Knicks president Leon Rose hasn’t done a lot of things right recently and he went to shit in free agency last summer. But his 2020 and 2021 drafts could be his salvation.
Amid the wreckage of the 2021-22 season, Rose has latched on to the positives of his two draft classes that show promise. It’s all he has.
Rose underscored the success of the draft during his edited interview that aired Sunday on James Dolan’s MSG Network and noted the bounty of draft picks to come.
“These [young] the guys have had an opportunity and they have taken advantage of it,” Rose said. “And for us, that’s very exciting.”
Rose noted that nine players on the roster are 24 or younger and the Knicks have 13 draft picks in the next three drafts, including four first-round picks.
Rose has another chance to make a lottery pick on June 23. The Knicks are seeded 12th in the May 17 lottery with a 7.2 percent chance of jumping into the top four.
Rose enters the lottery knowing that Obi Toppin is no longer viewed as a bust, while fellow 2020 first-rounder Immanuel Quickley (25th) has shown glimpses of being a potential starting point guard.
Meanwhile, Rose’s rookie class of Quentin Grimes (25), Miles McBride (36) and Jericho Sims (58) showed potential.
“All of our youngsters stepped in this year and played well at different times,” coach Tom Thibodeau said. “But we know we have to take a big step this summer. So we’re going to need everyone to be there making a commitment.”
After Julius Randle shut him down with his sore quad the last five games, Toppin had a heady end. As the starting power forward, Toppin embarked on a career-high scoring binge, starting with a pair of 20-point games before finishing with 35 and 42 points in the final two games. More importantly, Toppin shot 46 percent from 3-point range in those five games, though that’s a small sample size.
Rose said Toppin “took it to another level” and added that Quickley as a point guard “showed some signs.”
“Fantastic, just his complete game,” Thibodeau said of Toppin. “It’s good to see him because behind the scenes I see how hard he works. And it is the result of the work that he did.”
Quickley also finished in style, donning sunglasses after his two triple-double performances in the last week. The connection Quickley and Toppin have off the court translates to the court. The two often drive to games together and hang out at Christmas and Super Bowl Sunday.
Thibodeau said the duo have “great chemistry.” But overall, what he likes most is that the 2020 and 2021 draft classes have impeccable work ethics.
“You saw the summer commitment from the beginning,” Thibodeau said. “You saw how competitive they were. The three things you look at the most are talent/skill, but basketball toughness and IQ and competitiveness. Those kind of youngsters always get better and better. I love the way these guys work.”
Toppin has finally opened Thibodeu’s eyes as he has become a smarter player and exudes an enthusiasm that encourages his teammates.
Although the Knicks passed over Tyrese Haliburton, Tyrese Maxey, Saddiq Bey and Cole Anthony when they took Toppin at No. 8, he doesn’t look like an atrocious pick now.
Asked if Toppin is ready to play a bigger role next season, Thibodeau said: “When a player comes in and plays well, he will play more. It really is that simple.”
Optimism about Grimes, Sims and McBride is also evident, with each of them resurfacing in three weeks for volunteer work and summer league in July.
Thibodeau lobbied for the selection of Grimes, who is the kind of fighter and 3-point shooter the coach craves. While Grimes faded after the All-Star break after dislocating his knee, Sims emerged as a rotation player, likely on orders from the front office that he needed to see what he had with Mitchell Robinson’s uncertain future as a free agent.
Rose was impressed with Sims going against starting centers and feels McBride, a defense-first point guard, did well in the modest amount of minutes he did get.
“We’re not in the playoffs,” Rose said. “That was our goal. We wanted to take a step. But I feel like since the All-Star break, the team has shown some momentum and good signs.”