The 2020 NBA Draft has been perceived as having fewer stars than recent classes, but the Knicks still need a top prospect more than ever.
It has been a long season, and we still have two months left. Once again the Knicks will not play a meaningful game in March, leaving fans to hit the scouting trail before spring for a third consecutive season.
Last year the tank wasn’t the worst thing to happen given the potential prize for being at the bottom of the league. The top of this year’s draft class does not have half the chutzpah that 2019 had with Zion Williamson, Ja Morant, and R.J. Barrett—but they are good players, and given the Knicks’ current record (15-36) they will be on the dais May 19th.
What is different this time around is a new front office will (hopefully) be in place when the Knicks are on the clock. With the new lottery odds they can pick as high as one, and as low as seven, widening their range a bit from last year.
The roster remains a work in progress, so the only plan for the new front office should be selecting best player available. To better prepare for the variance the new lottery format brings, let’s zone in on some key prospects. There will be plenty of time to focus on each prospect in depth. For now, let’s take a macro look at the 2020 class and dip our toes in the water.
Below are three sections representing where the Knicks could end up, and what they should target in those spots. A top two or three pick should be used to find their franchise player. A pick in the four to six range should address their lead guard problem, and anything after that should be used to select a talented player with the highest upside.
(Note: These prospects are grouped in no particular order; the only thing ranked are the categories.)
Straightforward enough right? Let’s get started.
Knicks fans need a reason to go to the games. During the stretch Barrett missed, watching games began to feel like a chore. A major reason for that is a severe lack of star power. God bless Marcus Morris for having his apex season, because this could have easily been 2014–15 all over again.
Top priority should be finding a star to pair with Barrett and Mitchell Robinson. Both Barrett and Mitch have staying power, but will benefit from pairing with a player who’s a cut above.
This draft class is thin in that category compared to last year’s. These are the two who could fill that void as the face of the franchise.
Anthony Edwards, Wing, Georgia
Anthony Edwards is the prototype. He checks every box you want in a pro prospect. Physically he has the size—listed at 6-foot-5, 225 pounds—and athleticism to be a menace in transition and on defense. He is eerily similar to what Barrett was as a prospect: someone with all the tools to be a superstar, if developed properly.
Edwards’ defensive ceiling is higher than Barrett’s mostly due to his size, making him interchangeable on the wing, and allowing him to take on the opposing team’s best player. Offensively, he has a smoothness to his game like Jayson Tatum or Paul George. His release is smooth, despite the poor shooting numbers, and he’s big enough to bully a smaller matchup. You can see how easy the transition to the NBA will be for him.
Everything you need is there. Edwards’ ceiling is a consistent version of the player we saw torch Michigan State in Maui.
The “problem” with Edwards is his mastery of efficiency, or lack thereof. He has spells where his shot selection is poor, settling for mid-range pull-ups instead of getting to the rim or finding a better shot. There’s an ice and fire dynamic with his scoring. When he’s hot he can burn the building down, and when he’s cold, grab a parka.
But it's also worth pointing out Edwards' lowlights, since he's a #1 overall candidate and the same weaknesses show each game. Still lot of quick low-percentage hero jumpers, some careless passes, on-n-off D effort: https://t.co/ACeIgf7LnJ pic.twitter.com/HnMJfFKmGp— Jonathan Wasserman (@NBADraftWass) February 3, 2020
Edwards is shooting 40.8% from the field, 31.0% from three, and 73.0% from the free throw line, and struggled against better teams. He was held to six points against Dayton and shot poorly in a loss to Auburn, who has one of the draft’s other top wings in Isaac Okoro. In two games against Kentucky, Edwards was solid but nothing that would give you a first overall vibe.
He and Barrett would give the Knicks an exciting duo on the wing with the potential to grow into something worth caring about. Edwards has a better handle than Barrett, although Barrett is a much more viable option to run an offense in spurts. On the break is where that handle will be utilized best, and occasionally Edwards can thread the needle like a seamstress.
If the lottery gods decide to bless the Knicks for once, which would be cruel and unusual punishment, Edwards is their best play at adding a franchise player.
