The Knicks know their place in the 2020 NBA Draft, but questions are abound, including the right prospect to take at no. 8.
Enough time has passed that cooler minds (should have) prevailed by now with regard to the New York Knicks (once again) falling in the lottery.
Eighth overall will never be considered a money spot in the draft, yet smarter teams have made out just fine with worse picks. Look at some of the best players in the league right now: Devin Booker went 13th overall—same for Donovan Mitchell. Both Giannis Antetokounmpo and Kawhi Leonard went 15th overall. Nikola Jokic and Draymond Green didn’t even go in the first round.
The beauty of the draft is nobody really knows who will pan out. The better teams seem to realize talent exists beyond the top five and almost every draft has depth.
This methodology should be amplified for a 2020 NBA Draft devoid of a franchise-altering talent. The doom and gloom feeling that briefly cascaded over Knicks fans on lottery night had less to do with falling two spots and more to do with the horrors of the past. Leon Rose will want to start out his regime strong, and one way to do that is by not overthinking this pick.
The past two times the Knicks found themselves at the backend of the top 10 they opted to go the project pick route. Frank Ntilikina and Kevin Knox were blank canvases when they were drafted, and the expectation was those raw skills would be molded by the developmental staff into something. That didn’t happen. Ntilikina found his footing in his third season—which is pretty remarkable given the poor management of his development—and Knox is still trying to find his way after a sophomore season in the abyss of the bench.
To Rose’s credit, player development has been the driving force in most, if not all, of his personnel decisions. These additions are welcomed and could be everything they are promised to be. However, let them show tangible results with guys like Knox, even Dennis Smith Jr. if he hangs around.
I say this because Isaac Okoro is being mentioned as a target at eight. Okoro is arguably the top perimeter defender in this draft and soars in the air. The rest of his offense game, most notably his shooting, is a project well worth undertaking if you can. In a vacuum, I love the Okoro pick. For this team however? I have cold feet.
The good news for folks with similar sentiments is that Okoro has a realistic shot to go fifth to Cleveland. That could allow a surer bet such as Deni Avdija to fall into the Knicks’ laps. Still, even Avdija remains a relative pipedream at eight.
The best thing the Knicks can do at eight is not dream, not overestimate, but simply take the best player who can start to turn this thing around sooner rather than later. These are the names I believe can help do that.
The Unpopular Pick: Killian Hayes
I’m not sure when this happened, but Killian Hayes is simply not popular among Knicks fans. The ill-informed are afraid to take on another French guard they don’t know much about. The informed question Hayes’ potential to reach its maximum with this current roster. The latter is the only crowd worth addressing.
What does Hayes do well? A little bit of everything. Right now he could be characterized as a jack of all trades, master of none. He has strong vision, is a willing defender with the potential to be pretty damn good on that side of the ball, and has recently shown serious progress as a shooter.
There is legitimate concern that with poor shooting around him Hayes’ development would be stunted in New York. For those who think that way: don’t miss the forest for the trees. Hayes is still a worthy selection and can end the everlasting search for a point guard.
What some are missing—or maybe just don’t believe the Knicks will do—is bring in adequate shooting this offseason to place around Hayes, R.J. Barrett, and Mitchell Robinson. The team already has interest in Davis Bertans because he can shoot. Joe Harris, Bogdan Bogdanovic, and Luke Kennard are just a few targets Rose could add to the roster and suddenly there are not many arguments against Hayes.
The Fun Pick: Obi Toppin
I wanted LaMelo Ball above all because he is fun to watch. Knicks games start to feel like chores after a while, mostly due to the fact no one is really worth tuning into watch. On a League Pass watchability ranking, the Knicks would rank in the bottom three. There is not one player you can point to on this current roster and say “I can’t wait to watch him play.” Obi Toppin changes that dynamic instantly.
Toppin was the best player in college last season, and as my TKW brethren Eli Cohen stated, could usher in a Lob City 2.0 dynamic with Robinson. That is something worth tuning into, not to mention the progression Barrett and the others could make.
Thinking less ambitiously, Toppin accomplishes the most important requirement: complementing Barrett and Robinson. Toppin will not be in the running for any All-Defensive teams in his career, but put his scoring ability next to Robinson, and suddenly that is a frontcourt worth getting into Twitter arguments over.
The Base Hit: Devin Vassell
There is no shame in taking a player with a lower ceiling and extremely high floor. That is what Devin Vassell is, and the Knicks would be lucky to have someone like him on their roster. TKW’s Dylan Burd wrote a fantastic breakdown on why Vassell is a legitimate option for New York, so I will spare you the nuts and bolts.
