November 19, 2020, 2:01 am
When the NBA Draft Lottery was held on August 20, long-suffering Knicks supporters were not pleased to be handed the eighth overall pick. After all, they had a 37 percent chance of finishing within the top four which would have been a great boost to their rebuilding efforts. I’m not the first person to point out that all the lottery luck in Madison Square Garden has apparently been allotted to the NHL’s New York Rangers.
Undaunted, recently hired Knicks President Leon Rose managed to orchestrate one pre-draft trade when he sent the 27th and 38th picks in this draft to the Jazz in exchange for the 23rd overall. There were rumors that New York also sought the Cavs’ #5 selection (which became Isaac Okoro) or the Hawks’ #6 choice (used on Onyeka Okongwu), but in neither case did that particular trade come to fruition.
I lived near Oakland in the pre-Steph Curry years when the Warriors were a perennial source of disappointment, but it still felt a bit unfair for Golden State to select second overall after a single season shortened by the pandemic and riddled with injuries to key players. The only player off limits to Bob Myers became Anthony Edwards, who was picked first overall by the Timberwolves. The recent news that Klay Thompson suffered a leg injury during a workout hours before the draft could be very bad for the Dubs in 2020-21, but they will still be able to integrate Memphis big man James Wiseman right away. It’s never too shabby to grab the number one recruit in his college draft class according to ESPN’s rankings. What exactly does Wiseman bring to the table? In his words: “Versatility, be able to rebound, run the floor, block shots, and just space the floor out.”
As the eighth selection grew nigh, several Knicks beat writers noted that the team would be choosing Obi Toppin, and had even sought a higher pick for the explicit reason of making sure they got him. After the Knicks made their choice official, it was revealed that Toppin had 107 dunks in his final season at at Dayton which was best among collegiate players. Toppin was named the AP Player of the Year and shot 64 percent from the field in three college seasons. However, what emerged most from Toppin’s interview was how emotional he felt.
While choking back tears, Toppin expressed gratitude to his family and explained how exciting it was to be returning home. In his words: “I’m from New York. Me repping my city, that’s amazing. I won’t take it for granted, I promise you that.” While Toppin is 22 years of age, he is expected to be ready for the jump to the NBA. His explosiveness, finishing ability, and skill with either hand added up to a package the Knicks could not refuse. Toppin revealed: “A lot of people say I play like Amar’e Stoudemire, so I’ve been looking at a lot of film on him and seeing how dominant (he was) and the work he put in.” While injuries marred the back end of his career, Stoudemire put up one of his finest seasons as a Knick in 2010-11 when he averaged 25.3 points per contest.
Tyrese Haliburton, declared the best player available at #8 by several experts, had to wait until the Kings picked at #13 to be selected. Some analysts pegged Haliburton to go sixth, or even fourth prior to draft night. The Pistons scouted the Iowa State product heavily but came away with Killian Hayes after using their seventh pick. In any event, Sacramento fans should be pleased to obtain such a polished point guard in the middle of the round.
The camera trained on Leandro Bolmaro wobbled after Adam Silver announced that the Knicks had selected him 23rd overall. Bolmaro plays for FC Barcelona in Spain and appeared to be a stash pick for New York. However, after the ESPN announcers discussed Bolmaro’s familiarity with the family of Manu Ginobili, the Knicks sent him to the Wolves in exchange for the 25th and 33rd picks. A couple of minutes later, the Thunder selected Kentucky product Immanuel Quickley on the Knicks’ behalf and discussion swirled around Rose’s willingness to deal the 33rd selection. In the end, the Knicks drafted Minnesota center Daniel Oturu, then sent him to the Clippers in exchange for the Pistons’ second-round selection in 2023.
Quickley was a comfortable choice for Rose, who has known Kentucky head coach John Calipari for 25 years. According to The Athletic’s Mike Vorkunov, Quickley shot 48 percent from long range during his final 19 games while shooting a high volume. He hit 39.7 percent of 3-point attempts during his two seasons overall. ESPN named him their “breakout star” of the season and Quickley parlayed his rise into a first-round selection playing in the world’s most famous arena.
No one is certain how things will play out with the Knicks’ roster, but Rose was certainly familiar with Toppin as well. Rose used to be employed by CAA, the agency representing the 6’9” forward. Rose certainly landed a player who will embrace the city and all the pressures it brings. He was also the seventh most efficient scorer in Division I last season. Despite the franchise’s many frustrating years in the rear view mirror, Toppin and Quickley represent yet another new hope going forward. In Manhattan and beyond, fans hope that Toppin’s attitude and skill set along with Quickley’s major potential signal that a return to the playoffs won’t be a pipe dream forever.