The Knicks, ultimately, need to stay away from a trade into the top three of the 2020 NBA Draft given the likely harmful cost.

When the New York Knicks dropped two spots in the 2020 NBA Draft lottery, it was funny to fans of other teams and “Knicksy” to the average Knicks fan. Still, when the end result was Minnesota, Golden State, and Charlotte finishing with the top three picks, there was some hope that the new Knicks front office could get aggressive and move into the top three of the draft, with hopes of securing an elite draft talent—specifically point guard LaMelo Ball.

Some came to the same conclusion: the Knicks and Warriors match up the best. Sam Vecenie of The Athletic mentioned a trade idea involving Mitchell Robinson and the eighth overall pick to Golden State for the second overall pick. On CBS Sports, Colin Ward-Henniger suggested the same Knicks-Warriors move but didn’t go in-depth about potential compensation moving Golden State’s way. Either way, it seems as of the Warriors and Knicks look like interesting trade partners, based on the direction of each team for the upcoming season.

Despite this, the Knicks should avoid moving into the top three of the 2020 NBA Draft.

What a trade into the top three means

Before discussing a potential trade, we have to discuss the history of teams moving into the top three of the draft. Often, these deals are done months in advance. Check the 2011 NBA Draft, where the Cleveland Cavaliers won the lottery, thanks to a trade involving taking Baron Davis’ contract, and the Utah Jazz won the third pick, thanks to the then–New Jersey Nets giving up the pick the previous season in the Deron Williams trade.

Let’s take a brief look at the last two trades involving a top-three pick being moved:

  • 2018: Atlanta trades the third pick (Luka Doncic) to Dallas for the fifth pick (Trae Young) and a top-five protected 2019 first-round pick (Cam Reddish)
  • 2017: Boston trades the first pick (Markelle Fultz) to Philadelphia for the third pick (Jayson Tatum) and Sacramento’s 2019 first-round pick (Romeo Langford)*

These trades tell you a few things. The first is the future compensation; both teams of the higher pick opted for a future first-round pick, rather than a young player on the opposing team’s roster. Second, these teams remained with the top five, while a trade with New York would involve a move out of that top five.

The last time a team moved from the top three out of the top five?

  • 2006: Portland trades the third pick (Deron Williams) to Utah for the sixth pick (Martell Webster), 27th pick (Linas Kleiza), and a 2007 first-round pick (Joel Freeman)

So are the Knicks prepared to part with three first-round picks to move into the top three? Oddly enough, the Knicks indeed have a second first-rounder available this year, so—would the eighth and 27th picks and New York’s 2021 first-round pick, top one protected, work for New York? Would that work for one of the teams in the top three? That’s a question Knicks President Leon Rose and the newly built Knicks front office will have to answer.

Killian Hayes, Devin Vassell, and the other prospects 

Before considering a jump into the top three, why not take a look at what will be there at the eighth pick? While recent draft classes have a dip in talent after the top four picks or so, this draft class has two elite talents (Georgia’s Anthony Edwards and Ball), but after that, the talent seems clustered together. Even with the eighth overall pick, the New York Knicks could still get a contributor.

If New York opts for a point guard, France’s Killian Hayes would be a welcomed addition. Hayes is an elite point guard prospect who has everything but shooting—size, ability to score at the rim, and potentially a high-level defender. On “The Lottery” podcast, Bleacher Report’s Jonathan Wasserman suggested that Hayes, while rated highly among draft scouts, might not be ranked as highly among front offices, meaning he might be there when the Knicks are on the board.

Florida State swingman Devin Vassell, also projected to be around the eighth overall pick, is another player who can come in right away without the Knicks moving up. For a team without shooting and defense, Vassell fits like a glove on New York’s roster, thanks to his elite shooting, ability to play off-ball, and upside as a potential 3-and-D wing. Add his shooting in between Mitchell Robinson and R.J. Barrett and New York will have a nice core, especially on the defensive end.

With plenty of time between now and the 2020 NBA Draft, New York will consider moving into the top three, but before doing that, must properly scout the player who will be available at the lower end of the lottery. Guys like Hayes and Vassell are two players who can contribute, offer a young player to add to its young core and do that without giving up any additional draft compensation.

Not moving up in the lottery, but moving up with their second pick

While moving into the top three is a dangerous move, New York should explore moving into the backend of the lottery with other assets.

While this class struggles at the top with elite talent, the middle of the draft class offers different types of archetypes: 3-and-D wings, knockdown shooters, athletic point guards, and floor-spacing big men. This class has a few guys who offer some of the skill sets needed to thrive in the playoffs. After the lottery teams make their choices, teams within the 15-25 range will have a chance to add a true rotation player, or even a pretty nice draft-and-stash prospect in Barcelona’s Leandro Bolmaro.

This is an area where New York can strike and come away with a strong duo with which to work.

The 27th overall pick—where the Clippers’ first-round pick is projected to land—won’t get it done, but perhaps using the 38th pick to move up could get New York into the mid-20’s. Or, if the Knicks find a name they really like a bit higher, perhaps the 2021 pick from the Dallas Mavericks could come into play. Offering a team the chance to have two picks next season and a late first-round pick this year could entice a team looking to avoid any pending luxury tax issues.

With the Knicks, that could be a boon. If New York passes on a lead guard with the eighth overall pick, then they can move up in an attempt to snatch up Alabama’s Kira Lewis Jr. Lewis is an electric point guard prospect whose speed with the ball and shooting from outside. Another scenario, moving up into the early 20’s to secure TCU guard Desmond Bane—an elite shooter with the upside of a 3-and-D wing right away—after taking someone like Dayton’s Obi Toppin or Florida State’s Patrick Williams with their first draft pick.

Or, New York could move up and take a big swing, literally, drafting Serbian center Aleksej Pokusevski. “Poku” is a seven-foot big who has impressed with his footwork, size and upside as a passer. He might not be ready for the NBA in the 2020–21 season, but he could turn out to be a gem if the right team could develop him correctly. Like fellow TKW writer Eli Cohen suggested, securing Pokusevski in the draft is like securing a 2021 lottery pick a year early. With the Knicks moving to emphasize development, Poku could be the massive swing they could take without giving up too much draft compensation.

Moving into the top three may prove too costly for the Knicks, but with three picks in the top 40 in this year’s draft, plus two future first-round picks from the Mavericks in their coffers, the Knicks could afford to get aggressive if the right player falls in the draft.

Despite a draft where it feels as if two of three teams in the top three are actively listening to trade calls for their pick, New York would be wise to avoid moving up this year. Recent history suggests that a trade of that magnitude may cost them as many as three first-round picks, and for a team with no assets on the roster, that could prove to be too costly at the moment. With a handful of strong draft prospects at eight, the Knicks would be wise to hold on to their treasure trove of assets for another day, before waiting to pull off a major trade.


*For people reading, this trade was more complicated than this, as it involved several other picks with which Boston could’ve ended up, but this ultimately was the end result. 


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