Updated: Aug 13, 2020
Photo: Bleacher Report
Ahhhh. It’s nothing like summer in the city and the lonely feeling of not being able to watch the Knicks compete. With the NBA Bubble in full swing and the playoffs around the corner, normally I would be bummed (but not surprised) that the Knicks have begun their vacation. As all of the fun is playing out, now is the time to bring the Knicks back into the spotlight. After a disappointing offseason missing out on KD and Kyrie, 2020 will be their year (let’s hope).
The first move was to assemble a team. They made an awesome move by signing one of basketball’s most powerful agents, Leon Rose, as their President. Some of the guys he represented in the league include Allen Iverson and LeBron James. Not bad, not a big deal. They also brought on “World Wide Wes”, William Wesley, as an Executive. Pretty good so far. The second item on the agenda was to find a right-hand man and a component Head Coach. The Knicks had multiple rounds of interviews but they ultimately decided on Mr. Tom Thibodeau. He brought the Bulls to their greatest success since MJ and also lead the Timberwolves to the playoffs for the first time in 13 years. The former NBA Coach of the Year is now back in New York to turn the franchise around. This isn’t Thibodeau’s first stint with the team. He was an assistant with the Knicks from 1996-2003, part of Jeff Van Gundy's staff when they made a run from the No. 8 seed to the finals. Another exciting move which will help ignite the flames. According to Shams Charania, the Knicks also expect to bring back former coach, Mike Woodson, to join the staff. He is known for leading the Knicks back in 2012-13 to a 54-28 record, and their most recent playoff appearance.
Photo: NBAE via Getty Images
The Knicks have the keys to success. Julius Randle is underappreciated and had quality numbers last year. RJ Barrett and Mitchell Robinson are future All-Stars with rafter high potential. Frank Ntilikina, Kevin Knox, Dennis Smith Jr., and Damyean Dotson are also nice contributing players to build upon. They are all young, scrappy, and hungry. The roster has a lot of upsides. These guys had their moments, but there are a million things they haven’t done, so just you wait. There is also some opportunity in the free-agent market. One thing the Knicks do right was assembling a team of players on one or two-year contracts. That money will be off the books, and they have the chance to possibly land the likes of Zach LaVine, Gordan Hayward, DeMar DeRozan, Andre Drummond, or Anthony Davis. But the real question is, who are they going to draft?
According to WFAN Radio, the Knicks have a roughly equal chance, about 9% of picking first, second, third, or fourth. They only have an 8.6% chance of selecting sixth, but there's a 50.4% chance they pick seventh or eighth. The team also has another first-round pick via the Clippers from the Marcus Morris trade. If the Knicks secure a top 5 pick and this guy is available, my pick that I would immediately hammer down is the Dayton talent, Obi Toppin. He averaged 20 pts shooting 63% from the field while grabbing 7.5 rebounds and dishing out 2.2 assists per game. He brought in the hardware this season. Obi Toppin was a consensus First Team All-American, the Karl Malone Award winner, A10 Player of the Year, First Team All-A10, and not to mention the Player of the Year. If March Madness wasn’t derailed by COVID-19, you would have seen some impressive games and plays from the redshirt sophomore. He is a Brooklyn kid who is already being compared to Amar’e Stoudemire both in his game and body type. We spoke with our friend John Fanta on Episode 12 (Play by Play for College Basketball on Fox and Host of Big East Shoot Around), and he said Toppin could be the biggest win in the draft. It is unlikely that a talent like Toppin will fall, so it will be up to the magic numbers on the lottery day to help the Knicks form this pick.
Photo: Sports Illustrated
However, every “expert” is pointing their fingers towards a point guard. I don’t disagree. As mentioned above, DSJ and the French Prince are nice additions, but they aren’t the starting answer. The names that have been thrown around are LaMelo Ball and Tyrese Halliburton of Iowa State.
LaMelo Ball is the third son of the Ball trio, led by an outspoken father, LaVar. He was a Chino Hills High School standout, where he won a California state championship his freshmen year, alongside Lonzo and LiAngelo. He left his junior year for the Lithuanian pro team – Prienai. He also spent some time in his father’s Junior Basketball Association before returning to High School for his senior year at SPIRE Institute. He once was a five-star recruit and UCLA commit, but he took his talents to Australia and signed with the Illawarra Hawks. He won the NBL Rookie of the Year honors last season. In his 12 games with the Hawks, LaMelo averaged 17 points, 7 rebounds, and close to 7 assists per game while shooting under 40%. He has a lot of potential, but personally I don’t think he is the answer or the right fit for the rebuilding Knicks. His name comes with a lot of baggage and hype, and it could easily be a failed experiment in New York.
Tyrese Halliburton on the other hand is a name to keep an eye on. He is a 6’5 combo guard who played well in school. At Iowa St., he averaged 15.2 points, while having 6.5 assists, 5.9 rebounds, and 2.5 steals per game. Hoops Habit highlighted his shooting ability in a draft preview. “He is a phenomenal shooter across the field at 50.4 percent, in addition to a 41.9 percent from behind the arc and 82.2 percent from the foul line. It is not that common that we see players shoot these high percentages at such a young age.” His stat line and production could be a nice compliment to RJ Barrett and Mitchell Robinson.
If the Knicks fall outside the top picks, they should focus their sights on UNC’s Cole Anthony. He is a name that has been linked to the team for some time now. Reports say the Knicks have done “extensive homework” on the UNC product. The former top recruit out of high school is a scoring point guard for sure. The consensus five-star recruit won MVP at three of the nation’s most prestigious high school all-star games in the McDonald’s All-American Game, the Jordan Brand Classic, and the Nike Hoop Summit.
He averaged a triple-double for Oak Hill Academy, and then committed his talents to the Tar Heels and Roy Williams. Although he had a torn meniscus in his right knee, which prohibited his success, he still managed to score 18.5 points per game. Cole Anthony could be the tenacious formidable attack on both ends of the court that New York so desperately needs.
We won’t know for a while where the Knicks land on the draft board. They could go in many different directions, but there is definite talent at the top of the draft. Until James Dolan sells the team, I will never be satisfied. Let’s hope the Knicks can return to decency and draft a building block for the future. Follow along for more NBA draft previews, we’ll see you October 16th.
PS – I used five Hamilton references in this blog. I don’t know why, but please enjoy.
Photo: Getty Images