Sunday, December 3

Leon Rose’s success in NBA draft could be his Knicks salvation

Knicks president Leon Rose hasn’t done a lot right recently and crapped out in last summer’s free agency. But his 2020 and 2021 drafts could be his salvation.

Amid the wreckage of the 2021-22 season, Rose has clung to the positives of his two draft classes showing promise. It’s all he’s got.

Rose underlined the draft success during his edited interview that aired Sunday on James Dolan’s MSG Network while noting the abundance of draft picks he has coming.

“These [young] guys have gotten an opportunity and taken advantage of it,’’ Rose said. “And for us, that’s very exciting.’’

Rose noted nine players on the roster are 24 and under and that the Knicks own 13 draft picks over the next three drafts, including four first-rounders.

Rose gets another crack at making a lottery pick June 23. The Knicks are seeded 12th in the May 17 lottery with a 7.2 percent chance of jumping to the top four.

Rose goes into the lottery knowing Obi Toppin is no longer looking like a bust while fellow 2020 first-rounder Immanuel Quickley (25th) has displayed flashes of being a potential starting point guard.

Obi Toppin

Meanwhile, Rose’s rookie class of Quentin Grimes (25th), Miles McBride (36th) and Jericho Sims (58th) each flashed potential.

“Our young guys all stepped in this year and played well at different times,’’ coach Tom Thibodeau said. “But we know we’ve got to make a big step this summer. So we’re going to need everyone to be in there making a commitment.’’

After Julius Randle shut it down with his sore quad over the last five games, Toppin had an intoxicating finish. As a starter at power forward, Toppin went 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. Most importantly, Toppin shot 46 percent from 3-point range in those five games, though it’s a small sample size.

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Rose said Toppin “took it to another level’’ and added Quickley at point guard “showed some signs.’’

“Terrific, just his all-around play,’’ Thibodeau said of Toppin. “It’s nice to see because behind the scenes I see how hard he works. And it’s a result of the work that he put in.’’

Quickley also ended in style, sporting sunglasses after his two triple-double performances in the final week. The connection Quickley and Toppin have off the court translates on the court. The two often drive together to games and hung out on Christmas and Super Bowl Sunday.

Jericho Sims

Thibodeau said the duo has “great chemistry.’’ But overall, he likes best that both the 2020 and 2021 draft classes have an impeccable work ethic.

“You saw early on the commitment from the summer,’’ Thibodeau said. “You saw how competitive they were. The three things you look at the most is the talent/skill, but the toughness and basketball IQ and the competitiveness. Those type of young guys always improve and get better. I love the way these guys work.’’

Toppin has finally opened Thibodeu’s eyes as he’s become a smarter player and exudes an enthusiasm that enlivens his teammates.

Though the Knicks passed on Tyrese Haliburton, Tyrese Maxey, Saddiq Bey and Cole Anthony when they took Toppin at No. 8, it now hardly looks like an egregious selection.

Asked if Toppin is ready for an increased role next season, Thibodeau said, “When a player goes in and plays well, he’s gonna play more. It’s really that simple.’’

Leon Rose
Leon Rose
Getty Images

The optimism about Grimes, Sims and McBride is evident, too, and they’ll each resurface in three weeks for voluntary work and for summer league in July.

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Thibodeau pushed for the drafting of Grimes, who is the type of battler 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 needing to see what he had with Mitchell Robinson’s uncertain free-agent future.

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 got.

“We’re not in the playoffs,’’ Rose said. “That was our goal. We wanted to take a step. But I feel since the All-Star break, the team has shown some momentum and good signs.’’

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