The main thing that sticks out about Vassell is he never stops moving. One of my favorite Knicks who never panned out was Doug McDermott, and I loved Dougie McBuckets so much because he was constantly in motion. Vassell is the same way.
While I was finishing up work I had Florida State vs. Virginia on in the background. Any time I looked up I saw Vassell moving, talking, doing something. As someone who has often screamed at my TV for Knox to simply move around, Vassell is more my steez. Florida State lost that game to Virginia, but Vassell was impressive, although his line was relatively mundane.
The Knicks are missing someone who can relentlessly defend. Someone who knows the value of spacing out into the corner for a three and is just as capable of putting the ball on the floor and creating for himself. Vassell is simply solid, and the Knicks could use all the solid players this universe has to offer.
The Diamond in the Rough: Kira Lewis Jr.
Kira Lewis Jr. was a mainstay atop the TKW Draft Board for the 27th overall pick. Please excuse my moronic thinking that Lewis would even be on the board at no. 27 and focus on why Lewis could fit—and please read this breakdown by James Woodruff to understand the caution in selecting Lewis.
Lewis is explosive and lightning quick, so it is easy to romanticize Thibodeau finding his new Derrick Rose. I don’t see Lewis touching Chicago D. Rose, but the general archetype of that guard in Thibodeau’s system has proven to work effectively.
Prior to Thibs joining the fold, Lewis appealed to me because the second unit guard has been such a letdown for the Knicks. DSJ had a season from hell, so maybe he can take that role, but a lot of the team’s woes lay in the fact they have no spark plug to provide energy when there is none.
Taking Lewis at eight would mean giving him a much greater role, and I can still see him thriving there. One thing I am certain of: Barrett is above average in is scoring in transition. When he is on the open floor, Barrett is fun to watch. Adding a running mate like Lewis would keep Barrett on the move more often, which would be good for Lewis, good for Barrett, and great for the Knicks.
Trades, up or down, are another route Rose could choose, armed with two first-round picks this year and next. Lewis can figure into those plans, or maybe someone not mentioned. For my money I stay at eight and look to make a move with the surplus picks.
Please, when the pick is made at eight, just make sure it is someone that can help right now. Steve Mills and Perry set this rebuild back enough being cute.
Reunited and It Feels So Good
Tom Thibodeau held up his end of the bargain, allowing the front office to make key additions to the coaching staff. This week Thibodeau’s loyalty was repaid in a few additions of his own.
Former Knicks coach Mike Woodson is back (WOOOOOODY) as well as longtime Thibodeau associates Andy Greer and Dice Yoshimoto. Woodson was the shepherd of the Golden Year, so he will always be shown love in NYC as far as I’m concerned. He gives Thibodeau a navigator to assist him in the turbulence that being at MSG brings.
Greer and Dice have been on Thibodeau’s previous two stops, and in the case of Greer, it is a homecoming too. Greer was on Jeff Van Gundy’s staff with Thibodeau from 2001–03.
Time for some overreaction. The Knicks are already being linked to Fred VanVleet and Davis Bertans when both hit free agency. If you’re wondering what the overreaction is, it is the refreshing fact the team is finally:
- Target solid players, not just stargazing.
- Show a willingness to spend considerable money on the right players.
- Coming to terms that Julius Randle and Mitchell Robinson are not compatible.
A year removed from Mills and Perry ruling out any player not named Kevin Durant, and James Dolan remarkably not willing to give Durant the keys to the kingdom, this is a sigh of relief. Sure, VanVleet and Bertans will occupy considerable cap space and remove the Knicks from any potential superstar sweepstakes— but that’s a good thing.
The Dolan era Knicks have been Happy Gilmore preparing for his shot at the NHL, so I am elated they have decided to wake up.
The team continued its quiet run of good public relations with news Friday that MSG will be an Election Day polling site.
Madison Square Garden is excited to support our community by partnering with NYC Board of Elections to serve as a polling site for residents to exercise their right to vote in the upcoming general election. pic.twitter.com/DyapkzaOX8
— NEW YORK KNICKS (@nyknicks) August 28, 2020
This comes in the aftermath of the work stoppage initiated by the Milwaukee Bucks on Wednesday following the Jacob Blake shooting in Wisconsin. One of the agreements made between players and the league was converting arenas into voting locations.
If 2020 has taught us anything—and it should have taught you a lifetime’s worth by now—it is that there are more pressing needs beyond sports. The community matters, voting matters, and the people representing our communities matter.