Run it back with a twist in the East: Thibodeau likes Knicks depth, flexibility

The New York Knicks have improved. But so is the rest of the East.

Miami Heat picked up what they perceive as their missing link in Kyle Lowry, a championship-savvy point guard. Chicago Bulls have added more ammunition to the pair of Zach LaVine and Nikola Vucevic with DeMar DeRozan and Lonzo Ball. Boston Celtics have regrouped with a defensive-minded new coach in Ime Udoka and brought veteran Al Horford back. Championship-level coach Rick Carlisle rejoined the Indiana Pacers, and he is hoping to coach a healthy lineup to the postseason.

These are the reasons why the oddsmakers, general managers, and naysayers do not see the Knicks duplicating their fourth seed run in the East despite adding four-time All-Star point guard Kemba Walker and Evan Fournier.

But it is hard to bet against a Tom Thibodeau-coached team.

In his second year as the Knicks head coach, Thibodeau is ready to add more layers to their evolving identity that he hopes would be harder for the opponents to peel away.

“So much of what you do is based on the personnel that you have. So, I think it’s important to understand the value of shots. The important thing is to be efficient and what gives you the best chance to win,” Thibodeau said after Monday’s practice.

During their undefeated run in the preseason, Thibodeau rolled out a more dynamic offense that averaged 41 three-point attempts per game, sixth in the NBA, but still a dozen attempts behind league-leader Golden State. Nevertheless, it’s still quite a big jump from last season when the Knicks finished 27th in three-point attempts with 30 per game. Despite that uptick in three-point attempts, the Knicks remained their top-three accuracy (38.4 percent).

Walker and Fournier accounted for 10.7 attempts, while mainstays RJ Barrett (6.3) and Julius Randle (6.0) continue to lead the team.

In that small sample size in the preseason, the Knicks had a top-two offense (113.4 offensive rating) and a top-10 defense (101.5 defensive rating).

It’s the kind of game that Thibodeau wants the Knicks to achieve — strong on both ends of the ball.

“I’ve had teams that were in the top five in offense, and it was because they played to their strengths,” Thibodeau said.

“Derrick, for example, has always been a great downhill player. He’s always been in the paint and strong in the restricted area. He’s always shot well from the corners. Jimmy Butler was a guy who drew fouls and got to the line a lot, and there’s great value in free throws. There’s great value in layups.”

That is the reason why his Chicago and Minnesota teams were not too keen on attempting many three-pointers.

But towards the end of his tenure in Minnesota, Thibodeau showed glimpses of his evolving offense. In his first season with the Timberwolves, they ranked last in the league in three-point attempts with only 21 per game. By the time he was fired in January 2019, the Timberwolves had jumped to 23rd with 28.5 three-point shots per game.

Thibodeau has always admired the Golden State Warriors championship teams who revolutionized the game with the power of the outside shot. And on the other end, their stout defense was anchored by small-ball center Draymond Green and ran to perfection by Steve Kerr’s lead assistant Ron Adams, who was part of Thibodeau’s coaching staff in Chicago.

“When they made the commitment to defense, they went to an entirely different level,” Thibodeau said in a 2017 preseason game in China against the Warriors. “Not only were they great on offense, they were also great on defense. That’s what makes them so special. With all the success they’ve had, they’ve remained very hungry.”

Four years later, after an unsuccessful run to emulate that with the Timberwolves, he’s starting to replicate the Warriors’ bold strategy — perhaps not in style but substance — with a young Knicks team he inherited last season.

Thibodeau stumbled on an untapped strength in their preseason finale against the Washington Wizards, resembling the small-ball Warriors, who pushed the pace and played with space and a scrambling defense.

A six-minute stretch of small ball lineup featuring a Randle-Obi Toppin frontcourt fueled the Knicks’ comeback win against the Wizards, producing 29 points on the back of 5 for 8 shooting from deep and a spirited defense that only allowed 14 points.

