With the season in the rearview mirror given the current public-health crisis, the Knicks can focus on the 2020 NBA Draft and these prospects.
The world remains at a standstill and life without basketball is miserable. There has been no NBA basketball, no Knicks basketball, no college basketball, shit, no 2K League for three weeks. And the worst part is, we don’t know when the light at the end of the tunnel is coming.
Lost to this current uncertainty is the draft. The NBA has already stated they plan to resume play at some point in 2020. If return to play doesn’t happen until the late summer or early fall, what does that mean for the draft which is typically slated for late June?
These are weird times, and the best way to pass the time is to get lost in the coverage. YouTube deep dives, prospect breakdowns, and Twitter threads are our new best friends, and with no further tape coming from any prospect beyond empty gym workouts, it’s an opportunity to really get to know this draft class, perhaps better than any other draft class in recent memory.
There has been modest movement near the top of the board. When we last checked in on the top guys basketball was still going on, and there were some last impressions made, which was good news for some and bad news for others.
Lead guard remains a top priority for the Knicks; however, talent should trump all positional needs. The top of this draft is not bad as it’s been made out to be. There are talented players in every draft, it might just take some extensive scouting to unearth the Howard Ratner–esque uncut gems.
This is how we win.
Current Record: 21-45, 12th in Eastern Conference
Projected Draft Pick: 6th overall
Chance at #1 Pick: 9.0%
The Cream of the Crop
Time has made the heart grow fonder with regard to Killian Hayes. The lure of LaMelo Ball’s uptempo playing style is enticing, but Hayes is still the crowned jewel no one is talking enough about.
Killian Hayes declared for the draft last week, bringing him one step closer to the league, and hopefully New York. The appeal of Hayes remains unchanged: he passes the eye test, has a more complete game, and has the numbers to back it up.
Hayes is superior to LaMelo and the other guards in this class. In his lone season for German club ratiopharm Ulm, Hayes put up solid numbers. Per 36 minutes, Hayes averaged 17.2 points, 8.3 assists, 3.1 rebounds, and 2.0 steals a game.
His shooting numbers are sterling compared to the others: shooting 45.5% from the field, 39.0% from three (5.0 attempts per game), and 90.9% from the free throw line. It’s worth mentioning that these numbers were against adults in one of Europe’s more physical leagues. That experience will come in handy early on in his NBA career.
When you watch Hayes play you can clearly see him in the NBA. Countless plays recall watching D’Angelo Russell all over again, and at times, even James Harden.
Killian Hayes declares for the draft, bringing him one step closer to New York.pic.twitter.com/8gEEOijVjz
— Mike Cortez 🇵🇷 (@CortezEra) March 27, 2020
There is no debate, LaMelo is the superior facilitator, but Hayes has his fair share of good reads in his own right.
Killian Hayes, my #3 prospect has declared for the draft.
Pinpoint passes like this are part of why i’m such a big fan of his game pic.twitter.com/ZwufJX45fy
— NBA Draft Central (@NBADC_) March 27, 2020
Mindset is a big thing with prospects, and for those who share my affinity for buying into the mental portion of a prospect as much as physical, watch Hayes’ sit down with ESPN’s Mike Schmitz.
Hayes will be a seamless fit into the current Knicks lineup, giving them an interchangeable guard, and one with serious potential as a three-level scorer. Whether the Knicks need Hayes to run the offense or get a bucket, he is well equipped to get the job done, something few 2020 prospects can boast.
Guard, Illawara (via Chino Hills)
Amazingly, a few years back LaMelo Ball being drafted by the Knicks was more of a joke than anything. Now, many dream at the prospect of the youngest Ball brother playing in orange and blue. And you can’t really blame them.
At 18 years old, LaMelo has already experienced quite the character arc, starting out as Lonzo Ball’s youngest brother, and crowned jewel of father LaVar Ball’s Big Baller Brand vision. From day one, LaVar said LaMelo would end up being the best of the three brothers; quite the expectation given his brother was drafted second overall. But just as LaVar predicted Lonzo to L.A., he may be right on LaMelo being better than Lonzo.