LaMelo Ball, Guard, Illawara (via Chino Hills)
LaMelo Ball is the purest star pick the Knicks could make. He feels like a reality TV star given how long we’ve known about him. For as much as we love to rag on LaVar Ball, he proclaimed years ago that LaMelo would be the best.
“[LaMelo] never played against kids his own age,” LaVar told The Ringer in 2016. “That’s why it’s so easy for him in high school. He’s been playing 17U since he was 11 years old. I had him playing against eighth-graders when he was 6 and 7. It’s nothing new to him. He’s always seen people’s stomachs. He ain’t never been face-to-face with nobody.”
LaMelo has continued to play above his age bracket, and after an impressive run in the NBL, it appears that once again LaVar’s prediction will come true.
At 6-foot-7 with mystic vision, LaMelo, like his brother Lonzo, has the potential to be a maestro with the basketball. Also similar to his older brother, LaMelo struggles to hit his shot consistently. His shot selection is lenient, for lack of a better word; however, when that shot is falling and he is pulling up from 30 with ease, it’s showtime.
Ball immediately becomes the most exciting guard to call Madison Square Garden home since at least Stephon Marbury, and the best “pure” point since God knows when.
A trio of Ball, Barrett, and Mitchell Robinson is something to be excited about. His ability to kickstart a fast break will help usher the Knicks into the modern era and drive them away from the sluggish, iso-heavy halfcourt New York basketball fans have been subjected to.
The only real catch with Ball is being able to tolerate his poor shot selection and icy shooting numbers early on.
If Barrett’s shooting numbers wear your patience thin, Ball will have you popping Advils like Mentos. He shot 37.5% from the field, and an arctic 25.0% from three in twelve NBL games.
The saving grace, and reason to believe he could improve his efficiency, is his 72.3% shooting from the line. For context, Lonzo shot 45.0% from the line as a rookie and 67.3% at UCLA and Barrett shot 66.5% at Duke. It’s conceivable that a modest shooting bump can be achieved if LaMelo can refine his shot selection. And if that does happen, the Knicks will have a point guard players would want to play with.
Other names to consider: James Wiseman
Tyrese Haliburton, Guard, Iowa State
Falling outside the top three this year could be a blessing in disguise. There is a lot of fluff with the consensus top guys (Edwards, LaMelo, and Wiseman), but Tyrese Haliburton is exactly what the Knicks need right now.
While the search for a star scorer continues, snagging a true table setter who can shoot will solve some of the team’s offensive woes. Haliburton is older than his peers near the top, and the extra year in school has paid off.
Haliburton bumped his scoring average up from 6.8 per game to 15.7 while nearly tripling his attempts. The same goes for his three-point shooting: despite doubling his attempts per game he is still shooting 41.0%, a slight decline from his 43.4% as a freshman.
His release looks a little odd at first glance, but it’s something he reconstructed to have a higher release point. His free throw percentage has shot up from 69.2% as a freshman to 83.7%, on more attempts per game, and his overall shooting numbers have remained steady and above average.
Haliburton looks most comfortable on catch-and-shoots, which would work beautifully with Barrett (who is a more than capable initiator in his own right). Just imagine this first play below with Barrett passing out of a post-up for a Haliburton three.
It is ? 3⃣ in Hilton, including 5⃣ first half threes from Tyrese Haliburton! pic.twitter.com/zNwk3rFLHV— Iowa State Men’s Basketball (@CycloneMBB) December 22, 2019
The appeal with Haliburton is not his scoring, it’s his vision. Haliburton and Ball are far and away the best guards in this class, and like LaMelo, Tyrese is more than capable of making beautiful music with the pieces already here, most notably Barrett and Robinson.
Tyrese Haliburton against TCU:— Camden (@Camden_Cash) January 29, 2020
NBA-level pocket pass out of the P&R. Easy layup. pic.twitter.com/ASQscPx1zu
Haliburton appears to have a high I.Q. and a penchant for pocket passes. This is a bit of a fuego take: Haliburton gives you everything you want from Ball, with none of the media hoopla, and twice the shooting efficiency.
