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Dalton Knecht perfect for JJ Redick and LeBron James?

Rob Pelinka made it abundantly clear that he believes Knecht was a steal at No. 17

            James Herbert

By James Herbert of cbssports.com contributing

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NEW YORK — In April, Dalton Knecht rolled out of bed to a ton of text messages. He also got a call from his parents. Everybody wanted the Tennessee wing to see the video of LeBron James talking about him.

“I thought it was fake,” Knecht said Wednesday at Barclays Center.

Knecht’s name had only come up briefly in a lengthy clip of James discussing the relative popularity of the men’s and women’s NCAA Tournaments, posted by ESPN’s Dave McMenamin. But it was clearly a big deal. James said he’d watched Tennessee’s game against Purdue “because of Zach Edey and Knecht.”

Now, Knecht and James are teammates, assuming that the superstar re-signs with the Los Angeles Lakers this offseason. Los Angeles selected the 23-year-old wing with the No. 17 pick in the draft.

“This is going to be special,” Knecht said. “And it’s going to be fun to be sharing that court with both of ’em, AD and Bron.”

Shortly before Knecht reminisced about the video clip in Brooklyn, Lakers general manager Rob Pelinka told reporters in Los Angeles that he couldn’t believe their luck. 

“We would’ve never imagined a player as skilled and sort of perfect for our needs would be there for us as Dalton Knecht.,” Pelinka said, via The Athletic’s Jovan Buha. “We had him as a top-10 player unanimously across our scouting boards. I was at the SEC Tournament scouting him extensively and in my mind was like, ‘There’s no way a player like this could be available for us to pick on draft night.'”

Knecht, the oldest player selected in the first round on Wednesday, was projected by ESPNCBS Sports and other outlets to be drafted in the top six. That would have been abnormally high for a prospect his age, but Knecht was one of the best scorers in college basketball this past season (and this is an abnormal draft).

More specifically, Knecht was one of, if not the best movement shooter in college basketball this past season. Tennessee ran him off tons of screens, and he was excellent at reading the defense, finding open space and getting into his shot. He made 42.3% of his catch-and-shoot 3s, according to Synergy Sports and 40.3% on contested catch-and-shoot 3s, which accounted for more than two-thirds of them. 

Pelinka told reporters that new coach JJ Redick was already at his whiteboard, “drawing up  pindowns and ATOs and actions where he could run a movement shooter off screens.” Informed of this, Knecht said,”That’s really exciting. At Tennessee, I watched a lot of JJ Redick with Coach [Rick] Barnes, and just the way he moves and paces himself and was able to create space. So hearing that is really exciting, and it’s going to be real special.”

In theory, Knecht is perfect for Redick (who has already made it clear that he wants to diversify the Lakers’ attack by using Anthony Davis as a handoff hub) and for James (who has a long track record of working well with elite shooters). Spacing has plagued Los Angeles for most of the LeBron era, and Redick, one of the best shooters in NBA history — particularly when it comes to making tough, catch-and-shoot 3s on the move — unsurprisingly wants to modernize the Lakers’ offense.

“I was joking with Coach Redick upstairs that we found a movement shooter to match his skills as a player,” Pelinka told reporters. He also said, per Spectrum SportsNet’s Mark Medina, that the Lakers see Knecht as a 3-and-D guy.

If Knecht can be a decent defender in the NBA, then Pelinka is appropriately stoked about this selection. (Pelinka said the Lakers were “really, really excited,” “couldn’t be more thrilled” and “couldn’t be happier.”) And maybe he will be. Knecht is bigger than the average movement shooter — he measured 6-foot-5 without shoes at the draft combine, with a 6-foot-9 wingspan, and weighed in at 212 pounds — and he’s physical. He was not a plus defender either on or off the ball in college, though, and he’ll undoubtedly be hunted in the pros. This, combined with his age and a relative lack of on-ball juice offensively, is likely why he fell in Los Angeles’ lap.

Knecht said that he thinks James and Davis will help him “on both sides of the floor” and he’s looking forward to competing alongside them. He didn’t directly address his draft-night slide, but he repeatedly said that he feels like he’s been underrated his whole life.

“Every single time I touch a basketball or walk into a gym, I always feel like I’ve got something to prove,” Knecht said.