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If the Knicks again decide against pursuing Kyle Lowry, it could be because they have identified his younger version.
Baylor guard Jared Butler, who named Lowry first when asked for his NBA player comparison, said he met with the Knicks and nine other teams Thursday at the NBA Draft Combine in Chicago. The Knicks’ longtime search for a point guard includes a 2013 hiccup, when they backed out of a deal with the Raptors that would’ve landed Lowry for Iman Shumpert, Metta World Peace and a future first-rounder.
Eight years later, what could Butler offer for the Knicks?
“Off the court, intangibly, just a winning mentality, expecting to win, habits that are conducive to winning, for sure,” Butler said. “On the court, a highly skilled guy that knows how to play. Not too many holes in my game. I can play defense, play on and off the ball, and shoot it at a high level.”
The 6-foot-3, 193-pound Butler also listed Jrue Holiday, Fred VanVleet and Seth Curry as players with similar games to his, but the late-blooming Lowry — a six-time All-Star beginning in his ninth season — is the most intriguing. The draft is set for July 29, just a few days before Lowry, 35, and other free agents hit the market on Aug. 2.
“My goal, if a team drafts me, is I want to fit their needs,” Butler said. “Whatever they’re lacking, what can I do to plug that gap or hole in their organization? That’s what I plan on doing. Just be reliable and be an impactful player.”
The Knicks are in the market for scoring and defense at the position. Butler, a 2021 First-Team All-American and the Final Four’s Most Outstanding Player, said he checks both boxes, “shooting especially” whether off the dribble or catch-and-release.
“It went great,” Butler said of the meeting. “They just really tried to get to know me and pick my brain about certain situations in the game. Asked about specific things about my time at Baylor, what I learned from that, and how I can translate to their team.”
Projected as a late first-round pick, Butler, 20, should be on the board if the Knicks do not package picks No. 19 and No. 21 to trade up. He was not on the court at the combine because he is ineligible to play or practice in the NBA until he is cleared by a Fitness-to-Play panel of physicians.
“My original plan was always to come here and just do interviews with teams,” Butler said. “It’s not something I didn’t expect. I genuinely believe God has a purpose for my life. Whatever that is, whatever outcome or circumstance I’m put in, I’m grateful for it. I’m sitting in that, being patient and trying not to worry.”
Butler declined to publicly discuss the “minor details” of his health to avoid any misinterpretations, but he reportedly was diagnosed with a heart condition in 2018 at Alabama before transferring. He played in all 94 possible games over three years at Baylor, averaging career highs across the board (16.7 points, 4.8 assists, 2.9 rebounds and two steals per game) and shooting 47.1 percent from the field (41.6 percent from 3-point range) last season.
In one two-minute span during his interview with reporters, Butler used some variation of the word “win” seven times. He combined with projected lottery pick Davion Mitchell and fellow 2021 draft hopeful MaCio Teague to lead Baylor to its first national championship this year.
“I know how to be in big moments and how to collectively, as a team player, win,” Butler said. “Being around other pros like Davion and MaCio is going to help me in the league. Tons of information and wisdom I got from winning.”
Butler said he will be “working out” and taking team visits between now and the draft as he awaits medical clearance.
“I remember when I was like 4 years old saying to my dad, ‘I’m going to play basketball on TV one day,’” Butler said. “When I first got to college, [the NBA] was always a dream, and I was getting closer and closer to it.”
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