Mike Cortez is back with his signature draft board outlining the top 2020 prospects for the Knicks, starting with a controversial number one.

Welcome back to The Knicks Wall’s Draft Board! For those unfamiliar, Mike Cortez’s annual outline analyzes where the Knicks are in the lottery coupled with their biggest needs matched with prospects in their range. Now it’s time for the 2020 draft board with the first edition on tap.

It was supposed to be a very good year. This time last year the Knicks were as bad as a professional team could be, yet the fanbase’s optimism was at its height. How is that possible? For starters, the chance at Zion Williamson, Ja Morant, or R.J. Barrett was a light at the end of the tunnel. Then there was a high chance of Kevin Durant coming—that’ll get the blood pumping.

Clearly, very little ended up happening. Fast forward 12 months and the Knicks are marginally better, or less pathetic, than last season. At times they have even been fun. But they are still a bad basketball team in dire need of a few things.

The Knicks are still in need of a star-caliber scorer, a void they created when they traded Kristaps Porzingis. Julius Randle is the only player on the roster who can be relied on to get 20 points a night. It’s a major reason the offense has continued to stall and live in the basement of the league.

A majority of New York’s offensive woes are due to the franchise’s evergreen need for a lead guard. Frank Ntilikina has taken a step forward this season and is on pace to be a productive player for a team on the upswing. What he has not looked like, consistently, is a guy to run the offense. Elfrid Payton has and could stick around—but given the options available in this year’s draft, the team can add a long-term solution at that vital spot.

With no clear franchise-changing player, the 2020 draft class has already been labeled as weak. However, some players do have that potential, requiring teams to scout wisely.

Who should the Knicks and their fans be setting their sights on? While they should plan for the best (winning the lottery), they can also find solace in the fourth or fifth overall pick. It may be a blessing in disguise.

Allow me to explain.

Current Record: 17-40, 13th in Eastern Conference
Projected Draft Pick: #5
Chance at #1 Pick: 10.5%

Killian Hayes

Guard, France

Every draft season there is one relatively under-the-radar prospect you fall for at first sight. You fall so hard the thought of that prospect not ending up on your team is too much to bear. Last year that prospect, for me and many others, was Ja Morant. The top of this year’s class doesn’t have a Zion, but it certainly has a Morant: France’s Killian Hayes.

Yeah, yeah, another French prospect—what of it? In a class this thin in the star-potential department, Hayes is the best gamble in the lottery. Similar to Morant, who was mainly watched through viral clips earlier last season, Hayes is an aesthetically pleasing highlight maker.

Hayes has the size to play either guard position, has shown the ability to make high level reads, the potential to be a knockdown shooter, and that gamer disposition all elite guys must have. Oh, and he has an absolutely alpha name.

A son of a basketball player—DeRon Hayes who starred at Penn State and went on to play overseas—Killian grew up competing above his age bracket. His pick-up game opponents growing up were almost always older than him. Hayes wanted to play high school and college in the United States, but his father advised him to stay in France, which he did, and his professional career began at 16 years old.

He started out with his father’s team, Cholet Basket, where he stayed until joining ratiopharm Ulm in Germany’s top basketball league, the BBL, in 2019.

Hayes is a YouTube hoops junkie who studied and modeled his game after James Harden. Harden’s influence on Hayes’ game is evident the minute you watch him.

Like most of the young international prospects, Hayes does not log a whole lot of minutes, averaging 24.3 per game. When he is on the court he has proven he’s worth investing in. Per 36 minutes, Hayes is averaging 16.9 points, 7.9 assists, 4.1 rebounds, 2.0 steals and shooting 49.2%. 

His three-point percentage has room for improvement (32.3%), but his strong shooting from the free throw line (88.6%) leads me to believe he will evolve into an effective shooter from everywhere on the floor.

Hayes would be the type of pick the new regime could feel great about starting with. Of all the prospects who should be on the board, Hayes satisfies the team’s two greatest needs: playmaking and shot making.

The Knicks do have a nice stable of young players, headlined by R.J. Barrett and Mitchell Robinson, but there is no go-to scorer among the bunch. Hayes would allow everyone else to focus on what they do best.

His ability to play either guard spot allows for a variation of lineup changes and doesn’t pigeon hole the Knicks into any set rotation. Barrett can slide up to his natural spot at the 3 or remain at the 2, Frank Ntilikina can slide off the ball and focus on torturing the opposing team’s best scoring threat, or the team can look to add a point guard. 

One thing the Knicks must do, given their current core of Barrett and Robinson, is run. Barrett is at his best in transition, and Robinson is a rim-running extraordinaire who loves nothing more than catching lobs. If Hayes is indeed the pick, it’s hard to imagine those three not gelling.

Player comparisons are generally talking head drivel, but in terms of ballpark expectations Hayes would fit in the D’Angelo Russell category, with Harden as his absolute ceiling.

Hayes isn’t perfect. He definitely has some areas he needs to work on aside from three-point shooting. The good thing is his main deficiencies—turning the ball over and fouling—can be easily corrected.

