The Knicks did well for themselves Wednesday night. They got better. And though that may sound like a simple goal for an NBA team on a night like this, if you’ve seen enough of the draft-night
The Knicks did well for themselves Wednesday night. They got better. And though that may sound like a simple goal for an NBA team on a night like this, if you’ve seen enough of the draft-night hijinks this team has endured across the past few decades, you know this much: this was a distinct step up.
A definite step in the right direction.
The Knicks got the player they apparently coveted all along at No. 8 in Dayton’s Obi Toppin. There was some speculation the trade the Knicks made earlier in the day that added an extra first-round pick to their evening menu might have been made in order to move up, but that wasn’t necessary.
Later in the first round, after another trade that pushed them back two slots, they picked Kentucky’s Immanuel Quickley.
The Knicks went for a couple of things Wednesday with their first-rounders. They went for the familiar: Toppin is repped by CAA, Leon Rose’s former agency. Quickley played two years for John Calipari at Kentucky — and, more relevantly, worked closely with ex-Kentucky assistant Kenny Payne, who is now a member of Tom Thibodeau’s coaching staff.
They went with a pair of character guys: All you had to do was listen to Toppin on TV and, later, on a Zoom call to understand that. And once Calipari started talking about Quickley, you feared he might never stop. Cal loves his players, but this felt like a little something extra.
But there was something else: The Knicks went with a couple of accomplished guys, players who have already succeeded at a high basketball level. In a time when so many teams pick their players on speculation, on what they could be, on where the projection arrows lead them, the Knicks’ two first-rounders already have big-time achievement to show for their college careers.
Toppin was the consensus Player of the Year for the Flyers, winning the Wooden Award among many other accolades as he guided Dayton to a 29-1 record and a top-five ranking all year, the best season in school history felled only by the pandemic. And Quickley was the Player of the Year in the Southeastern Conference, the runaway best player on the league’s runaway best team.
None of that guarantees anything, of course, but this draft wasn’t about certainties for the Knicks as much as it was establishing competence, and confidence in a new regime whose entire tenure here, so far, was geared toward getting this night right.
Toppin has drawn comparisons to Amar’e Stoudemire, and he said he “mimics” his game after Anthony Davis, and it’s hard not to like that. It’s harder still not to like this, which ought to allay some fears that the one clear hole in his game is on the defensive end, something that could run counter to Thibodeau’s old-school methods.
“He’s a defensive coach,” Toppin said. “That’s one of the biggest things I need to work on. I feel like having him as a head coach, he’s going to make sure I lock in, and I become great one day. I feel like if I get that defensive scheme down, I’m going to be really great.”
He couldn’t have done better reading from a prepared script.
Quickley has already shown some chops as a defender, and as a veteran of Calipari’s exacting expectations in Lexington working for Thibodeau shouldn’t exactly be much of a brave new world.
NBA Draft Tracker: Picks and analysis
The Knicks aren’t there yet, wherever you wish to define “there.” This is still so early in the process. There is still a desperate need for a veteran point guard who can make sense of a lot of disparate talents. Maybe that means signing Fred VanVleet. Maybe that means swallowing hard and trying to work out a deal for Russell Westbrook, if the Rockets ever do decide to hold their All-Star clearance sale.
We’ll know that soon enough. Rose, clearly, will need to address that in the blurry hours between now and Dec. 1, when training camp opens. That’s 11 days away. That feels almost impossible.
But so did getting the Knicks turned in the right direction for so many years. It’s still a steep job ahead. It just feels a little less impossible today than it did yesterday, and last week, and last year. The Knicks did well for themselves Wednesday night. They got better. That’s a start.