For the fifth consecutive NBA draft, the New York Knicks will be picking in the lottery.
New York will enter Thursday’s draft lottery with a nine percent chance at landing the number one overall pick in the 2020 NBA Draft, and roughly the same chance of selecting in the two-to-six range (excluding the five spot, where they can’t pick per lottery provisions).
After finishing with a 21-35 record, the Knicks’s likeliest scenario is picking seventh (29.8 percent chance) or eighth (20.6 percent). New York will also have a slim chance of picking ninth (3.7 percent) or tenth (0.1 percent.
The Knicks will be (virtually) represented by president Leon Rose, who will hope to bless his first lottery with better luck than the team had in 2019: Despite a league-worst 17 wins, the ping-pong balls—to the all-too-familiar dismay of Knicks fans—awarded New York with the third pick. R.J. Barrett is skilled, but he’s not Zion Williamson nor Ja Morant.
The upcoming draft (slated for Oct. 16) will mark the first opportunity for Rose to affect the roster in a major way, and he’ll look for a player who can excel under new head coach Tom Thibodeau.
The 2020 class is considered to be on the relatively weak side, but the Knicks don’t need to add star-power via the draft. Ultimately, the franchise needs winning players who can help string together multiple years of competency and improvement.
Here are five prospects whom could fit that mold, depending where the pick falls.
If they pick number one…
1) LaMelo Ball (PG, Illawarra Hawks)
Point guard is the Knicks most pressing area of need. The franchise currently has Elfrid Payton, Frank Ntilikina, and Dennis Smith Jr. on the roster, none have whom have proven to be above-average NBA starters (the latter two barely qualify as point guards).
This draft features a handful of strong point guard prospects, and Ball might be the best. Accordingly, Lonzo’s brother is reportedly atop Rose’s draft board.
Ball averaged 17.0 points, 7.4 rebounds, and 6.8 assists per game in 12 NBL games, though his shooting was subpar (.375/.250/.723 splits). Still, he’s 6’8 elite passing and ball-handling skills and brimming with confidence and play-making ability.
Ball has intriguing defensive potential, too, and Thibodeau may be the ideal coach to improve his fundamentals and maximize his effort.
If they pick 2-4:
2) Tyrese Haliburton (PG, Iowa State)
The former Cyclone is 6’5 with an innate feel on the court, and his polished game should quickly translate to the next level—a quality Thibodeau will certainly enjoy.
He’s not lightning quick or explosive, but he’s crafty in the lane (not unlike Barrett). His passing is outstanding, as is his pick-and-roll navigation.
He has a funky form, but he’s an effective enough spot-up shooter with range (.515/.434/.692 in 2019-20) to play off the rock, too, as Barrett and Mitchell Robinson operate. His size and smarts project him as a staunch defender, especially under Thibodeau.
Many Knicks fans might understandably prefer Anthony Edwards or Killian Hayes in this spot. But, Haliburton is a better fit next to Barrett than Edwards, while Hayes is considered a rawer “project”, and the Knicks don’t do great with projects (see: Knox, Kevin).
Haliburton may not become a superstar, but his floor is amongst the highest in the draft.
If they pick 6-8:
3) Obi Toppin (Wing, Dayton)
Toppin, a high-flying, Brooklyn native, would add an injection of maturity and electricity to Madison Square Garden.
He’s 6’9 with eye-popping athleticism and deep shooting range. He’s already 22, but that could help him earn minutes for Thibodeau, who probably wants the Knicks to be competitive sooner rather than later.
Toppin can play the wing or the small-ball four, and he excels in the pick-and-roll.
Considering his skills, his roots, and his resume—he swept the NCAA’s player of the year awards for 2019-20—Toppin could be an instant sensation in the Big Apple.
4) Deni Avdija (Wing, Israel)
If the Knicks don’t like the point guard options available, the accomplished 6’9 Israeli would be a sensible alternative. He isn’t a stellar shooter, but he brings alluring point-forward abilities and his versatility would make him a seamless fit in any lineup.
More importantly, Avdija has won at every level. At 19, he already has two Israeli League championships, an MVP, and two FIBA European champions under his belt.
Like Toppin, he thrives in pick-and-roll situations, and he rarely forces the issue. His on-ball defense can get better, but his hoops IQ and discipline render him a useful team defender.
Perhaps most worrisome is his dismal free throw shooting.
Auburn’s Isaac Okoro would make sense in this range, as well.
If they pick 9-10:
5) Kira Lewis Jr. (PG, Alabama)
Lewis Jr. put up 18.5 PPG, 4.8 RPG, 5.2 APG for the Tide in his sophomore season and made nearly 36.6% of his threes. At 6’3, he’s explosive, fast, and still just 19 years old.
Lewis Jr. is a dynamic shot-creator, with a streaking scoring touch and a high ceiling as both a team and individual defender. If he can rein in his worst tendencies (wild over-aggression), he has the potential to blossom into the type of game-changing, dynamic guard the Knicks hoped they were getting when they acquired Smith Jr. in the Kristaps Porzingis trade.
UNC’s Cole Anthony could be a possibility here, too.
That said, if the Knicks’ pick does end up in this range, Rose may consider packaging it with selections from their cabinet of assets and moving up, down, or acquiring a proven NBA talent.