Toppin’s growth will only make Thibodeau bolder in deploying that lineup in stretches against teams with slower pivot men.

Thibodeau added veterans like how the Warriors surrounded their then young core of Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, and Green with Andre Igoudala, Shaun Livingston, and David West.

“That’s what makes [Warriors] who they are; [they’re] all unselfish,” Thibodeau said. “They’re all hard playing. They’re all high character. The new guys come in and become part of the culture,” Thibodeau said in 2017.

In New York, he did the reverse. The Knicks’ young core became part of Thibodeau’s culture, learning the ropes from his most trusted veterans Rose and Taj Gibson.

That was further solidified during Thibodeau’s visit to the Warriors’ practices when he was exiled from coaching. He saw how Kerr married old-school tenacity with outright fun, the new age of coaching that connects well to the younger generation of players.

“Every year, you want to learn and grow. Every time I step away from the game, I try to visit different teams,” Thibodeau told Stephen A. Smith last May. “It can be in any industry. It’s about leadership. Players are getting younger. I’m getting older. So I looked for ways that I can continue relating to players.”

Throughout the training camp, Fournier, Rose, and other players testified how Thibodeau has changed from a creature of habit to loosening up a bit at practice.

That was not the only thing he learned during his coaching sabbatical.

Learning new load management methods from Doc Rivers during his visit to Los Angeles when the latter was still the Clippers’ coach, Thibodeau has managed his top players’ health well. Randle and Barrett, who led the league in minutes last season, withstood the rigors of a cramped 72-game schedule without breaking down. Barrett played all 72 games. Randle only missed one game.

“There’s a lot that goes into it (load management). You know, it’s easy to pick up a box score and say this guy played 38 minutes. And oftentimes, that guy played 38 minutes because the other wing played 38 minutes. You’re matching guys up. And then no one sees what you’re doing in practice. Do you have contact or what are you doing in practice,” Thibodeau explained.

Thibodeau, a master in game planning and meticulous in details, said on Monday that he maps the season once the schedule comes out, identifying when the team takes a day or days off during the course of a long season. The hard practices have become short, and walkthroughs have become common, especially when the team is on the road.

Taking a page out of Warriors’ template, Thibodeau pushed for more shooting. Walker and Fournier bring that to the team on top of their playmaking abilities. Rookies Quentin Grimes and Miles McBride also have that in their arsenal aside from their reputation as stout defenders in college.

The Knicks have employed the famed 100 shooting drill in finding players who can shoot and are mentally tough. Pete Mickael, a former Knicks reserve back in the 2000s who worked under Thibodeau in Minnesota as a scout, saw that drill for the first time in a Timberwolves practice in 2017.

“It’s kind of a workout after practice where guys shoot 100 three-pointers from different areas on the court while they are always moving. I’ve seen it where it [was done] full court, as a group of guys at the same time, and also seen it where guys taking turns to take the 100 shots. So there are different versions of it,” Mickeal told Empire Sports Media.

Utah Jazz, where current Knicks assistant general manager Walt Perrin came from, have been using that 100 shooting drill to evaluate prospects. Perrin said it was a drill that former Jazz general manager Dennis Lindsey brought with him from San Antonio.

Vrenz Bleijenbergh, who is now playing in Spain after going undrafted last June, told Empire Sports Media that he did the drill after his Knicks workout. But he’d also seen different versions of the drill with all the teams he visited during his pre-draft workouts.

“I think the Knicks [100 drill] was my worse shooting [display], and it was like around 60. Mostly, I was around 70,” Bleijenbergh said.

The 100 shooting drill plus the addition of a four-point line in the Knicks’ practice facility and the Noah Basketball shot tracking system have boosted the Knicks’ three-point shooting stock.

“So, whatever the strengths of your teams are, you want to try to take advantage of that. The game has changed, so there’s been a lot more of a premium put on shooting, but I think the biggest thing is just understanding the value of shots, and we’re trying to get there,” Thibodeau said. “So, I think the more shooting we add, the better it is for us.”

