CHAPEL HILL, NORTH CAROLINA - MARCH 03: Cole Anthony #2 of the North Carolina Tar Heels reacts after making a three-point basket against the Wake Forest Demon Deacons during the first half of their game at the Dean Smith Center on March 03, 2020 in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.
(Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images)

As the New York Knicks prepare for this year’s NBA Draft, let’s zero in on the players they should prioritize the most.

Josh Benjamin

The NBA Draft is occurring in October, and the New York Knicks are in an excellent position.

First, the Knicks won’t be taking part when the NBA season resumes in Orlando come July. This gives new team president Leon Rose and general manager Scott Perry four months to prepare for the draft.

But more importantly, the Knicks are in a far better position than they were last year. Instead of banking on their bad record to carry them to draft lottery gold, the Knicks have two first-round picks at their disposal in 2020. Given the team’s history of trading draft assets, the excitement at having a pair of picks this year is real.

But how will the Knicks use these selections, especially their first one? New York desperately needs a fast scoring point guard, not to mention better defense across the board. This year’s class isn’t necessarily deep, but possesses talent that the blue and orange could use to fill a number of holes both at the top and bottom of the draft.

With that said, if Rose and Perry were to prioritize these five players, the Knicks could easily win the NBA Draft in some fashion.

No. 5: James Wiseman, C, Memphis

The Knicks do not need a star center. Mitchell Robinson’s ceiling is still high, as he averaged 15 points and 10.9 rebounds per 36 minutes in his second season. Robinson also led the NBA in field goal percentage, having made 74.2% of his shot attempts in his age-21 season.

Nonetheless, let’s assume the lottery runs according to team record and the Knicks wind up with the No. 6 pick. If Wiseman is still on the board, are Rose and Perry really going to shy away from drafting the best player available? Save for picking Wiseman and using him to trade up, down, or for a superstar, he could be an impact player alongside Robinson at Madison Square Garden.

It’s also important to note that although Wiseman only played in three collegiate games, he still performed well despite the small sample size. He averaged 19.7 points, 10.7 rebounds, and three blocks while shooting an eye-popping 76.9% from the field. Wiseman additionally has NBA size at 7-foot-1, 240 pounds.

All in all, are the Knicks going to draft Wiseman? Probably not. Still, better for Rose and Perry to do their homework on him and see just how much of a fit he would be in case he’s available at New York’s turn.

No. 4: Tyrese Haliburton, G/F, Iowa State

One way or another, Tyrese Haliburton will find his niche in the NBA. Be it as a high-volume scoring guard or a three-and-D, the former Cyclone should have a successful career ahead of him.

And the numbers support that. Haliburton posted 15.2 points, 5.9 rebounds, 6.5 assists, and even 2.5 steals per contest last season. He shot over 50% from the field, 41.9% from three, and recorded a true shooting percentage (TS%) of .631. Haliburton is also long and lean for his position at 6-foot-5, albeit at a skinny 175 pounds.

But as I noted in my recent draft profile of Haliburton, he’ll need time to adjust to the pros. His jump shot is unconventional and he often tries to do too much in traffic instead of dumping the ball off to a teammate. Despite this, his versatility only amplifies his upside.

So what does this all mean for the Knicks? Well, they should definitely scout Haliburton heavily. However, they should only draft him if the front office and eventual new coach decide he is 100% the guy.

No. 3: Kira Lewis, PG, Alabama

Many of you probably haven’t heard of Kira Lewis, and that’s okay. He played for Alabama, a school that’s obviously better known for its football program. Moreover, his Crimson Tide hoops teams struggled to keep up inside a talented SEC.

Despite that, Lewis himself proved to be a diamond in the rough. He averaged 18.5 points and 5.2 assists per game during his sophomore campaign and shot 45.9% from the field. Lewis also made 36.6% of his three-point attempts and posted a TS% of .560.

Should Lewis be the top point guard on Rose and Perry’s NBA Draft wishlist? Probably not, but he deserves a fair look. He’s skinny at 165 pounds. Nonetheless, he has the size at 6-foot-3. He can knock down a three in a pinch, but needs to further develop his overall jump shot.

The good news is Lewis is a natural leader on the floor and can drive to the hoop with either hand, though he could improve going to his left. If the Knicks decide he’s their guy, don’t be surprised if they trade down to acquire him.

No. 2: Deni Avdija, F, Maccabi Tel Aviv, Israel

The three-pointer rules in today’s NBA, which means one thing for all teams: you can never employ too many defensive wings. The Knicks, despite the expected continued development of RJ Barrett, are absolutely one of these organizations. No disrespect to Kevin Knox, but his Swiss cheese defense is enough to feed Mickey Mouse, Mighty Mouse, the whole crew from Cinderella, and we’ll include Pinky and the Brain just for fun.

Now that I’ve filled your heads with enough images of cartoon mice, let’s talk about Deni Avdija. He’s still just 19 years old and played mostly in a reserve role for Israel’s Maccabi Tel Aviv. Why is he even a consideration for the NBA, let alone as a potential lottery pick?

Simply put, the kid can play. Avdija has size at 6-foot-9, 220 pounds and was MVP of the FIBA U20 European Championship last year. He averaged 18.4 points, 8.3 rebounds, 5.3 assists, 2.4 blocks, and 2.1 steals while leading his native Israel to the gold medal.

With that said, Marc Berman of the New York Post reported in April that Knox’s “inner circle” wasn’t too thrilled about his decreasing minutes. Similarly, Rose rumoredly regrets not watching enough of Knox before the season was suspended. If New York opts to move on from Knox and replace him with another athletic wing, Avdija would be an excellent pick under the right circumstances.

No. 1: Cole Anthony, PG, North Carolina

Sometimes, history writes itself. Cole Anthony’s father, Greg, was drafted by the Knicks in 1991 and spent four of his 11 NBA seasons in New York. Nearly two decades later, the Knicks should absolutely select the younger Anthony if he’s available at their first turn.

There are indeed some risks to drafting him though. A knee injury limited him to 22 games in his lone college season, a period in which he averaged 18.5 points and four assists per game but shot just 38% from the field with a streaky 34.8% from long range.

This is a case where the numbers are a tad deceiving. Yes, Anthony’s percentages are low for a lottery prospect, but his TS% was an impressive .501. More importantly, the Tar Heels were so bad last season that Hall of Fame coach Roy Williams called them the “least gifted team” he’s ever coached.

Think of who Anthony would share the court with in New York. Not only would he have a pair of viable scoring teammates in Barrett and Julius Randle, but he would also perform alongside Robinson. He wouldn’t be carrying the offense by himself like he did in Chapel Hill.

Anthony was born to be a Knick. Now, all the team needs to do is draft him.

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