There are probably dozens of factors that teams account for when evaluating draft picks. One of them is this: Is he a good fit for the head coach?
The Knicks will surely consider that factor as they sort through scenarios ahead of the NBA Draft.
So which one of the draft-eligible players would fit well with Tom Thibodeau?
To help answer that question, we reached out to Paul Biancardi.
As the national basketball recruiting director for ESPN, Biancardi knows the domestic players in this draft as well as anyone. He’s followed many of them years before they became draft-eligible.
Biancardi also played for Thibodeau at Salem State. He was Thibodeau’s team captain as a senior.
So Biancardi has a good perspective on which players would fit well with Thibodeau.
“Obviously he wants a competitor, somebody who’s going to embrace development and not avoid being in the gym,” Biancardi says. “So those things (are important), along with the talent that the Knicks need to elevate their franchise.”
HERE ARE THE PLAYERS BIANCARDI SEES AS STRONG FITS FOR A THIBODEAU-COACHED TEAM:
“Isaac Okoro to me is a guy who really fits well. He’s a defensive-minded player. He’s elite on the defensive end,” Biancardi says. “He’s an NBA switch defender right now in an NBA body. And that brings a lot of value because we all know you need stops in the league to get out in transition and then get into your half court set. You can’t be taking the ball out of the net.
“Okoro really brings, I think, a Tom Thibodeau-like mindset to the game. He’s an okay shooter. We know that he has to improve his three-point shot. But if he can get his three-point shooting to the mid-thirties and be that elite on ball defender (he’ll thrive). Also, he’s a guy that can chase people off screens, muscle in the post, keep the ball out of the lane. I like Okoro a lot for Tom and the Knicks at 8. He brings elite athleticism, he’s an elite defender.”
“(Haliburton is on) the other end of the spectrum (from Okoro). A high-IQ guy, a 6-foot-6 playmaker. I don’t see the Knicks with a point guard, with his ability to make decisions, with size and IQ. And he can make the outside shot. Haliburton also can play in a multi-dimensional three-guard lineup.
“So I know you have Dennis Smith and some other guys. (Haliburton) can play on and off the ball. He doesn’t need the ball in his hands, but he makes great decisions. Somebody has to make great decisions for the coach out on the court. I think Haliburton is that guy.”
HOW WOULD LAMELO BALL FIT WITH THIBS?
“I’ve had a chance to watch LaMelo Ball since he was a freshman at Chino Hills High School,” Biancardi says. “I think he’s the most talented player in the draft. He’s the best playmaker in the draft. He’s the best decision-maker (in the draft). (He’s) an excellent passer with his elite positional size. I think he really enjoys being in the gym.
“Now I don’t think he enjoys playing defense very much, but I think he loves being in the gym and I think he loves to play and that’s important for any coach. And I think if he could ever get to New York, that would be a grand slam. Now, obviously he’d have to conform on the defensive end, but that has to happen wherever he goes. He’s got to be more committed to the defense end and the defensive team approach to things. But offensively, ooh, it’s hard to find better than LaMelo Ball in this draft.”
CAN BALL BE A STRONG DEFENDER UNDER THIBODEAU?
“Defense is all about want to. We can talk all day about athleticism and measurables, but if you want to become a great defender, you can be,” Biancardi says. “And LaMelo Ball can be an excellent defender. So if he’s willing and he embraces teaching and defense, his stock would go through the roof with Thibs.”
“Florida State found him in a back gym, as a sophomore in high school. Nobody knew about him….They got him, they developed him,” Biancardi says. “(FSU coach) Leonard Hamilton teaches defense and they’re very committed to it down there at Florida State. So I think Vassell would come in on the defensive end and be comfortable. Offensively, he gives you a shooter and he gives you some good size, a great athlete.
“A very good fit at No. 8. He’s unknown in the draft circles in terms of prior to Florida State. Nobody talked about him in high school. He wasn’t on my board, high-school rankings wise. Even in the college game, he didn’t really burst out on the scene until maybe this last year of Florida State. But I think he’s a keeper. And I think he’ll be in the league for a long time.”