As the real games begin Wednesday night against Boston Celtics, Thibodeau already has a baseline to his rejigged lineup’s limitless potential.

The Knicks have the continuity, flexibility, and synergy to thrive in the regular season. The playoffs will be another story.

But unlike last year, when their offense got stalled in long stretches and relied heavily on the predictable Randle isolation plays, they now have multiple players who can shoot and make plays. They have assembled a deep lineup that can withstand any potential injury hit. Thibodeau can dig deep up to his 12th, 13th man in the roster in case of emergency.

“His first year was establishing the culture. But once he gets the players that he needs, the Knicks will be a lot better. Look for him to stamp his signature on the team and find ways to win,” Mickeal said. “That’s the greatness of Tom Thibodeau. He’s a winner and has dedicated himself to studying the game.”

The most valuable NBA franchise (according to Forbes) will enter the new season as one of the most stable organizations in the league, something that has been unheard of in New York for the longest while.

They have all the ingredients for sustainable success — a winning coach and a combination of a talented young core, tradeable team-friendly contracts, and a deep war chest of assets. They have six first-rounders and nine second-round picks across the subsequent four drafts that they could dangle in a big swing for a superstar in a mid-season trade.

So, even if the rest of the East has gotten better, the Knicks are poised for another playoff run and have set themselves up for a bright future.

Follow this writer on Twitter: @alderalmo

For The Love Of Basketball: Former star Monta Ellis pursues NBA comeback

It’s been four years since Monta Ellis stepped on an NBA court.

The Indiana Pacers still owe him $2.25 million this coming season, the last of the stretch provision they applied when they waived him and his $11.2 million salary in 2017.

“I believe I still have a lot in my tank. I can still play five years,” Ellis told Empire Sports Media on a zoom call.

Ellis was under the heat in a soccer field somewhere in Dallas, Texas, the entire zoom call. He was at the sidelines cheering for his kid in a soccer game last weekend.

Not long ago, his weekend schedule is focused on him — either practicing with his team or playing in an NBA city.

These days, it’s no longer about himself. Away from the spotlight and the dizzying NBA lifestyle, Ellis has grown as a man, a husband, a father, and a coach. But deep inside, he still yearns to be in the middle of the action watching how the NBA spacing could cater to his uptempo game.

At his prime, Ellis was a wrecking ball who blitzed his opponents with blazing speed and athleticism. A former McDonald’s All-American, he entered the NBA straight from high school as the 40th pick in 2005. He spent his first six and a half years with the Golden State Warriors improving each year. Soon after, the 2007 Most Improved Player became their franchise player. He was until he got traded to the Milwaukee Bucks at the trade deadline in the 2012-13 season to make way for rising shooting star Stephen Curry.

That broke his heart, and he lost himself in the process.

Ellis still led the Bucks to a playoff appearance — his first since 2007 — but got swept in the first round. He went to Dallas, where he found a home and became the first player other than Dirk Nowitzki to lead the team in scoring during his time there. He was instrumental in the Mavericks’ two playoff runs, averaging 26.0 points in a first-round loss to James Harden and the Houston Rockets in 2015. But ultimately, Ellis left the Mavericks for financial security after not picking up his $8.7 million player option.

Larry Bird and Frank Vogel convinced Ellis to sign a four-year, $44 million contract despite Sacramento Kings offering four million more. The Pacers sold him the vision of becoming Paul George’s running mate.

“For him to get one last really big deal, to me, was a no-brainer,” Dirk Nowitzki said when he left. “I would’ve liked to kept him [in Dallas], but you know how it is in this league. Once people hit free agency, it’s tough to call.”

It proved to be Ellis’ undoing as his career started to go downhill. And when the Pacers traded away George and started a rebuild, the writings were on the wall.

Ellis tried to work out a buyout with Pacers. But when they couldn’t agree, the Pacers waived him.

