With the 2020 NBA Draft constantly getting pushed further back, it’s time to reevaluate the Knicks’ hierarchy of prospects post-lottery.
We are back like we left our car keys, and sadly the 2020 NBA Draft will not be joining us any time soon. It is an odd feeling writing pre-draft analysis at a time when we are usually overly optimistic about the players already on the roster. Such is 2020, I guess.
Well, the draft will now be tentatively set for November 18th, 2020 (we have reached the point where including the year is important). The league and NBA Players Association agreed to a second postponement mainly due to the start of next season being pushed back from its previously expected December 1st date.
ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski cited that both the league and NBAPA wanted more time to negotiate the new salary cap numbers for 2020–21. Teams need those figures to be conduct trades around the draft. Next season isn’t expected to start until Christmas Day at the earliest. NBA Commissioner Adam Silver has been on record stating “We would like to find a way to play in front of fans, but it’s just too early to know how realistic this is.”
This is a reasonable take from Silver. Fans in the stands equals more money, which equals a higher salary cap. Still, another postponement is quite the annoyance to draft fanatics like ourselves, and most importantly, to the prospects.
The postponement gives teams time to fine tune their due diligence on prospects and map out their draft night plans. By now we know enough about the 2020 class that we feel the need to send them a Christmas card. The prospects have remained in purgatory since March, and it could remain that way for some time.
This gives the Knicks more time to weigh their options. The extra first-round pick could be used to swing a deal for a veteran player or to facilitate a move into the middle of the first round, where a chunk of the value in this draft may reside. The targets at eighth overall are not all that different from the targets pre-lottery.
The team still needs a lead guard, a wing who can preferably shoot, a backup center, and above all, players with talent that can help in the immediate term. That is a lot to address, but the good news is there is a clear board of prospects who can assist in this.
By now we have done profiles on all the prospects mentioned below. The point of this board is to fine tune the hierarchy in which these prospects should be sorted. There will also be some trade up (or down) targets that could help the team turn this ship around sooner rather than later. The team can preach patience and quietly plan for a big move if they wish, but history suggests that Tom Thibodeau was hired to win games from day one.
With that in mind, here is an updated list of prospects the team should have significant interest in. Unfortunately we had to say goodbye to LaMelo Ball, Anthony Edwards, and Deni Avdija. If any of these three (most likely Deni) happen to slip to eight, the team should take them and keep it moving. The more realistic scenario is that none are available when the Knicks go on the clock.
Draft Picks: 8, 27, 38
How is it possible that Killian Hayes remains at the top of the board following the lottery? Your guess is as good as mine. I just follow the reports from people in the know and those folks suggest Hayes could be on the board for as long as 10 picks.
According to Bleacher Report’s draft guru, Jonathan Wasserman, the source of skepticism around Hayes is burst and shooting.
“The No. 2 player on Bleacher Report’s big board isn’t No. 2 for NBA teams. We haven’t talked to any scout that had Killian Hayes that high, with their concerns focused on his burst, shooting, favorable role for putting up stats and Ratiopharm Ulm’s 1-9 record in Eurocup. It’s sounding likely that Hayes will be available to teams picking in the second half of the lottery, as Haliburton appears to be a more popular point guard.”
If this is still the case—the Wasserman story is from the end of July—this is good news for the lead guard-deprived Knicks. Hayes’ shooting potential and inability to use his right hand effectively are the only true flags for me. Mechanically speaking, there are no worries about Hayes. In his brief run in Germany he shot well, albeit in a small sample size. The positives Hayes brings to the table outweigh negative.
For starters, Hayes’ defensive potential is enticing and unlike another stalwart defender who could be available. He has a jumper you could at least talk yourself into. But on defense Hayes is sound, and the potential pairing of him and fellow countryman Frank Ntilikina will get ’90s Knicks fans giddy with excitement.
1/2 Re-tweeting this again because watching Boston's defense and their use of length with digging and Miami's stunting gets me excited for Killian Hayes' defense going forward. He really does all the little things that go unnoticed by most fans but make defenses really good. pic.twitter.com/wHHk1Xj3XT
— Spencer (@SKPearlman) September 5, 2020
It’s a no-brainer, as long as Hayes doesn’t go to the Pistons at seven. His critiques have validity to them, but there are not nearly enough to warrant a pass, especially at this point in the draft.
Let us welcome a new name to the board: Obi Toppin. If you’re asking yourself how Toppin becomes an option post-lottery, the answer is he appears more likely to slip than, say, Avdija. Toppin is older and might not play a lick of defense worth caring about. Having said that, Toppin would be electric in New York. And the good news? He complements R.J. Barrett and Mitchell Robinson.
