When the NBA abruptly shut down in mid-March, Knicks fans, like everyone else in the world, had bigger concerns on their mind than the team's spot in the eventual lottery drawing.
That the 2020 Draft had been built up — or down, as it were — as a crapshoot filled with imperfect players only added to the lack of concern. We all (justifiably) had other things on our mind.
Fast forward to now. Without any actual basketball to watch, onlookers everywhere have taken to analyzing, overanalyzing and re-overanalyzing the prospects that will be available come October 16. The lottery to determine the draft order for that night will take place on August 25, and the Knicks will enter with the sixth best odds.
For much of the season, of course, it looked like New York would be quite a bit higher than that. On the morning of February 29, less than two weeks before the shutdown, New York stood with a record 17-42, tied with Cleveland for the third-worst record in the league.
When they went on to win four of their next seven, including maybe the best win of the season versus the Rockets, it was seen at the time as a mostly positive development for a team under new leadership as it attempted to lay some groundwork for next year.
But as the months went by and as draft boards started to solidify, that positivity was subdued. Fans and analysts alike are split on a number of key questions entering this draft, but one thing most everyone agrees on is that the Knicks should have LaMelo Ball, Anthony Edwards and Killian Hayes as the top three on their board in some order.
Thanks to those late season wins, New York's odds of landing a top-three pick decreased from 40 percent to just under 27 percent. Moreover, the most likely pick they'll end up with changed from fifth or sixth to seventh or eighth.
In light of that, the thinking has largely been that if they didn't move up into the top four, they'd be left out in the cold on that imperfect but strongly preferred top three.
Thankfully for them, that calculation may be a bit off:
If this report is to be believed, not only are the Cavs out on Hayes, but they may pass on a guard altogether.
This, of course, may be a bit of an overstatement from an agent trying to get his client to a preferred destination. Still, with Collin Sexton and Darius Garland already on the roster, it wouldn't be shocking to see Cleveland bypass Hayes in favor of someone else who fills a position of need such as Deni Avdija or local product Obi Toppin.
The impact of this one decision may not seem like much, but when put into context with the other teams at the top of the draft, the trickle down effect could be significant.
Starting at the top, the Warriors are entering next season with priorities altogether different than a normal team that finishes in last place. They also have as established a backcourt as there is in the NBA. Put together, it wouldn't seem like they'd be in the market for a rookie guard.
But we're also just a year removed from them signing D'Angelo Russell just to get a good asset in the door. Steve Kerr said in February that Golden State realized that Russell's fit would be questionable from the get go, but it didn't stop them from benefiting by the transaction, as they're now the proud owners of Minnesota's lightly protected 2021 first round pick (and Andrew Wiggins).
Would they make such a move again, except this time with their draft choice?
Doubtful. Draft picks are like new cars in that they lose 10 percent (or more) of their value the minute you drive it off the lot. There's a better chance the Warriors try to trade the pick, but then the question becomes whether anyone is willing to pay a premium to move up. If the answer is "nobody," they could just take a player who they feel fits their roster the best, which could mean either James Wiseman or Onyeka Okongwu.
Speaking of DeAngelo Russell, his new team is third in the lotto standings after Golden State and Cleveland. With Russell entrenched at point guard and both the newly acquired Malik Beasley and last year's lottery selection Jarred Culver on the wing, it's easy to see them passing on a guard as well.
That gets us to Atlanta in the fourth spot. The Hawks were in the news last week when their young star point guard switched agencies and signed with Klutch Sports. If ever signing with a new agent served as shots fired, Trae Young joining the agency that engineered Anthony Davis' flight from New Orleans was it, especially given Young's reported occasional consternation with the team last year.
Given this situation, it's tough to see the Hawks bringing in another point guard, especially with Cam Reddish offering some secondary ball-handling skill in their starting lineup and Kevin Huerter somewhat entrenched at the two.
Detroit, who of course has needs at every position, is fifth, and then there's New York. There's also several teams behind the Knicks in the lottery standings that could make a play for a lead guard, including the Bulls, Wizards, Suns, and if they can find a taker for Terry Rozier, the Hornets.
There's a better than 50/50 chance one of these teams ends up ahead of New York, and if that's the case, maybe the dream of Hayes falling to seventh or eighth dies with it.
But when you factor in the possible wild card of Lavar Ball using his considerable (if annoying) clout to help direct LaMelo away from certain destinations, there's enough uncertainty that something unexpected could transpire.
Add in the fact that Hayes recently interviewed with the Knicks, and New York shouldn't rule out getting lucky on draft night even if they don't luck out in the lottery.