“The 2017 Monta Ellis had a lot of things going on mentally that started to affect me physically. That’s one of the reasons why I walked away from the game. It wasn’t that I couldn’t play the game anymore,” Ellis told Empire Sports Media.

“It’s just felt like that my mental health was way more important. I felt like my family and kids needed me more. There’s a lot of things that affected me off the court. I haven’t had a father in my life and I have to balance fatherhood with my NBA professional life. It was challenging.”

Ellis took care of his battle off the court because he felt that held him back on the court.

“So, my family was the most important to me. I had to get my household, my family in order and get my mind back. So once my mind got back, I started lifting and running and my body started to feel good. I was able to release that mental pressure and really get back and re-focused,” Ellis said.

“So, the 2017 Monta Ellis, he was balancing a lot of things. I didn’t feel like it was healthy for me and for the team as well. If they couldn’t get into the Monta Ellis flow, I had to get away from it. I did that and it was a good decision because I’m in a better mindset. My wife and kids, they were happy to get to see me more, be around more. That was the blessing.”

It was indeed a blessing. But it was also a curse.

When Ellis felt he’s ready for an NBA comeback, the league has moved on from him.

But he’s not yet losing hope. Ellis is determined to find his way back to the NBA as he did with his life.

These days, he keeps himself in shape by working out four days a week, coaching his kids and other kids in his AAU program, Ellis Elite. He still trains with an NBA trainer while waiting for the right opportunity.

“We’ve been training four days a week. We take Fridays off. He works out in Michael Johnson Performance – the top athlete’s performance institution here in Dallas. So he does that two-hour workout every Monday, Wednesday Friday, the whole four years he was out of the league. You could check Michael Johnson’s record,” long-time NBA trainer Djamel Jackson told Empire Sports Media.

Jackson, who has trained Mo Williams, Julius Randle, Draymond Green, Jeremy Lin, Emmanuel Mudiay, Isiah Austin, Rashad Butler, Terrance Ferguson, Malik Newman, saw up close how Ellis had grown a lot as a person during his NBA hiatus.

“I have been working with kids all my life. There’s certain patience that you develop, you become compassionate. Once you get a little older, some of the things that you love or you walked away from, you kinda appreciate a little bit more. He got young kids. He got young sons that are really good basketball players. Being able to watch their pops in the league a couple of more years will help lift them up. He definitely has grown as a friend, as a father, as a player. Once you get a little older, you kinda get to mature,” Jackson said.

Derrius Nelson, a FIBA-certified agent and an NBA scout from Serbia-based DaggerBasket Agency, is now Ellis current business manager. They have spent many nights talking about what-ifs and mapping out a way back to the league. Nelson got Ellis a $2 million offer to play in China, but Ellis turned it down because he wanted to be with his family during the pandemic and stay closer to the NBA.

Ellis acknowledged the mistakes of his youth, and he had made amends. He’s been working hard for that elusive second chance.

“I’ve been trying for a couple of years. I just got nobody take a chance on me, bringing me for the training camp to show what I can still do. The way how I walked away from it kind of hinder that a little bit because they didn’t know the mindset I was in, the things that were going on,” Ellis said. “But it is what it is. If I have an opportunity to do it, it is what it is. If I don’t, I’ll still be a husband and a father and I have an AAU program. I’m good either way. But to come back, to be able challenge myself and do the thing that I haven’t done in a while, that will be a big challenge that I am willing to accept if it comes.”

While the NBA is getting younger, the league’s older guys and Ellis’ contemporaries are still killing it and milking money. Kyle Lowry, 35, just signed a new $90 million deal with the Miami Heat. The Phoenix Suns locked up Chris Paul, 36, to a whopping four-year, $120 million. And then there are minimum veterans like Carmelo Anthony, now set to chase a ring with his old buddy LeBron James.