TKW’s Nick Carannante made an Amar’e Stoudemire comparison for Toppin, which sounds like a fuego take, but is an apt observation. Toppin is a skywalker who casually breaks out Dunk Contest–quality jams in the middle of games like it’s a routine layup.
Obi Toppin is putting on a show! 🍿📸
💥 Threw the ball down like Dwight
💥 180 dunk
💥 Between-the-legs dunk pic.twitter.com/gj6tGSg6W6
— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) March 8, 2020
The entertainment element is abundantly clear. His fit within the starting lineup is, too. Toppin has a jumper you can talk yourself into; in his final season at Dayton Toppin shot 39.0% from beyond the arc on 82 total attempts. With increased volume that number would clearly come down, but it’s logical to anticipate Toppin being an average or slightly above average three-point shooter.
Toppin’s ability to space the floor and sneaky ability as a passer makes him an infinitely better fit next to Robinson than Julius Randle. As many Knicks fans can attest, Randle’s awareness felt nonexistent at times, and passes such as this were a rarity.
This face-up, righty hook pass to the corner was impressive from Obi Toppin as well. He's more than capapble of playmaking with either hand. The dunks and 3s are fun, but tapping into this type of vision on a regular basis could elevate his game even more. pic.twitter.com/YAbhZvg09E
— Mike Schmitz (@Mike_Schmitz) March 15, 2020
The red flag is his defense. He has potential as a shot blocker thanks to his spry hops, but that is where his defensive potential begins and ends. Scouts say he is constantly out of position in pick-and-roll defense, is not a great help defender, and is not exactly Charles Barkley on the boards—Toppin averaged 6.4 boards last season—which makes him one-dimensional.
Having said that, the Knicks will look for a good player above all, but they also want a marquee name to get asses in the seats (once fans are allowed back) and a reason to tune into games. Toppin does that more than anyone else in this range.
Wing, Florida State
Sometimes settling isn’t the worst thing in the world. Devin Vassell isn’t a walking House of Highlights like Toppin, not uber athletic like Isaac Okoro, and clearly not an answer to the ever-elusive lead guard question. Vassell is, however, a good basketball player from a trusted program at Florida State.
Vassell could end up being the best 3-and-D player in this class. He certainly ranks near the top. He shot 41.5% beyond the arc, ranking fifth in the ACC. The impressiveness beyond the raw percentage is the fact Vassell shot 41.9% from three as a freshman on 1.9 attempts.
— Dylan Burd (@Sports_Burd) May 26, 2020
He is also capable of putting the ball on the floor and getting to the rim if need be.
Devin Vassell is a really good finisher at the rim and through contact. His FG% from within 5 feet was 70.1% and it shows. pic.twitter.com/vtmTo2cOmJ
— Dylan Burd (@Sports_Burd) May 27, 2020
What I love most about Vassell is his constant movement. He will start a possession out running to the corner so a driver could kick it out to him if the defense collapses. But if that doesn’t happen, he doesn’t meander in the corner or above the arc—he actually moves. This sounds like pretty basic stuff, until you watch sequences with way too much standing around. Vasell reminds me of Doug McDermott in that sense; always on the move.
Vassell’s defense is even more impressive. His activity is on the same level, and he knows how to utilize his athleticism to wreak havoc.
Devin Vassell justifiably draws a lot of praise for his long rotations and associated defensive playmaking, but he deserves a ton of credit for possession by possession drive deterrence as well. Doesn't always show up in the box score, but another way he generates impact pic.twitter.com/cMjV1MR1EB
— Max Carlin (@maxacarlin) April 9, 2020
When you talk about simply adding a good basketball player, you think about players such as Vassell. He would provide much needed help on the wing, and help alleviate the congested lanes that met Barrett and anyone who dreamed to drive through New York’s sluggish offense last season.
It’s Vassell’s ability that gives him the nod over a player like Isaac Okoro, who possesses a higher upside overall. However, that potential hinges on if he could develop into an average shooter. Vassell is already a solid shooter and he locks up on defense. If the goal is to win games in the foreseeable future, Vassell is the way to go.
Kira Lewis Jr.
If you want to get a grip on the randomness of this draft, take into account I originally had Kira Lewis Jr. as the top target … for the Clippers’ pick. Lewis is now deemed a consensus top-20 prospect, and some have even gone as far as to include him as a realistic option for New York at eight.
