Knicks Mock Draft: A Star is Born in New York
R.J. Barrett, Kevin Knox, and Frank Ntilikina are not a bad collection of talent. When you remember this is what the Knicks have to show for three straight lottery selections, though, it's not quite what the Knicks had hoped for. Lottery picks are not guaranteed to materialize into stars, but the hope is that you'd get one player who's a future no-brainer building block out of the three. The jury is still out on Barrett in that respect, but there's more pressure than ever on the Knicks to nail their picks in the 2020 NBA Draft.
I will be taking that burden from Leon Rose and Scott Perry and making the Knicks' picks myself. As my colleagues have done, I simulated the NBA Draft order and all picks on tankathon.com. I made New York's selections in the lottery, at 27, and at 38. Any players the simulation took before me were off limits. Ultimately, I steered toward players who contribute to winning basketball and have skill sets that the team needs.
We'll see if the Knicks have the same luck I did, because when I ran the simulation, I got pick #1. Granted, it would have been better to get this last year, it'd be exciting for Knicks fans nonetheless. There's a lot of uncertainty at the top of this draft, and while it ultimately came down to two players, I chose to be a Big Baller.
Jokes aside, LaMelo Ball has actually become the player I'd covet most in this draft if I were the Knicks. Ball didn't go to college last year, opting to play for the Illawarra Hawks of the NBL in Australia, but he showed impressive NBA potential both there and in high school. He's an above-average scorer with the ability to pull up from deep effectively, as well as attack the rim to a decent degree. His size and length for a point guard is definitely a plus. But the biggest draw with LaMelo is obviously his passing.
The youngster has vision like his brother Lonzo, seeing passes that others don't see, getting everyone around him involved, and showing off a little flair while running the offense. We've seen the meteoric rise of superior passers like Luka Doncic, Nikola Jokic, Trae Young, and Ben Simmons. I don't want to compare LaMelo directly to any of them, but he does have a unique playmaking ability and passing vision that really can't be taught. By having this exclusive skill, Ball not only makes for a safe pick, he also has the ceiling to be the superstar New York needs.
For context, my pick came down to Ball and Anthony Edwards. International prospects Deni Avdija and Killian Hayes didn't quite have the same upside, and I was not taking a center first overall (sorry James Wiseman). Edwards is an elite athlete with a chiseled body and impressive shot-making ability. The biggest question with the freshman from Georgia is how efficient he can be at the next level (and for the Knicks, can this franchise develop a player like him). Edwards scared me a bit playing next to Barrett, moreso than Ball's rail-thin frame and questionable defensive ability. LaVar called his shot again: LaMelo Ball is a New York Knick.
With Ball in the fray, I focused next on the 27th overall pick. For context, Jalen Smith, Vernon Carey Jr., and Tre Jones went the three picks before me. My pick again came down to two players, and I decided to continue the Big Baller ways by opting for upside with Precious Achiuwa. I watched a lot of AAC basketball this year, and the freshman big was the only bright spot during a disappointing season for Memphis. Achiuwa is certainly a work in progress. His offensive game has a ways to go, and he needs to become more disciplined defensively. But Achiuwa has shown a decent three-point shot and handle for a player his size, and his explosiveness made him a feared rim protector and defender. With the right development, Achiuwa could become a rare 3-and-D player that can switch across wing positions and be an enforcer in the paint.
Saddiq Bey out of Villanova was my other choice, and he would've been a fine selection. Bey is a better shooter and offensive creator than Achiuwa, and he's also a plus defender that can fit into that 3-and-D role. Achiuwa is much stronger and more athletic, so I decided to take a gamble that his game catches up to his physical gifts as opposed to playing it safe with an overall solid player like Bey. Other players in consideration here were Kira Lewis Jr., Jordan Nwora, and Devon Dotson.
Moving onto pick #38, Nwora, Dotson, and Joel Ayayi were taken right before my pick. I chose Syracuse's Elijah Hughes as my third and final selection. Hughes made some clear improvements during his junior season, showcasing his ability to drill three point shots, create off the dribble, and wreak havoc on defense. The Orange do play zone, so we haven't seen Hughes in many man-to-man situations, but his off-ball defense within the zone was excellent, and he has an athletic build that should translate on that end of the floor. Hughes may be a bit old at 22, but after taking two prospects who aren't old enough to legally drink, I'm comfortable grabbing a more seasoned player here. Other options included Isaiah Joe, Grant Riller, and Malik Fitts.
My overall thought process going into the draft was to shoot for best player available early in an attempt to net someone with star potential, then focus on shooting, versatility, and defense with the later picks. I consider those goals accomplished, but now I pass the responsibility back to the Knicks. It's time to develop these kids.