Ellis wants to come back for the challenge, not the money, at this point in his life. After all, he’s earned more than $100 million throughout his career.

“I don’t play the game of basketball for the money. Like, it’s good to get the money. I wanted to make a better life for my family and the NBA allowed me to do that. My focus is, my thing is just do what I can do, control what I can control and put everything in God’s hands,” Ellis said.

All Ellis wanted is an opportunity to show that he still has it and can help a team win.

“My main thing is, just bring me in and give me a look. Like you could make the decision on me. I just want a shot. I ain’t asking for a contract to get $5 million, $10 million, or even $1 million. All I’m asking is give me a look. That’s all and let my game speak for itself. I just want an opportunity, a workout, and that’s not the end of the world, that’s not gonna hurt anybody,” Ellis said.

Ellis built a reputation as a shotmaker and playmaker. Though he was knocked for his defense, the numbers and some eye tests suggest otherwise.

Ellis knows his days as a go-to guy are over. He’s willing to accept whatever role a team has for him to win.

“That’s a team decision if that was to happen. Whatever role that was. Whatever the coach asks me to do. I can’t control that situation. Being at the age that I am, I haven’t played in a while so being the time I was away from the game, I can’t come in and play the role that I want. It’s all about the team giving me an opportunity and what’s the best fit for them. And I gotta play that role the best way possible,” Ellis said.

Ellis played with pace in the NBA. But there wasn’t so much space during his prime. While his athleticism has started to fade with age, his wisdom grew with experience.

“It’s still basketball. It’s all about defending and putting the ball on the hoop and making plays for others,” Ellis said. “The NBA is very, very young now. So, it’s more athletic, faster, and I have always played a fast game.”

Ellis was just a 31 percent three-point shooter throughout his career, but he will not be jacking up shots as he used to be. His ideal role in a potential NBA return is to break down the second unit’s defenses to score or make plays for his teammates in sporadic minutes. But Jackson revealed how Ellis has worked on his shot not just to prepare for a potential NBA comeback.

“That’s the one that has definitely gotten better. As he aged, he’s gotten better. And he’s working with kids. So, when you’re teaching kids how to shoot, it matters that you learn how to shoot better. It could go around the low 40s, and you know, with the spacing, the new rules, and his knowledge of the game, as you get older, you get better,” Jackson said.

“The NBA tells us, the system tells us that as you get older, you get better and smarter because you know how to beat younger guys.”

Jackson believes playoff teams could use someone like Ellis on their bench to provide leadership and scoring.

“Any team right now — the league is now so young — the (Los Angeles) Lakers or Brooklyn (Nets) but aside from those teams, every team needs some veteran help. Every team I think needs at least 4-5 veterans. The league is just too young right now,” Jackson said.

The Lakers have been stacking up on veterans. The Nets could pair him with Patty Mills in their backcourt off the bench. A Mavericks homecoming could also be a perfect marriage with him as another shotmaker and playmaker to come off the bench when Luka Doncic takes a breather. The Portland Trail Blazers, who are at a crossroads with Damian Lillard’s future hanging in the balance, could use Ellis as a scoring punch and a veteran leader off the bench.

“That would be a role that I am willing to accept. I could do a lot within that role to help a playoff team. I still got a lot of gas in my tank. My body is healthy. My mind is focused. I could definitely help a playoff team with the skills and the knowledge of the game I have right now,” Ellis said.

It’s been four years since Ellis last played an NBA game. A lot has happened since. But the most important thing is he found himself again and the joy of playing basketball. He found his way back to his life. Now, he wants to find a way back to the NBA.

Follow this writer on Twitter: @alderalmo

Warriors spoil Randle’s All-Star coronation, Knicks’ fans return

A sold-out and socially distanced crowd of 1,981 returned to The Garden for the first time in 352 days. But Stephen Curry also returned from a one-game absence and dropped 37 points as the Golden State Warriors continued their mastery over the New York Knicks, 114-106, on Tuesday night.

