On May 19th, the 2020 NBA Draft Lottery is supposed to take place, deciding which teams will reap the rewards of getting some of the best young prospects in the world come June 25th. But after COVID-19 brought the entire sports world to a grinding halt, a lot of uncertainty has been cast into the air with just under 20 games still left to go in the regular season. With players not engaging in any basketball activities for over two weeks, the league has to make the ultimate decision on whether a) it cancels the season or b) resumes play sometime in June at the earliest, setting back not only the draft but also free agency and potentially the start of the following season.
That being said, a handful of teams who have fallen well below the bottom half of their conferences, won’t be significantly affected by the final outcome, whether NBA Commissioner Adam Silver settles for option A or B. And this includes the New York Knicks, who currently sit as the 6th worst team in the entire league with a 21-45 record (ESPN). Whether the Knicks receive the opportunity to play the rest of their 16 games or not, their lottery selection won’t vary by much (ESPN).
But as of right now, the one guarantee is that the Knicks will land a Top 10 draft pick. After reviewing the 2020 NBA Mock Draft projections written by Gary Parish from CBS, Jonathan Givony from ESPN, and both Zach Buckley and Jonathan Wasserman from Bleacher Report, it appears the Knicks will land between the 4th and 6th overall pick in the draft. This bodes well for the Knicks, but it presents them with a tricky predicament.
Essentially, the Knicks really need a point guard and a scorer. With guys like Julius Randle and Mitchell Robinson anchoring the paint, the Knicks aren’t in desperate need for a big man, which rules out top prospects like Center James Wiseman, big man Obi Toppin from Dayton, as well as Deni Avdija, a stretch forward from Maccabi Tel Aviv. And after drafting RJ Barrett last year and Kevin Knox the year before that, filling in both the two and three slots, the Knicks don’t really need a shooting guard or a small forward either.
Ultimately, with a gaping hole at the point guard position, this grants the Knicks with two possibilities: 1) They can go all-in for LaMelo Ball, even if it means trading up for him, or 2) opt-out of going after LaMelo Ball and stick with the bright Tar Heel stud, Cole Anthony, who’s projected to be taken 6th by the Knicks according to Parish, Buckley, and Wasserman. Despite these three experts leaning towards choice number two, the Knicks are not in a position to play it safe and need to go all out for LaMelo Ball. It’s been over seven years since the Knicks clinched a playoff berth and decades since they’ve won a title; now is the time where they need to go big or go home.
Ball is the American version of Luka Doncic, a towering 6’7″ point guard that can simply do it all on offense. His versatility at such a young age is second to none. With a lethal shot already at his disposal, LaMelo’s basketball IQ and court vision allow him to see the floor extremely well and facilitate opportunities for his teammates with crisp, spot-on passes. When faced with isolation settings, LaMelo’s creativity comes to life and his unpredictability makes him nearly impossible to defend. Possessing uncanny athleticism that is founded on speed, quickness and hang time, it doesn’t take much for Ball to score at will. But above all else, LaMelo’s ball-handling is debatably his greatest gift, carrying the remarkable skill to either blow by a defender with the slightest hesitation, put them on skates with a nasty crossover, or sink a bucket in their face with a James Harden step-back jumper. By having such a complete skillset, Ball creates a lot of space for himself and his teammates to thrive and excel on offense, and that’s what the Knicks need at the helm of their lineup.
Easily the best out of all three Ball brothers, LaMelo also thrives in the spotlight and has matured immensely during his time with Australia’s Illawarra Hawks. In only 12 games played, he averaged 17 ppg, 7 apg, with 7.5 rebounds and 1.6 steals per game as well (NBL). Moreover, Ball’s last two games in November, grant you a clear snapshot of just why he’s so talented. On November 24th, LaMelo went off, posting a fat 32 points along with 13 assists, 11 rebounds and a stellar 55% shooting percentage from the field (NBL). To top it all off, LaMelo not only led his team to a big 114-106 overtime victory against the Cairns Taipans, but he also splashed a huge, three-point shot to send the game into overtime with only five seconds to spare (NBL). Five days later on November 29th, he posted yet another triple-double, this time putting up 25 points with 10 assists and 12 rebounds in their loss to the New Zealand Breakers (NBL).
As one can imagine, Ball is simply a freak of nature and has been projected by Parish to be selected number one overall in the draft. If he doesn’t go number one, there’s a very good chance he could be selected 2nd, 3rd, or at worst, 4th overall, according to Wasserman, Buckley, and Givony. In order for the Knicks to land the first overall pick (which remains to be unlikely), they need a ton of luck. But realistically, the best picks the Knicks could get, consist of 3rd or 4th, which is the reason why they should be prepared to try to trade for Ball if he’s out of reach.
Settling for Cole Anthony is not a bad option, an elite scorer whose upside and athleticism continues to develop and flourish. That being said, on March 24th, Anthony posted a statement on his Instagram account, explaining that “despite it being a lifelong dream of his to play in the NBA, he’s chosen to refrain from making a decision on whether he will declare for the draft for the time being as a result of the challenges and pain that the U.S. has endured with COVID-19.” Furthermore, the NCAA canceled March Madness this year, the biggest college sports competition young prospects like him dream of partaking in. Ultimately, it’s still a mystery if Cole Anthony will declare for the draft or choose to log in one more year at UNC. And until there’s clarity on that front, the Knicks should hone in on LaMelo Ball.
At the end of it all, New York City is home to one of the greatest arenas in the world. Madison Square Garden is considered the Mecca of the NBA and is a place that Ball could thrive in. He’s meant to be in the spotlight because not only is he a showman, but he also knows how to seize the moment and rise to the occasion on the biggest stages. Moreover, about a month ago on FS1s Undisputed with Shannon Sharpe and Skip Bayless, LaMelo’s father LaVar Ball, hopped onto to the show and said, “The best fit in my eyes is New York…It’s time for something good to happen to them.” Believe it or not, LaVar is right. Ball continues to be the safest and biggest guarantee in the draft. And if the Knicks want to fill up the Garden like they used to, the answer is simple: draft LaMelo Ball.