LaMelo’s lone season in the NBL was a prolific one, ending with Rookie of the Year honors.
LaMelo Ball is the #NBL20 ROOKIE OF THE YEAR! 🙌
— Illawarra Hawks (@IllawarraHawks) February 16, 2020
In contrast to Lonzo, who was an uber-efficient maestro in his lone season at UCLA, LaMelo was more of a showman, flashing the same high-level reads of his older brother, while also looking out for his own shot.
The combination of his older brother’s I.Q. and thirst to also get his blend to make a player that may give the analytics community ulcers, but translate to must-see TV in the right situation.
Could that situation be New York? LaVar believes so, and once again he could be right.
LaMelo has not played with a center as talented as Mitchell Robinson, and the amount of highlight alleys those two could create in a single season isn’t quantifiable. He can help make R.J. Barrett’s life much easier. Frank Ntilikina will be his best friend quickly, as Ntilikina is the perfect safety blanket for LaMelo, who, as exciting as he is, will never be confused with Gary Payton.
He is likely at the top of the Knicks’ list. He fits the bill for everything the team desperately needs, chief among them, giving fans a reason to watch the games. LaMelo can be the piece to elevate the core of Robinson, Barrett, and Ntilikina; shit, he may even awaken Kevin Knox II.
The problem is, other teams can view LaMelo in the same light. A pick outside the top three likely signals the end of yet another draft dream.
Deni Avdija did not crack the initial board, and for good reason: I hadn’t watched enough to make a judgement. Update: I have watched the tape, and I liked what I saw. Avdija is not a second chance at Luka Doncic, but he is a second chance on another European player Knicks fans loved dearly once upon a time: Danilo Gallinari.
While there is still more research to be done on Avdija, one thing is certain: he is legit. He took home MVP honors in the 2019 FIBA U20 European Championship, sporting an impressive stat line and helping Israel capture the gold medal.
The 2019 #FIBAU20Europe MVP – Deni Avdija! 🏆
Throughout the tournament, he averaged 18.4 PTS, 8.3 REB, 5.3 AST, 2.1 STL and 2.4 BLK. pic.twitter.com/xXWss7Lnsf
— FIBA (@FIBA) July 21, 2019
The Gallinari comp goes beyond Avdija wearing number eight and being a white European with an attitude to his game. Avdija is well-versed in just about every area, most surprisingly on defense:
Deni Avdija's defense was key in Maccabi's win over Anadolu Efes. Guarded everyone + big stops on PG Shane Larkin, C Tibor Pleiss
Avdija's touches are limited in Euroleague but doesn't affect his defensive effort/focus. Quick feet, stays attached thru screens, alert off the ball pic.twitter.com/BwRYqQB8tH
— Jonathan Wasserman (@NBADraftWass) March 5, 2020
The one question mark, or rather just a genuine mystery, are his shooting numbers. When you watch the tape, nothing leads you to believe that he is a bad shooter. His numbers tell another story: his overall field-goal percentage is fine (51.9%) but his 33.6% from deep leaves a lot to be desired, and his 52.0% from the free throw line is baffling to say the least.
But there is a legit reason for this, only I still don’t know how true it is. Apparently Avdija has been a constant victim of the Ballbonic Plague, putting him in a precarious position with the shot clock expiring. While that is plausible enough to explain the three-point percentage, the free throw line is another matter. Is it just the low amount of attempts he has taken? On the season Avdija averages 1.6 attempts per game, and 18 total attempts in 26 games.
Avdija’s fit within the current group is reasonably straightforward: plug and play him at the 3, where he can provide shooting and defense on the wing with Barrett. Avdija and Barrett could make for a nice, interchangeable wing duo, as both are capable of handling the ball.