It was the seventh straight Golden State win at The Garden since 2014.

Curry outplayed Julius Randle in an All-Star showdown. The Warriors’ All-Star guard had 26 points in the second half, including the biggest shots and plays down the stretch.

Randle’s night started with his first All-Star selection and MVP chants, but it ended ugly with his first ejection of the season.

Despite a rough shooting night (8-of-21), Randle still had a near triple-double to lead the Knicks. He produced 25 points, 10 rebounds, and seven assists before frustrations got the better of him in the final 17.5 seconds.

The Knicks stormed back from a double-digit deficit in the second half and even tied the game at 97-all.

But Curry came through in the clutch, scoring 10 points in the final 3:38 to put the game away.

Draymond Green was also a difference-maker for the visiting team. The do-it-all big man filled up the stats sheet — 7 points, 9 rebounds, 12 assists, 3 steals, and 2 assists — that more than made up for his ejection in their first meeting this season which Knicks won, 119-104, on the road.

It wasn’t only Randle who struggled offensively for the Knicks.

RJ Barrett had an atrocious 1-for-9 shooting and finished with only four points. He also missed a crucial free throw with 86 seconds left that could have closed the gap to just two. To his credit, he pulled down 10 rebounds.

The Knicks’ point guards tried to keep in step with Curry to no avail.

Derrick Rose snapped out of his slump and had 16 points and eight assists off the bench. Elfrid Payton also dished out a solid game, finishing with 20 points and limiting Curry to 11 in the first half.

The Knicks led by four, 59-55, at the break. But a third-quarter disaster doomed them and silenced the crowd, which let out their bottled-up emotions in the opening half.

Knicks rookies Immanuel Quickley and Obi Toppin offered contrasting performances, playing in front of the home fans for the first time.

Quickley played tentative and struggled offensively for the fourth straight game. He only scored three points on 1-for-5 shooting in 13 minutes.

On the other hand, Toppin was energized by his hometown crowd, which included his parents. The Brooklyn native was a perfect 3-for-3 from the field in 13 minutes. He had a highlight dunk and a huge three-pointer that cut the Warriors’ lead to two in the fourth quarter.

The Knicks blew another chance to get to .500, dropping to their second loss in the last three games. They remained at the seventh spot in the Eastern Conference with a 15-17 record.

The Knicks will have two more chances — Sacramento Kings on Thursday and Indiana Pacers on Saturday — to make up for their home fans.

Follow this writer on Twitter: @alderalmo

Knicks rout Warriors on Barrett’s career night

RJ Barrett grew up watching Andrew Wiggins in Canada.

“He’s a legend back home,” Barrett said.

In their first NBA matchup, Barrett showed his time has come as he upstaged Wiggins in leading the New York Knicks to a 119-104 rousing win on the road.

Barrett set the tone for the rout with 14 of his career-high 28 points in the opening quarter.

Wiggins, a former No.1 pick, finished with 17 points and a team-worst plus/minus -18.

But more than Barrett’s scoring explosion, the Knicks once again flaunted their league’s top defense holding the Warriors to just 38 percent from the field and limiting them to 9-of-38 from three.

It was a wire-to-wire win for the Knicks, who drew six players in double figures in a well-balanced attack.

Barrett shot 10-of-17 and 6-of-8 free throws in another impressive shooting night. He’s now averaging 21.8 points on 51/39/87 shooting splits in his last five games.

Mitchell Robinson had a season-high 18 points after a scoreless first half with eight rebounds and two shot blocks. Julius Randle flirted with a triple-double (16 points, 17 rebounds, 9 assists), while Elfrid Payton was outstanding on both ends of the floor.

Payton held Curry scoreless for the first eight minutes of the game that threw the Warriors’ offense in disarray.

It didn’t help that Draymond Green got tossed in the second quarter after picking up his second technical foul.

Curry was still able to get 30 points but was held to just two in the pivotal third quarter where the Knicks broke the game wide open.