The reason for Lewis’ ascension is his lightning speed and strong two-way potential. Lewis had a strong sophomore campaign once freed from the mud of Avery Johnson’s offense as a freshman. Lewis’ speed is his trademark and ultimate allure. The Knicks are not blessed with many athletes aside from Dennis Smith Jr. and Robinson. Lewis changes that, and helps morph the Knicks to a run-and-gun team.
Tom Thibodeau has experience creating an offense around a speedy guard who could make defenses dizzy, and Lewis definitely gives Thibodeau a lot to work with. Here is the obligatory clip of Lewis dropping Okoro.
Kira Lewis just ended Isaac Okoro's basketball career. I'm sorry. But there is no coming back from this. pic.twitter.com/4T0vkHwrXW
— Aaron Torres (@Aaron_Torres) January 16, 2020
Lewis pairs that speed with a solid jumper; he shot a more than respectable 36.6% from deep on 4.9 attempts per game. There are no red flags to his release and across the board. Lewis showed improvements on offense with increased volume—always a good sign.
Everyone (rightly) talks about Kira Lewis' speed, but his jumper is pretty underrated IMO. A bit streaky, but I love the upper body mechanics on his J. From the wrist action, to the follow through, his C&S jumper is nice and an easy projection going forward. pic.twitter.com/VpQjL55PDk
— Spencer (@SKPearlman) March 4, 2020
The main question with Lewis is whether he can be a traditional lead guard or not. Barrett and Ntilikina could share the floor with Lewis and assist in those duties while Lewis learns on the job. There is also the possibility of a mentor being brought into the fold, too.
What passing or taking Lewis will come down to is preference. Is Lewis a better add than a Toppin, Vassell, or Okoro? Would the team prefer a slower-footed Hayes who has a better grasp of running an offense?
The ultimate reason for Lewis being on the other board was mainly ignorance on my part. Talent-wise there is not much to discuss. With more time to watch him and other guards in this class, it’s clear Lewis is one of the three best options if the Knicks go for a guard early, the other two being Hayes and of course LaMelo Ball.
Potential is an alluring trait, and Isaac Okoro oozes it. Okoro might not even be on the board when the Knicks pick—which is partly why he rounds out the top five. But if he is, team brass will have tough decisions to make. Is Okoro worth the investment?
The general answer is, yes. The answer specific to the Knicks is, maybe—thanks to the loaded queue of projects already on the roster. Frank Ntilikina, Kevin Knox, and to a lesser extent Dennis Smith Jr. are all works in progress. You can also throw Barrett in the mix too with his work-in-progress jumper. Is now the time to add another supremely talented but raw prospect?
Okoro is a great prospect. He is the best perimeter defender in the class in my opinion and soars.
Where were you when Isaac Okoro single-handedly murdered Vanderbilt? pic.twitter.com/MI6rX5XCUR
— braves grief counselor (@sheabooskyy) January 9, 2020
Now to be clear, this is not a Michael Kidd-Gilchrist situation where the jumper is close to unsalvageable. Okoro’s jumper is not pretty (he shot 28.6% from deep on 2.5 attempts per game) but he does have his glimpses.
One more Isaac Okoro footwork clip, this time with the defense closing out (and the clock winding down).
Read and replace after driving, pump fake, left dribble, side-step J with the 1-2 footwork.
Beautiful all around pic.twitter.com/wQRnNuCukE
— Spencer (@SKPearlman) June 14, 2020
The goal for Okoro is to be a modest threat from deep. Had the Knicks spent the past few seasons adding some high-level, or even league-average shooters, then Okoro is safely behind Toppin in the board hierarchy. The reality is that Okoro and Barrett can recreate the spacing nightmare of last season, not to mention the possibility of Julius Randle and Smith Jr. still being on the roster next season.
What could tantalize the team enough to ignore the poor roster fit?
Isaac Okoro with a lightning quick first step past Aaron Nesmith and finishes by causing an earthquake. pic.twitter.com/s3sQnumV6X
— Jake Paynting (@jakepaynting) May 22, 2020
While he may be a subpar shooter, he could be one of the best drivers in the draft. In case the clips above do not capture Okoro’s swift first step and insane takeoff ability, let me say it again: he has a swift first step and insane takeoff ability. Just take into account that he shot 28.6% from deep yet 51.4% from the floor.
With the right pieces around him, Okoro is a fantastic add in this enigmatic class, and a reason I think a team like the Cavaliers talk themselves into him at five.
The TKW Draft Board will return…