Mike Cortez closes his 2020 NBA Draft board looking at the pros and cons for some top prospects with the Knicks’ earlier first-round pick.
It was always a matter of “when” not “if” the NBA would postpone the draft lottery and combine. That decision came down last week with the league postponing both events indefinitely, leaving us in further in the dark.
There is some positive to accompany the unknown—whenever draft season is given a definitive return date we will be ready. Prospects have not given us any material since early March, which is frustrating, but it allows us to hunker down on the little things.
This is no doubt the weirdest draft in the weirdest year and as a result the oddest final edition of the board I have done. Since there is no game footage to go off of like prior editions, this edition’s final rankings were based on logic as old as time: pit the positive against the negative and decide which prospects possess the highest expected value.
Part I will use this method on the cream of the crop, composed of the lottery picks. Part II will be all about that late-first-round pick via the Los Angeles Clippers.
The team’s greatest need remains best player available (BPA), but it will be hard not to prioritize guard given the wealth of options available at the top of the draft. Nothing has changed with the Knicks’ lottery odds, and should not change once the NBA decides to cancel the regular season, so their range remains wide and unchanged.
Now that we have taken care of the formalities, let’s get started.
Current Record: 21-45, 12th in Eastern Conference
Projected Draft Picks: 6th overall, 27th overall
Chance at #1 Pick: 9.0%
Cream of the Crop
Best draft argument: lowest volatility
Sometimes the most obvious choice is the hardest to accept. The draft, for the Knicks specifically, is always playing a trick on us, there will always be the next big prospect they are passing. This has not explicitly been the case with Killian Hayes, but given how promising a prospect he looks on tape and in interviews it’s hard to fathom how, in this draft, he is both a top-three prospect and the most likely to be on the board if the Knicks stay at six.
Killian Hayes declares for the draft, bringing him one step closer to New York.pic.twitter.com/8gEEOijVjz
— Mike Cortez ?? (@CortezEra) March 27, 2020
How could that be? Hayes has a small sample size of games under his belt, and even with promising indicators for success (smooth shot, high-level passing) and the numbers were starting to tell that story. In his 10 games with German club ratiopharm Ulm, Hayes averaged 6.4 assists and vastly improved his shooting splits to an impressive 45-39-90.
Hayes’ future is among the easiest to see in this class. He oozes D’Angelo Russell vibes with the potential to draw comparisons to the player he models his game after: James Harden. It’s ambitious to believe Hayes can become the scoring savant Harden is, but the D’Lo comparison holds much more legitimacy and is the type of player the Knicks need on their roster.
Right now the Knicks do not have a single guard, other than R.J. Barrett, if you classify him as such, who can be trusted to get their own bucket anywhere on the floor. Hayes can. His bag of tricks will grow over time, but Hayes’ ability to hit these Harden-like stepbacks will unlock a healthy variety of shots:
Killian Hayes going right now…have talked lot about his improved footwork for shot creation, mostly into stepback or side-step jumpers. How bout this step into a floater: pic.twitter.com/ydjcXmsrqE
— Jonathan Wasserman (@NBADraftWass) February 14, 2020
There could be a learning curve but once Hayes gets settled in he should find Barrett and Mitchell Robinson to be compatible teammates, and a defensive security blanket in fellow countryman Frank Ntilikina.
Best “pass” argument: lefty dominant
Ironically, Hayes already shares something in common with Barrett: he loves using his left hand. That love to finish with his dominant hand may be a little too intense for some wondering if he can ever learn to finish with his right hand, and unlike Barrett, Hayes is actually a lefty further putting some doubt as to how long it will take him to finish with both hands.
The other areas for improvement are easier to fix. He can cut down on his turnovers (averaged 2.9 in 33 games for French club Cholet and 3.3 for ratiopharm) by being smarter with the ball. His happy hands on defense (averaged 3.2 fouls in 10 games with ratiopharm) is another easy fix. Learning to finish with his non-dominant hand is another story that will improve over time.
The reason this is a problem is the Knicks already have two players who love going left: Barrett and Julius Randle. You add another lefty-dominant finisher and soon the defense is forcing all the action to one side of the floor.
Guard, Illawara (via Chino Hills)
Best draft argument: blockbuster potential
In case you had not noticed, watching Knicks games are rarely exciting—and I’m not referring to the talent gap that often exists. I am talking about plain old fun, there is no player on the roster other than Mitchell Robinson that can give fans their money’s worth in the entertainment side of things. Entertainment is where LaMelo Ball excels.