It’s not a sexy pick for the talking heads to yell about, or a legacy pick like Cole Anthony would be. Haliburton is simply good, and the last time I checked the Knicks are in dire need of good basketball players.
Cole Anthony, Guard, North Carolina
Cole Anthony has gone from consensus top pick in the draft to someone who could fall as far as seven. If the Knicks pick below five and Anthony is there it’s a no-doubt pick; Haliburton would be off the board, and Anthony would add a much needed point guard to the mix.
Anthony’s 6-foot-3 frame pales in comparison to his lottery compatriots, pigeonholing him to one position, whereas the other guards at the top of the lottery fit the combo profile.
A knee injury has robbed him of most of his season at North Carolina. When he has played it’s been a mixed bag with a lot of missed shots, but the fact he came back instead of sitting the rest of the season for the draft tells you what type of personality he has.
Poor shooting seems to be the trend with these picks, and Anthony’s excuse is similar to Edwards’—poor spacing. The Tar Heels are a hot mess this year, leaving Anthony to do it all himself. His 34.4% usage rate reflects this self-reliance, a problem Barrett encountered without Zion Williamson, and other players like Jarrett Culver had to deal with.
At the next level Anthony’s numbers should certainly improve. The real concern with his shooting is his poor performance inside the arc. Anthony is hitting just 36.1% on two-point shots, and isn’t lighting it up from deep either (33.8%). With better pieces around him we could better see the Cole Anthony many thought we were getting at UNC.
One common thread Anthony has with the young guys already on the Knicks roster is he is a gym rat. Whatever his deficiencies are, you can feel confident that he will at least put in the work.
Anthony would fit nicely with Barrett or Frank Ntilikina in the backcourt thanks to his outside shooting. His fit next to Barrett is the optimal pairing: Barrett can facilitate and Anthony can score, and both will compete on the defense end.
He won’t be a liability on defense, he will compete, interrupt passing lanes, and is surprisingly good on the defensive glass for someone his height, averaging 6.0 defensive boards per game.
Other names: Nico Mannion, Tyrese Maxey
Diamond in the Rough
Killian Hayes, Guard, France
Full disclosure: if I was making the pick for New York and Killian Hayes was on the board, he is who I would pick.
He was unable to play high school and college in the US despite wanting to, but his time at his father’s French club, Cholet, and this season with Germany’s Ratiopharm Ulm have been equally beneficial.
The only real hole in Hayes’ game is his high turnover rate (4.4 a game). Tape on him is harder to come by so scouting him through highlights makes him easier to love, but when you watch him you see a D’Angelo Russell or, dare I say, James Harden type of guy.
Hayes models his game after Harden, a fellow southpaw, and is doing his best to emulate Harden on the floor.
Killian Hayes could be the most NBA Ready prospect in the class.— Trent Williams (@BballEval) February 4, 2020
62 game season+Playoffs (25mpg)
(NCAA plays 37 games)
Highest pick and roll usage in class
(Huge staple in the NBA)
Great shooter off the Bounce
Can run offense through pressure pic.twitter.com/PrzLzFDyUb
This season Hayes is shooting a pristine 90.9% from the free throw line, 39.0% from three and 45.5% from the floor.
Is it blind faith or sheer lust that I would take Killian at any point in the draft? Maybe. But you put him with Barrett, Robinson and whoever else you want, and suddenly there is an exciting core.
The dream is to pair Hayes with his countryman Ntilikina in the backcourt and play Barrett out on the wing. Hayes can focus on getting buckets and running the offense while Ntilikina handles the dirty work. His shooting will open driving lanes for Barrett and open the paint for Robinson, or even Julius Randle to operate.
Names like Edwards and Ball carry more recognition right now, and the worry is the Knicks may pass on him. Will they be able to ignore the outside noise and make the right pick? I sure hope so.
Other names: Isaac Okoro, Obi Toppin, R.J. Hampton
Stay tuned for deep dives with the return of TKW Draft Board 3.0, coming soon!