A logjam in the backcourt for the Pelicans could produce a favorable outcome for the Knicks, still searching for an answer at point guard. Why not look for Lonzo Ball?
It is possible that what you are about to read is meaningless. It is possible Russell Westbrook or John Wall are already New York Knicks. That is the warp speed into which this offseason has shifted.
Still here? Okay, that means Westbrook, Wall, or any other star for sale you can think of isn’t a Knick, which also means the list of guards on the roster is as follows:
- R.J. Barrett
- Frank Ntilikina
- Dennis Smith Jr.
- Elfrid Payton
- Jared Harper (two-way)
- Immanuel Quickley
- Myles Powell (camp invite)
- Austin Rivers
Heading into an offseason where landing a long-term solution at lead guard is imperative, it’s easy to be disappointed. The Austin Rivers signing on Sunday helped lighten the mood after half the fan base lost its mind at Payton being brought back despite being the worst possible pairing with Barrett in the backcourt.
Count me as one of the people distraught at a one-year ,$5 million signing. Such a small signing should not incite as much anger as it did, so I had a talk with myself.
Why would this front office, which has made mostly forward-thinking moves, possibly bring back Payton for anything other than his CAA ties? Payton can’t shoot worth a damn, and at times last season it felt as if he did not know a world existed outside of himself and Julius Randle.
One thing Payton did do well was run an offense. Did he assist hunt? Yes. But the fact of the matter is, among the group of guards last season, he was most capable at running an offense. As of now that remains the case, unless Quickley proves to be another Kentucky guard taken outside of the lottery who becomes a star.
Right now, Quickley is the one hope keeping us from watching Payton ignore Barrett this season, and the one shot Barrett has at playing alongside a guard who can take attention off of him.
There is still an option available as a long-term solution who does not come with hundreds of millions of dollars attached to him. Hell, he might not even be expensive to trade for—it would just take some creativity.
I am talking about trading for Lonzo Ball.
Before you laugh me out of New York, hear me out. Ball is not Jason Kidd 2.0 as some predicted coming out of UCLA. He is already on his second team, and following a forgettable stretch in the bubble it doesn’t sound crazy for New Orleans to move him.
Ball would fill a couple needs in New York that New Orleans doesn’t require nearly as much with the arrival of Kira Lewis Jr., Eric Bledsoe, and Nickeil Alexander-Walker. For one, it would give the Knicks a long-term option at the lead guard spot.
The oldest of the Ball brothers, Lonzo is not as flashy as his younger brother LaMelo, but the potency of his passing is about the same.
Few make passing as fun to watch as Lonzo.
Throughout a tumultuous three years (relative to a former second-overall pick) Ball has always been able to pass. Even his rookie season in L.A. when he had arctic shooting numbers, he managed to average 7.2 assists per game.
The sneaky improvement in Lonzo’s game, and what makes him appealing to New York is his three-point shooting. Following the first two seasons with awful shooting numbers from deep (30.5% as a rookie and 32.9% in his second season), Lonzo shot a career-best 37.5% on a career-high 6.3 attempts per game.
Increased volume and percentage is what you dream of. It’s enough of a reason to believe Lonzo is an asset you can buy low on, give the fan base something else to get excited about, and most importantly, fit with the three key building blocks: Barrett, Obi Toppin, and Mitchell Robinson.
The main source of disgust over bringing Payton back was his shooting. Adding him to the floor shrinks the spacing considerably—a big problem when your three young guys all have the same swing skill (shooting) that has yet to be solved. It is ambitious to suggest Lonzo’s 37.5% (38.3% excluding the bubble) is the norm, but is safe to say it will be better than Payton, or Smith Jr. for that matter.
Ball is someone Rose can champion as the long-term answer at point guard, possibly solving a two-decade problem. He can give Barrett a backcourt partner with whom he can thrive. He can give Toppin and Robinson the ideal quarterback to throw them lobs.
Lonzo Ball throws the no-look alley oop to Zion Williamson! 🥵 pic.twitter.com/7reKbh1AEg
— Kory Waldron (@KWalHoops) February 3, 2020
Conversely, Toppin or Barrett could throw Ball lobs—Ball’s athleticism is another slept-on part of his game.
Lonzo Ball throws down the alley oop in transition! pic.twitter.com/jA3CpSd7mL
— Disney Gary Clark (@Itamar1710) October 13, 2019
To get Ball, Leon Rose and his staff will have to get creative, something they proved capable of with the Ed Davis transactions. Ball’s price may not get lower than it is right now when you take into account the amount of guards on the Pelicans’ roster, Ball’s disastrous bubble, and the financial commitment the Pelicans will have to make in the next few seasons. Trading Bledsoe is the easy answer, but what if the Knicks throw David Griffin a package to his liking?
Similar to Sam Presti in OKC, Griffin has been stacking up on draft picks like toilet paper right before COVID hit. One team whose draft picks would always have appeal are the Knicks. What team better to gamble on than the ones who have been stuck on the rebuild for seven years?
If Rose were able to offer a package centered around picks excluding their own 2021 pick, Kevin Knox (who remains in purgatory with regard to the team’s long-term plan), could Griffin bite? Griffin may be a fan of Ball, but clearly Ball is not as cemented into his team’s future as his draft classmates De’Aaron Fox, Jayson Tatum, or Donovan Mitchell.
This is the NBA after all. No one is off the table. Rose has proven to be a solid dealmaker with his early flurry of moves, yet the former agent has not made a big deal. Lonzo Ball isn’t a blockbuster deal per se, but he can give a nice jolt to the rebuild, give this current core a player who can assimilate easier, and most of all bring some much-needed excitement to the Garden.
LaVar Ball said New York would have been the best spot for his youngest son LaMelo, saying “it’s time for something good to happen to them.” Lonzo was not able to recreate Showtime with the Lakers, and the Knicks were not able to land LaMelo, which gives both parties something to make up for.
Broadway offers a stage equally prominent to Los Angeles, and the Knicks have lacked excitement for far too long. Maybe this isn’t as crazy as it sounds.