He nabs the top spot for this very reason: Hayes possesses both the highest ceiling and the highest floor among the top of the class. If the Knicks pick in the four to six range, not selecting Hayes would be malpractice. If they land in the top three range, the allure of taking a known name may be too strong.

LaMelo Ball

Guard, Illawara

Knicks fans are already talking themselves out of LaMelo Ball, similar to how they talked themselves out of Trae Young. As one of the culprits in talking myself out Trae—just so we’re clear, it was never about Trae’s talent, I simply felt that if he came to New York he would find a way to be mediocre, and if he went anywhere else he’d be the player we see today—allow me to debunk the major concerns in taking LaMelo.

New York would be a media circus.

What is it now? The Knicks could fold the franchise and still make the backpage. That’s just the nature of the beast.

LaMelo’s presence would be the opposite of a distraction: it’d be much needed star power. He has ways to go before he’s a star in the league, but his name is his name. Ball qualifies as a childhood actor by how long he’s been in front of the camera.

Right now there is no marquee player for fans to come and see. The mix of LaMelo’s celebrity and aesthetically pleasing playing style would be a reason for hoops fans to catch a Knicks game. 

His father is a distraction.

LaVar Ball is indeed a nuisance. His antics during Lonzo’s one year at UCLA and rookie season in L.A. were comedic gold, but an unnecessary hassle if you were one of the parties involved.

Those days have passed. The only time LaVar acts out is in the comfort of his own cameras for his show. The Big Baller Brand is no longer all three Ball brothers, but just LiAngelo. It’s already stupid to not pick a player because of his father, and the fact is LaVar isn’t trying to be basketball’s Don King anymore. If he hasn’t popped up yet, chances are slim he does again. 

The type of media platform the Knicks offer could certainly bring him out of hiding. And if he does come back, who gives a crap? It has nothing to do with what LaMelo is doing on the court.

He can’t shoot.

The numbers don’t lie: Ball struggles with efficiency. He shot 37.5% from the field, and an even colder 25.0% from deep in the NBL this season. Despite the cold numbers, Ball shot a modest 72.0% from the free throw line and managed to average 17.0 points. 

When you watched him, the thought of him being unable to score in the NBA never came to mind.

Lastly, for Knicks fans who are turned off by the lack of efficiency, let me remind you what you have been watching this season: Dennis Smith Jr. is shooting 34.0%  from the field this season. Ntilikina is shooting 38.5% and Payton, the best of the bunch, is shooting 43.0%. Trust me, you’ll survive Ball’s misfires—because the trade off is having the best lead guard the franchise has had in eons.

Now, LaMelo Ball the player is someone Knicks fans should welcome in open arms. 

Ball blends mystic vision and yo-yo handles to run a fun up-and-down tempo the Knicks should have had this year. Barrett is at his best running in open space. Robinson is at his best when running to catch a lob. Those moments do not happen nearly enough, and LaMelo is just the guy to change that.

His passing skills have been second nature since he was a freshman at Chino Hills playing with Lonzo. When you share the floor with him you know at some point you will be getting the ball—a great way to keep all five guys involved.

The key to being happy with Ball is having the pain tolerance to deal with poor shooting nights, because when he is on, it feels like nirvana.

Ball gives the Knicks the lead guard they desperately need, and may even give them an offensive force. It’s hard to say he will be Young or Morant, but at the bare minimum he’ll be a fun player who can help usher the Knicks into the modern era of offense. 

It feels like I have typed that last sentence out far too many times, but if LaMelo is the pick, chances are it will be among the last. Sometimes the truth is right in front of you, and the truth is LaMelo Ball is a good basketball player.

Anthony Edwards

Wing, Georgia

Anthony Edwards has all the tools to be a force. At 6’5”, he can play either wing spot, and lock up on defense. He has a Jayson Tatum or Paul George smoothness to his shooting mechanics and dynamite athleticism.

The problem with Edwards is he hasn’t packaged all his gifts together consistently. He has the requisite skills to go first overall, but the results on the court are a little underwhelming. 

His shot selection is too jagged for his smooth release to compensate. Edwards is shooting 40.8% from the floor and 30.5% from three. Georgia is NIT bound, and Edwards is nowhere near the discussion for Player of the Year. These are valid concerns if you’re taking him first overall. But if you’re picking second or third, he becomes a no brainer.

Edwards would give the Knicks a versatile wing duo with Barrett, similar to what the Celtics have with Tatum and Jaylen Brown. Barrett would slide up to his natural position at the 3 and Edwards slides to the 2, and give the Knicks a solid front on the defensive end.

The duo of Barrett and Edwards have the potential to gel nicely, with Barrett being more of the facilitator and Edwards as the scorer. One thing that is undeniable about Edwards is that once his shot is dropping he is special to watch.

A core four of Edwards, Barrett, Ntilikina, and Robinson is something the team can pitch. The main thing missing with this current core is the lack of an alpha. Barrett’s an essential piece, but his shooting will limit him to being a Robin more likely than not. 