Where Avdija provides the most value is on defense. There is a stark contrast between the NBA and EuroLeague, sure, but Avdija does look comfortable tracking his man wherever he goes on the floor, even protecting the rim in some cases. This is an area that has held Kevin Knox back—although Knox has shown improvement on help-side blocks this season—but will allow Avdija to make an impact from day one, especially if concerns surrounding his jumper are validated.
The ceiling for Avdija may not be as high as an Anthony Edwards. Not to sound like a broken record, but the security of a high floor is amplified in a draft class that will carry a high amount of randomness.
Guard, Iowa State
There is not much left to say about Tyrese Haliburton.
A wrist injury cut his season shorter than the others, leaving us with nothing else but to visualize where he would fit with this current group. Haliburton’s off-the-dribble effectiveness remains unknown, but he would be a great catch-and-shoot player to pair with Barrett. It would free Barrett up to drive in open space. Haliburton shot 42.6% from three in two seasons at Iowa State, including 41.9% this season. That type of shooter is exactly with whom Barrett needs to share the floor.
The other bonus would be having a true lead guard. We saw the difference Elfrid Payton was able to make this season. The chance to add a younger guard with a similar penchant for finding open teammates (Haliburton averaged 6.5 assists per game this season) and be able to knock down shots is far from a consolation prize.
His size would allow positional versatility with Ntilikina and Barrett, playing off of either guy, or running the offense himself. Haliburton is certainly not the sexiest option, and one the casual fan may not be satisfied with initially.
Anthony Edwards is the biggest faller on the board, thanks in large part to his inability to leave a mark in his one season at Georgia. No one should fault Edwards for Georgia’s lack of success, the lack of help Edwards had was the reason for the uninspiring season. Still, Edwards did not do much to separate himself from the pack.
Edwards played five more games since the first edition of the board, averaging 19.8 points per game on 39.0% shooting from the floor. The rest of his averages are pretty underwhelming (4.6 rebounds and 2.8 assists per game), mildly encouraging (1.6 steals) and downright gross (23.8% shooting from outside).
He put together his second best game of the season against South Carolina, going off for 36 points, seven rebounds, four assists, and four steals. It was his second highest scoring of the season, but was a relatively low stakes game. In his lone conference tournament game he scored six points on 2-of-13 shooting.
The main issue with Edwards is he never played up to the moment. His best games came in low stakes matchups. In big games Edwards was not nearly as potent as a top pick should be. The tools are there for him to be a great player, he’s mechanically sound and gifted with the type of athleticism we all dream of.
Whether Edwards can put all of that together is something the Knicks should not be too interested in seeing. Frank Ntilikina and Knox are already project prospects the team needs to focus on developing, adding another to the mix will only slow the rebuild.
In the Mix
Guard, North Carolina
Cole Anthony’s fall off the board is no fault of his own, the guard in front of him are simply better options. Anthony remains well within the Knicks’ draft plan given his position and the fact that he is legacy—for those still unaware, Anthony’s father is former Knick Greg Anthony.
Preposterous that Onyeka Okongwu was not on the original board, I know. But in the spirit of being true to myself and to you all, I will not list guys I haven’t seen simply because a lot of people think they are good.
Having said that, I have seen tape and I am aroused. Okongwu is an absolute animal who gives off heavy Bam Adebayo vibes.
He knows where he makes his living and does not stray too far off that path: he is a force down low and a stifling shot-blocker on defense.
If the Knicks were to go with a big, Okongwu would be near the top. The only perceived turn off to his game is his lack of shooting. There would be too much overlap with Mitchell Robinson in terms of where both like to generate their shots. But there is a reason to believe Okongwu—and Robinson for that matter—can develop a decent shot if his 72.0% from the free throw line is any indicator.
For now, he will lay below the top five, but if the Knicks fall to nine, Okongwu becomes a very attractive option. As I said during the first edition, rebuilding teams should rarely pass on the best player available.
Guard, New Zealand Breakers
The Other Pick
Vernon Carey Jr.
Other names to keep tabs on: Jalen Smith, Reggie Perry, Cassius Winston, Killian Tillie
The TKW Draft Board will return in two weeks…