The Warriors got within six at the break and were still within striking distance halfway through the third quarter. Then the trio of Barrett, Robinson, and Randle turned a Knicks’ 68-63 lead into a dozen lead, 79-67.

The rookies took over from there.

Immanuel Quickley fed Obi Toppin for the first of his two baseline slams. Then Quickley quickly followed it up with a pullup jumper that pushed the Knicks’ lead to 16 in the opening minutes of the fourth quarter.

The Knicks never looked back.

With their third straight win, the Knicks climbed to .500 once more. It took them 32 games to reach eight wins last season.

But this season feels and looks different. Thanks to Tom Thibodeau, who is squeezing the most out of this overachieving roster.

The Knicks started the game assisting nine of their first 10 shots. They finished with 24 on 38 field goals made.

The Knicks hope to extend their three-game win streak when they continue their West Coast trip in Sacramento on Friday night.

Follow this writer on Twitter: @alderalmo

Knicks Draft Watch: Warriors eye Devin Vassell in potential trade down

New York Knicks, Devin Vassell

It’s no secret that the Golden State Warriors are studying all options, including trading, with regards to their No. 2 pick. The question is will the New York Knicks field an offer to trade up?

San Francisco Chronicle recently reported that Florida State University’s Devin Vassell is on the Warriors’ radar should they trade down.

According to multiple league sources, the Warriors believe Vassell is the top wing defender in this draft and would strongly consider him if they trade back to the 5-10 range. There is an outside chance that Golden State could even take him at No. 2 if it doesn’t receive an enticing offer to move down.

Considered as one of the top two wings in this Draft Class along with Auburn’s Isaac Okoro, Vassell is all over the Draft Boards. He is projected to be selected anywhere from No. 6-12 range.

Vassell could add bench depth for the Warriors who are expected to have the Splash Brothers— Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson— back at full health next season. Vassell has drawn Thompson’s comparisons.

“People like to identify a player in college with a player in the pros. And I always said I thought he was more like Klay Thompson,” FSU coach Leonard Hamilton said in an interview with SB Nation’s Golden State of Mind.

Hamilton cited Thompson’s 41.2 percent three-point clip as a freshman in Washington State while his prized wingman, Vassell, shot 42 percent from deep in his two seasons with the Seminoles.

“And he has a lot of those qualities where he knows the ball is supposed to go going to the basket. He’s extremely confident, he always anxious to take big shots. One of the aspects of his game, I probably didn’t utilize as much as his ability to create his own shot. When we needed him to create his own shot, he was able to go and make fall away fades and step-back jumpers and things that are going to allow him to be even more effective at the next level. He is a shotmaker, there’s no doubt about that,” Hamilton added.

The Knicks currently have the No. 8 pick and are also strongly considering Vassell and Okoro along with Iowa’s combo guard Tyrese Haliburton should they still be available. But it’s also no secret that the Knicks, who are looking for a lead guard, has LaMelo Ball on top of their Draft Board.

Ball has revealed during his Draft Combine media availability that he had conversations with the Knicks before the Lottery.  It was the only team he confirmed he had interviewed. When he was asked if he feels the Knicks would trade up for him, he had an inconclusive answer.

“That I don’t know. Maybe, maybe not,” Ball said.

The following day, Ball curiously withdrew from the Draft Combine nixing other NBA teams’ chance to interview him. He still could or may have selected which teams to talk to outside the Knicks.

The Knicks have the Draft capital and young assets at their disposal to maneuver a trade. But they lack the veteran piece that the Warriors would likely covet.

However, there’s a unanimous belief according to ESPN insider Tim Bontemps last month that the Warriors will try to accumulate trade pieces to position themselves for a potential run at Washington’s Bradley Beal in case he becomes available during next season’s trade deadline.

If that’s the Warriors’ long play, then the Knicks could be in the mix to snag their No. 2 pick in this Draft.