As NBA deputy commissioner Mark Tatum turned over the Knicks’ placard to represent the eighth pick Thursday, rookie president Leon Rose remained stone-faced on Zoom.
Was Rose thrilled to fall from No. 6 to No. 8 to continue a downward lottery path for the franchise that won the initial drawing in 1985? No, but Rose also knew it was an opportunity to remind his staff some great teams have been built without top-three picks.
In fact, playoff entrants vying for the title, Toronto, Miami, Los Angeles Clippers and Milwaukee don’t have a top-eight pick among their respective starting fives. Masai Ujiri’s Raptors won a title last year without a single lottery pick and are trying to do so again.
Denver has just one — Jamal Murray was the No. 7 pick in the 2016 draft. On the flip side, “The-Trust-the-Process” Sixers are dying on the vine after all those snazzy top-three picks.
According to a source, the Knicks are confident they will get a solid prospect with the No. 8 pick — even if they drop back a shade to collect another asset in a trade.
“The Knicks are just as concerned with finding those uncovered nuggets with their other two picks [Nos. 27 and 38],’’ one NBA source said.
Rose, who was not made available for comment after the lottery, was transparent in his evaluation of the draft in late June. He pegged two prospects as “standouts’’ and the rest a collection of players where beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Rose was likely referring to electric point guard LaMelo Ball, No. 1 on Rose’s board, and Anthony Edwards.
A scoring point guard for the Knicks has been a priority but not a mandate. Point guards Cole Anthony, Tyrese Haliburton, Killian Hayes, Kira Lewis and Tyrese Maxey could be around at No. 8. If forward Obi Toppin falls, he could be a frontcourt outside shooter/scorer the Knicks lack. Auburn small forward Isaac Okoro is expected to be on their radar, too.
“The Knicks need help in every position,’’ ESPN’s draft guru Fran Fraschilla told The Post. “Every one. In this draft, their goal is to find a winning NBA playoff starter. As they add free agents and more talent to the roster, this eighth pick needs to be a good building block towards winning.’’
A Bleacher Report mock draft has the Knicks taking Florida State’s 6-foot-6 sharpshooter Devin Vassell, whose “3-and-D’’ stock has risen since April. They could probably still trade back to get Vassell.
This is the fourth time in the past six lotteries the Knicks have tumbled. Last year, the Knicks — along with the Cavaliers and Suns — had the best odds at the No. 1 pick and the fall to No. 3 was costly. The Knicks not only lost out on Pelicans forward Zion Williamson, but on Memphis guard Ja Morant, the presumed Rookie of the Year. As much potential as RJ Barrett has shown, he’s in danger of not making either of the two all-rookie teams, according to ballot surveys.
Picking eighth also summons two painful reminders. Frank Ntilikina was picked over Donovan Mitchell at No. 8 in 2017. In 2009, the Warriors killed Donnie Walsh’s dream by selecting Stephen Curry at No. 7, leaving the Knicks, who picked next, with Jordan Hill.
The Knicks (21-45) need more outside shooting and a stronger playmaking/shooting at point guard.
There will also be free agency, its current start of Oct. 18 expected to be pushed back to November.
Another slight positive to picking eighth rather than third in a potential two-star draft is it opens salary-cap room. The third pick makes $6.9 million compared to the No. 8 pick’s $4.2 million. Every bit helps with in the times of a reduced COVID-19 cap. The Knicks’ pick at No. 8 also will benefit from the hirings of former Kentucky assistant Kenny Payne and Utah assistant Johnnie Bryant. Both specialize in player development.
With the Timberwolves projected to take Edwards with the first pick since they are set at point guard with D’Angelo Russell, moving up to No. 2 might have meant Ball in the pocket. However, Ball’s detractors cite more than just father LaVar’s eruptions — the player’s lax defense and awkward shooting mechanics.
“LaMelo is a very dangerous choice,’’ one NBA scout told The Post. “A very high risk-reward. All the baggage that comes with a decision like that is not what the Knicks need. Honestly, Lonzo [Ball] was a horrific shooter. He did manage to change his shot mechanics and now is a pretty good shooter. It’s very unusual but he did it and possibly LaMelo could, too.’’