Not to shortchange Ball—he is one of the best players in this class. However, his commercial appeal greatly exceeds his hoop skills, which is saying something. Insert Ball’s contagious spreading of the wealth and love to get out on the break and suddenly you add a level of excitement that has not been at the Garden for far too long.
Ball can have a similar effect to what Trae Young was able to do for the Atlanta Hawks. Even though the Hawks are one of the worst teams in the league the games are appointment viewing because of Young. The same could be had in New York with Ball, and the pieces around him are enough to have that effect immediately.
Just imagine the endless oops to Robinson, the fast-break scores with Barrett, the drive and kicks to…you get the picture. Ball is fun and Knicks fans deserve fun. He can flirt with a triple-double on any given night, evidenced by his stat line: in twelve games Ball averaged 17.0 points, 7.6 rebounds, and 6.8 assists per game.
The Knicks’ point guard woes are as old as time. It is time for that evergreen problem to be put to rest, and Ball is more than capable of doing just that.
Best “pass” argument: media circus
Ball is a victim of his fame. This is not a cop-out answer because there is no real reason to dislike Ball, it’s just a matter of fact: any struggles Ball endures will be amplified under the New York microscope. And I’m not talking about the beat reporters either—I’m referring to the national media who seem to squeal with glee whenever the Knicks have any type of misfortune.
You can use your imagination to piece together headlines and debate show arguments that would happen if LaVar Ball’s son struggles as a Knick. Where those struggles will occur mostly will be with his shooting. As prolific a passer as he was in the NBL, his shot was anything but. Ball shot an arctic 25.0% from deep and 37.5% from the floor, with a healthy amount of attempts.
His 72.3 free throw percentage can ease those accuracy concerns, but there is no question his shot selection will drive some up the wall. Ball is a showman and sometimes showmen do some outlandish things. The problem—if you want to frame it as such—is any poor shooting nights will be front page news and a First Take segment.
Best draft argument: high floor
The goal is to get a slam dunk with a lottery pick, but sometimes a simple layup does the trick. Think of Deni Avdija as the layup in the lottery. Avdija is the least flashy of the top wing prospects, has the hardest name to spell, while being one of the easier players you can plug and play from day one.
In his debut on the board, I compared Deni to Danilo Gallinari, a former favorite of the Garden crowd and a European with some edge. Avdija appears capable of guarding multiple positions and growing into a key cog within a rotation once his offense becomes as solid as his defense, because defense like this has been lost out on the wing for too many years.
Deni Avdija is a very wise team defender.
– sees his man and rolling center
– doesn't overhelp
– good rotation and close out
– takes contact and boxes out
The teenager playing against bunch of former NBA players – such an exciting prospect. pic.twitter.com/Sz2SY0TlLu
— Stanio02_scouting (@stanio2002) May 5, 2020
His court vision further backs up his ability to have a positive impact from day one. Grab-and-go is something that did not happen nearly enough last season, and in the instances the Knicks got out on the break, good things happened.
Vision like this will make Avdija well liked in the locker room.
NBA Prospect Play of the Day: Deni Avdija becomes a playmaker when he secures defensive rebounds. Can thread the needle with bounce passes or push to score at 6-9, 225 lbs. Full 45-minute film session with the potential top-5 pick live from Tel Aviv. https://t.co/aZuzWHDZTH pic.twitter.com/IZ0L4X8FuF
— Mike Schmitz (@Mike_Schmitz) April 1, 2020
Best “pass” argument: limited ceiling
Avdija’s offense has some room for improvement, per RealGM, Avdija averaged 7.7 points per game in 47 total appearances for Maccabi Tel Aviv. The caveat to that average is he averaged a tick under 20 minutes per game, and did shoot a respectable 51.4% from the field. If he can beef up that three-point percentage (Avdija shot 33.6% for Maccabi Tel Aviv) to the high 30’s, now you’re talking about a serious value pick in the top 10.
Offense is the part of Avdija’s game that holds him back from being a consensus top-three pick. At worst he is a role player, but that high floor comes at an opportunity cost. It is hard to imagine Avdija carrying a team night in and night out, something few players are capable of doing but also not the type of player an alpha-starved team like the Knicks would like right now.
