The Knicks are at the playoffs. Sort of.
While coach David Fizdale plans to soon attend playoff games with his youngest players, the club has ramped up its pro scouting during the postseason.
According to two NBA sources, the Knicks have blanketed the first and second round of the playoffs, with general manager Scott Perry dispatching pro scouts across the country to evaluate free agents/trade candidates.
This is not commonplace for most teams, and the Knicks did not do much playoff work last season.
Once the regular season ends, many clubs close down live pro scouting — mostly for budgetary reasons. Playoff teams conduct advance scouting against potential next-round opponents, but there isn’t a lot of team scouts still reviewing pro personnel.
But this is not just any summer for the Knicks, who lead the league with $74 million worth of cap space and face arguably the most important free-agent period in their history, beginning July 1.
According to an NBA source, Perry believes evaluating players during the playoffs is more important than the regular season, to witness how they perform in “high-pressure environments.” The Knicks scouting has not focused on the so-called “max” free agents but second-tier ones — for example, Khris Middleton, Tobias Harris, Nikola Vucevic — and role players — such as Indiana’s Wesley Matthews, whom the Knicks still have their eye on despite buying him out in February and allowing him to go and play for a contender.
“You don’t see a lot of the pro scouts still out there in the playoffs,’’ an NBA source said. “But the Knicks feel this year the first and second rounds are a good bang for the buck.’’
Since taking over as GM under president Steve Mills 22 months ago, Perry has revamped the scouting department.
The Knicks’ pro scouting is headed by Harold Ellis, director of player personnel. Ellis, who came with Perry from Orlando, has attended the Eastern and Western playoffs — as have two other Knicks pro scouts, Fred Cofield and Makhtar Ndiaye.
In addition, Walker Russell, the Knicks’ longest-tenured scout, is working the playoffs, too. Russell, who joined the Knicks in 2004, had his role change this season, doing both pro and college. Russell had been the team’s college scout for years.
If the Knicks don’t land the much-hyped tandem of Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving, they’ll have a lot of gaps and money to spend elsewhere, including on trades. Fizdale and Mills have talked about keying on more defensive-oriented players and those adept at outside shooting.
Mills told The Post part of their cap space could be used in trades, giving the Knicks more flexibility in deals that often require each club to give equal amounts of salary under collective bargaining agreement rules.
As far as college scouting, this is the quiet before the storm. The Knicks will hold off until after May 14’s lottery and draft combine (May 15-18) in Chicago before scheduling private college workouts. After a league-worst 17-65 season, the Knicks have assured themselves of a top-five pick.
Gerald Madkins, brought back to the organization after Perry arrived, runs the college scouting department. Madkins, the former UCLA product, was a Knicks college scout for Isiah Thomas from 2004-06 and is credited for advising Thomas to select Bruin Trevor Ariza in the second round. Perry and Madkins worked together in Seattle when the Supersonics drafted Durant in 2007.
The Knicks added to the college-scouting department this season when they hired John Halas — whose great, great uncle is legendary Bears patriarch George Halas and whose grandfather was the Bears’ top scout for 25 years.
The younger Halas, a noted Bears fan, saw a lot of Zion Williamson this season. Halas, who also came from Orlando, replaced departed Clarence Gaines Jr., Phil Jackson’s top adviser.
The Knicks also promoted Mike Smith this season to full-time college scout. Smith, based on the West Coast, had been chief of analytics for Jackson.
The organization feels it is on a college roll after Perry’s first draft as Knicks GM yielded a trio of good-value picks. While Kevin Knox showed glimpses after being taken ninth, center Mitchell Robinson was a second-round pick at 36 and broke rookie shot-blocking records, and Allonzo Trier went undrafted and averaged double figures (10.9 ppg)
The Knicks had the most productive rookie trio in the NBA outside Atlanta (Trae Young, Kevin Huerter, Omari Spellman) and Phoenix (DeAndre Ayton, Mikal Bridges, Elie Okobo).
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