NBA Draft 2020: Projected top-five pick could fall to Knicks
As team president Leon Rose gears up for his biggest night since being hired in March, he may not solve the Knicks’ point-guard woes with the No. 8 pick in Wednesday’s virtual draft.
According to multiple sources, there’s a growing league buzz the Bulls, at No. 4, will pull off a surprise pick that will have a domino effect and slide Dayton scoring forward Obi Toppin to the Knicks at No. 8. Anything’s possible. It’s 2020.
For months, Toppin, a 6-foot-9 Brooklyn native, was projected as a top-5 pick and out of range of the Knicks. But the Knicks still used one of their workouts on the 22-year-old Dayton star who is considered one of the most explosive scorers in a weak draft and one of the most NBA-ready players in the lottery after two seasons in the Atlantic 10.
The Knicks like Toppin’s scoring potential a lot and — even better — he’s represented by Creative Artists Agency, the firm Rose used to run. League sources believe the CAA connection matters to Rose.
The only question is whether Toppin is a stout enough defender for coach Tom Thibodeau’s tastes.
“I think Leon will lean on Tom a lot,” one NBA source said. “Is Obi a Tom-type player?”
Even if Toppin doesn’t slide, this might not be the year for taking a point guard as high as No. 8 with so little turnaround time before training camp begins Dec. 1. French point guard Killian Hayes has intrigued the Knicks but sources believe he will go the Pistons at No. 7.
With the Knicks seemingly not high on Iowa State point guard Tyrese Haliburton, that leaves Alabama point guard Kira Lewis, who seems a reach at No. 8 but has the explosion Knicks GM Scott Perry cherishes. The Knicks could trade back to get Lewis.
If the Knicks put off taking a point guard — their neediest position — in the lottery, sources believe that would give Thibodeau more ammunition to push for a Russell Westbrook trade.
Two other wing players are squarely in the mix because they are each defensive-minded — Auburn small forward Isaac Okoro and Florida State shooting guard Devin Vassell, a 3-and-D prospect.
To boot, Vassell also is a CAA client and the Knicks worked him out in Atlanta.
Florida State head coach Leonard Hamilton, who has known Perry for years, compared Vassell to having Klay Thompson potential in an interview with The Post this week.
“We play similar to a lot of NBA teams,’’ Hamilton told The Post. “Spread the floor, a lot of ball screens. If you watch Devin play all year long, he doesn’t have dips in intensity many people have. He’s consistent with the defensive end and offensive end. You watch him, he has that ‘it’ factor something you can’t put the finger on. He’s got that confidence and never gets rattled.’’
Ironically, the emergence of Vassell’s Florida State teammate, Patrick Williams, could derail Vassell’s union with the Knicks.
The Bulls may be shying away from the overseas forward project Deni Avidja to take Williams at No. 4. At No. 5, the Cavaliers then may take Avidja, an Israeli forward, instead of keeping Toppin in Ohio as he’s been projected to go for a while. That probably would slide Toppin to No. 8.
Toppin won a host of player of the year awards, averaging 20 points per game on 63 percent shooting.
“I spoke with the Knicks,” Toppin said on an NBA Zoom call Tuesday. “I had an interview with them. It went very well. They have a great organization. It would be great to go home, but there’s a lot of other teams that are in front of them that are great too.”
“I would love to get picked by a place that best fits me. Going to a place where people are going to help me develop and get better and make sure I’m going to be great one day and be a Hall of Famer and player of the year, an MVP.”
If the Knicks go with a forward or shooting guard at No. 8, they probably will take a point guard with the 27th pick received from the Clippers in the Marcus Morris deal. They have shown interest in Frenchman Theo Maledon, who could wind up in Milwaukee at No. 21, Stanford’s Tyrell Terry and San Diego State’s Malachi Flynn.
The Knicks also select 38th. Rest assured, the three Knicks rookies have their work cut out for them without a summer league or the normal voluntary workouts the month before training camp.
“All the teams were telling me how fast the process is going to go after draft day,’’ Auburn’s Okoro said. “How the next day you’re just getting shipped off to where you’re going and how fast the process is going to go with training camp happening so fast.”
No. 8: If Obi Toppin doesn’t slide, the Knicks will take the best player available — and best defender — in Auburn forward Isaac Okoro.
No. 27: Theo Maledon is a crafty point guard with more speed than Killian Hayes and he could have an instant friend in fellow Frenchman Frank Ntilikina.
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