Since Scott Perry has taken over as general manager the Knicks have stayed away from the European prospects, and I don’t expect Avdija to buck that trend if the team has their choice of the top prospects.
Best draft argument: highest ceiling
Has Anthony Edwards become this draft’s Barrett? Yes. Does that lessen the chance the Knicks add him if he is still available? No.
My skepticism of Edwards in New York has been documented in previous editions of the board. I believe he is one of the three best talents in the draft and believe that in the right situation he can become above average or greater—I just don’t see it happening in New York.
Edwards is the Barrett of the 2020 class in the sense that his weaknesses and lowlights have been screamed and his strengths have been whispered. He is an unreal athlete with a mechanically smooth shot.
There is reason to be enticed to draft someone who has shown serious flashes.
— Jon Tweets Sports (@JonTweetsSports) December 5, 2019
32 PTS in 39 MIN for potential #1 pick Anthony Edwards in a loss at Florida. Lives and dies by a lot of tough shots but explosive scorer when he gets going. Can shoot over the top of anyone. Bulldozer when he gets his shoulders square downhill to the rim. https://t.co/ZKlmYL7mQF pic.twitter.com/Fp7hpHzinX
— Mike Schmitz (@Mike_Schmitz) February 6, 2020
My lack of confidence in Edwards succeeding in New York has less to do with Edwards and more with the Knicks. If you can guarantee me that the Knicks will pool every resource to make Edwards their centerpiece, I’d be willing to accept the pick.
Best “pass” argument: highest volatility
The other end of that double-edged sword that is Anthony Edwards is what happens if the team doesn’t develop him correctly. Natural talent doesn’t guarantee you will be a star as countless players can tell you firsthand.
When Edwards is not engaged he becomes a chore to watch, launching foolish jumpers like it is a shootaround. Poor shooting has plagued the Knicks the past five seasons, and was a real eyesore this season in particular. The greater problem is landing a lead guard to create more open shots first, and that should be the plan the Knicks follow.
The reason Edwards is slotted above Tyrese Haliburton—who I would take if Hayes and Ball are off the board—is I do not see the Knicks passing on Edwards in any scenario, especially if they select outside the top three.
Guard, Iowa State
Best draft argument: ending an evergreen problem
Consider Tyrese Haliburton the Avdija for the guards. Haliburton is solid across the board with an impressive stat line and clear vision for how he wants to play. His sophomore season was cut short with a fractured left wrist, but in the 22 games he did play he doubled his shot attempts and points per game without a drop-off in shooting percentage.
His fit within the offense is even easier to see since he looks considerably more comfortable scoring off the catch.
Oh my god Tyrese Haliburton from the logo! Future Pistons point guard pic.twitter.com/BvhZwUmR7U
— BB-6 (@RedAlternates) December 22, 2019
Haliburton’s 6’5” frame allows him to see the floor from an eagle eye view and his vision ranks right up there with Ball and Hayes. As I said countless times, the Knicks have needed a point guard before the internet. Haliburton can successfully take the reins of an offense and spread the wealth.
Tyrese Haliburton against OSU:
Feel for the game is evident. Slows down in transition and allows the play to develop. Hits the trailing big with a no-look pass for an easy dunk. pic.twitter.com/X6gRfrZGDY
— Petty Roosevelt (@Camden_Cash) January 29, 2020
What a sequence from Tyrese Haliburton. Deflection + steal then tosses a perfect pass to his teammate down the floor pic.twitter.com/oKNoB7rXvt
— Jackson Frank (@jackfrank_jjf) March 20, 2020
Best “pass” argument: limited offense
Haliburton shot 41.9% from deep this season, and can coexist with Barrett pretty easily, but one area of concern is scoring off-the-dribble or at the rim. Haliburton attempted 120 shots inside the arc compared to 124 beyond. There is not a lot of tape to suggest that Haliburton was taking it easy on opponents, he just likes facilitating or shooting off a feed more.
That style could work with someone as aggressive as Barrett, and open up driving lanes for his teammates, but what happens when he has to make something happen. He attempted 45 free throws for the season, and finished his Iowa State career with 71 total attempts from the line, not exactly aggressive.
The Knicks absolutely need to address the lead guard position, but as I said at the top, BPA trumps all—and in that department, Haliburton is sitting outside looking in.
The final edition of the TKW 2020 Draft Board will close next Thursday…