WHAT ABOUT PICK NO. 27?
“Well, first of all, this draft is different, right. The year 2020 has been different in a lot of ways,” Biancardi says. “When we look at the top, we all talk about LaMelo Ball, James Wiseman, Anthony Edwards – those guys are bonafide NBA starters, or they should be. Will they become All Stars? There’s a good chance, but there’s no guarantees.
“But then there are so many good players that could become starters and maybe All-Stars. And that’s why this draft to me is really exciting. And it’s based on your evaluation and your intel and you’re at 27 and a guy that really I think about for Tom and for the Knicks – I don’t know if he’ll be there – but Jahmi’us Ramsey from Texas Tech. He was in my ESPN Top 50. In fact, he moved way up as he got older in the game. 6-4, 6-10 wingspan, loves to guard, played for Chris Beard. I think that’s important. We talked about Florida state and Leonard Hamilton. Chris Beard, those guys don’t just preach defense. They teach it, they emphasize it and they won’t take anything less than a big-time effort defensively. And Jahmi’us Ramsey shot it at 42% from three. So, you know he can put it in the hole. He’s really good isolated one-on-one. If he’s around at 27, I wouldn’t hesitate.”
“Another guy that I love that isn’t maybe as talented as Jahmi’us Ramsey, but he gets it done and he’s productive, is Isaiah Stewart at Washington. He can go anywhere from 15-to-30. He’s a little under-sized, but boy, can he rebound, can he screen. And he can score the ball better than we saw at Washington. I love Isaiah Stewart or Jahmi’us Ramsey if they’re around at 27.”
WHAT ABOUT THE 2021 DRAFT CLASS? DOES IT DESERVE THE HYPE THAT IT’S GETTING?
“Absolutely. Without a doubt, I am so excited for college basketball this year for these guys as freshmen, and then some of the best players didn’t even go to college. As we know, they went to the G League. Jaylen Green in my mind, would be a top 3 pick in this year’s draft. That’s how good he is. He became the G league top recruit. And then there’s Evan Mobley. He’s 6-10, a little bit like James Wiseman, but not as thick but long, mobile, skilled, much more skilled than Wiseman, offensively. Not the shot-blocker that Wiseman is, but more skilled. And he’s at USC.
“And then Cade Cunningham. He’s a 6-7 play-maker, decision-maker. Tough, tough dude on both ends of the floor from Oklahoma State. Those three guys come to mind right away. They would probably be in the top three or five players in this year’s draft.
“And then it goes deeper than that. There’s probably 10-to-15 legitimate one-and-done guys in 2021. So if you have draft picks in next year’s draft, that’s good. If you don’t, try to trade and get some because it’s really talented, it’s really deep. And it’s really athletic and versatile. It’s the best class that I’ve seen coming out of the high school game in the last five or 10 years.”
THE KNICKS HAVE TWO FIRST-ROUND PICKS IN 2021 (THEIR OWN AND DALLAS’). IS IT SAFE TO SAY THAT THEY CAN GET A SOLID PLAY WITHOUT TANKING IN 2021?
“That’s not happening with Tom Thibodeau (laughs). I’ll tell you that right now. I’ll go all over New York and say that man is going to try to win each segment, each quarter of every game. He’s going to try to win every game and he’s going to build that confidence. He’s going to build that competitiveness because that’s what you need as a baseline to take that next step. Eventually, the Knicks will get more talented. I think they’re one of the youngest teams in the NBA.
“You’ve got a great teacher, you’ve got a great coach who’s always prepared and who cares. So if people in New York can be patient – and I’m not sure that it is going to happen (laughs) – if you’re patient, you’ve got the best coach, you’ve got the right coach, and now you have to build the roster and you’ve got great leadership with Leon Rose and the staff that Tom Thibodeau has. I’m really excited. I’m a Boston Celtics fan and I’m excited about the New York Knicks – how about that?”