youngest players in the draft, and scouts thought he definitely would have been a first-round pick had he returned to Durham for another year of college basketball. But his decision to go at once adds intrigue because it’s an unfinished product.

The good news? The keels are strong.

At 6-foot-5 and 225 pounds, the Maryland native uses his body as a weapon when on the ground and plays with an aggressive nature. His best offensive asset is the ability to attack the rim. The fins can really come down quickly and initiate contact well.

On the defensive end of the floor, he’s a quality ball defender who plays intensely and fights pretty well on snaps. The level of effort Keels puts into his game could make him a good fit with Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau.

The concern with Keels? As much as he is a physical forward, he has to be in better shape. Of the 76 players who attended the NBA Draft Combine, Keels’ body fat was fourth worst at 13.5%.

Plus, Keels’ perimeter game was all over the place in his only season at Duke. That skill set, however, was a big reason why he ended up being a five-star recruit in the first place. He had 15 games in which he hit multiple 3-pointers for the Blue Devils, so evaluators wondered if last year’s inconsistent shooting percentage was an anomaly or a cause for concern when Keels hit The Association.

“He’s the type of player that Thibodeau has historically liked, with his toughness and defensive edge,” a scout said on condition of anonymity. “He needs general polishing offensively, and it’s going to be tough for him to break through in a crowded young New York backcourt.”

Anything positive Keels has going for him as he heads to New York? He has two members of the Duke brotherhood on the Knicks’ roster: RJ Barrett and Cam Reddish.

In a packed backcourt that just added a star piece in Brunson, it’s hard to think Keels will see much time, if any, in the 2022-23 season. He will be in action in the New York Summer League and will probably be in Westchester with the G League Knicks next year.

While he’s a second-round pick and 42nd, the range of potential finishes is certainly wide — give the Knicks credit for drafting the promising 18-year-old. With a couple of years of actual development, who knows what the former five-star recruit could be?

That’s what they’re betting on with Keels. If he can show useful perimeter play and can condition his body for the NBA level, the Duke product could be a role player in the future. Considering how deep the Knicks got him in the draft, that wouldn’t be too bad.

John Fanta is a national college basketball broadcaster and writer for FOX Sports. He covers the sport in a variety of capacities, from announcing games on FS1 to serving as the lead anchor on the BIG EAST Digital Network to providing commentary on The Field of 68 Media Network. Follow him on Twitter @john_fanta.


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