Edwards has not been a Batman in his one-and-done season, but the tools are there. Sharing the scoring load with Barrett and having Robinson and Ntilikina to lean on for defense could do the trick.

Tyrese Haliburton

Guard, Iowa State

It’s a shame that Tyrese Haliburton went down for the season with a left wrist fracture. I feel like enough people still don’t know how good he is. The best way to describe Haliburton is by calling him the Brandon Clarke of this year’s class. He is the oldest among the guards, and along with Obi Toppin, the oldest of the lottery picks. 

With that age comes wisdom. Haliburton can give the Knicks many of the same things LaMelo can, only he carries significantly less fanfare. He has the size of Hayes and the vision of Ball, with the experience to know where to pick his spots.

Prior to his injury he was in the midst of taking a substantial step forward in his offensive game in just as much court time, bumping his points per game average up from 6.8 to 15.2. Haliburton was able to maintain similar efficiency while increasing his shot attempts. As a freshman he averaged 4.8 attempts from the field per game and 1.4 from deep, shooting 51.5% and 43.4%, respectively. 

This season he beefed those attempts up to 11.1 and 5.6, and saw a marginal decrease in efficiency, hitting on 50.5% from the field and 41.9% from three. His biggest leap came at the free throw line where he shot 82.2% this season compared to 69.2% as a freshman.

It is true that Haliburton yields lower star-power potential, but the trade-off is a high floor. Haliburton possesses bird’s-eye-view-level vision and is just as worthy of being a lead guard as anyone else on the board.

Haliburton can be given the keys to the car from day one, and can be trusted to run the offense in the halfcourt or in transition. He can get to the rim and create his own shot but is more than capable of creating offense without the ball in his hands. He’d make for a nice complement to Barrett, and he seems most comfortable shooting from three off a feed.

One key difference between Haliburton and Ball is that Haliburton does not need to be hidden on defense. Haliburton sported an impressive 3.8 steal percentage, and averaged 2.5 per game. The possibility of closing a game with Haliburton, Ntilikina, and Robinson on defense might make Jay Bilas pass out.

It’s not the sexy pick, probably the most vanilla of the possibilities, but that doesn’t make it the wrong pick. The top priority for the Knicks is drafting good players. If they end up being stars, great. But for now, someone like Haliburton should be a welcomed addition. 

Cole Anthony

Guard, North Carolina

Cole Anthony has had the tough job of being labeled the overrated prospect, even though he is still a good player. Anthony’s steady decline from consensus top pick to low-end of the top 10 has a lot to do with North Carolina’s season from hell.

The Tar Heels are a spacing nightmare, and Anthony’s shooting numbers, when he has played, have been forgettable: 36.4% from the field and 31.8% from three. There is nothing wrong mechanically, as his 75.7% from the free throw line shows, but it’s hard to ignore the high volume and low input.

Anthony only played 16 games, missing a large chunk of the season with a partial meniscus tear in his right knee. The fact he returned instead of resting for the draft is a peek at the type of personality he has. He will fit right in with Barrett and the others. 

He has a few other similarities with Barrett that could appeal to the Knicks. He’s the son of a basketball player, and former Knick, Greg Anthony. He is an excellent rebounder, hauling in 6.3 rebounds per game, an impressive number for a 6’3” guard. And he has that shooter’s mentality, able to ignore cold spells and not shying away from big shots.

He has a nice jumper, so NBA spacing could allow him to pull up from wherever he pleases.

Anthony’s best game as a Tar Heel was ironically his first, in which he dropped 34 points on 50.0% shooting. In that game, Anthony started off cold, misfiring on a lot of shots, before catching fire in the second half.

The only real downside to Anthony is his size, which limits his potential as a combo guard. The counter to that is he is a natural fit alongside Ntilikina and Barrett. Adding Anthony would allow Ntilikina and Barrett to slide over to their natural positions, and free Anthony to do what he loves most: scoring. 

Ntilikina or Barrett can initiate the offense while Anthony adjusts to not playing hero ball. Defensively, Anthony will compete, and if placed next to a strong defender like Ntilikina can give the Knicks a stout defensive backcourt. He also adds another strong rebounder who is not afraid to bang down low.

Selecting Anthony before the fourth pick remains an iffy decision. But anytime after that? Bring him home.

The Best of the Rest

The last few editions of the draft board had the rest of the players in no particular order. This year’s board will feature them in order.

James Wiseman
Center, Memphis

The pick should always be the best player available, but after last summer, the thought of taking another big instead of a guard or wing gives me indigestion. Hopefully the Warriors snag Wiseman before the Knicks choose, because while he does play for a lower priority position in today’s NBA, he is still uber talented.

Isaac Okoro
Wing, Auburn

Obi Toppin
Forward, Dayton

Deni Avdija
Wing, Israel

Tyrese Maxey
Guard, Kentucky

Stay tuned for future editions of the board, in-depth prospect breakdowns, and the return of The Knicks Wall’s draft podcast, Draft SZN.

The TKW Draft Board will return during March Madness…


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