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Knicks set to face emerging rookie they passed on in draft

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As the Knicks roll through California amid a pandemic, their next battle is Friday night in Sacramento against the sliding Kings, who have lost four straight.

The Kings’ lone bright spot during a 5-10 season is rookie point guard Tyrese Haliburton, whom the Knicks decided to pass on with the No. 8 pick.

Last November, Haliburton sat there in the eighth spot, but the Knicks were swept away by power forward, Obi Toppin, the Brooklynite who starred at mid-major Dayton.

Because of Toppin’s early injury, it’s too early to judge the Knicks lottery selection 16 games in, but Haliburton certainly looks like he will be a solid pro.

Haliburton checks all the point guard boxes as a prime outside shooter (50 percent from the field, 49 percent from 3-point range) a good ballhander, passer (5.0 assists) who has good size (6-foot-5).

Tyrese Haliburton
Tyrese Haliburton
NBAE via Getty Images

Kings coach Luke Walton trusts the 20-year-old from Iowa State so much, he’s leaning on him to be the vocal leader on the bench and oncourt.

“He’s one of those players, you feel confident when the ball’s in his hand,” Walton said of Haliburton.

Haliburton is averaging 11.1 points in 27 minutes. His defense will come along as the Kings have struggled mightily on that side of the ball — last in the league in defensive efficiency.

With the Knicks off to an 8-8 start and MSG Network ratings up, it figured all eyes would be glued to Toppin, but he has been mostly a spectator.

He strained his calf after the season opener, sat out three weeks and has played a modest role off the bench with Julius Randle dominating the position.

Entering the Golden State victory, Toppin, in five games, was averaging five points and shooting 36 percent.

But in the second half in San Francisco, Toppin, who scored five points in Thursday’s win, showed glimpses of being an impact player and forming a nice duo with fellow rookie, Immanuel Quickley, who has become a bouncy revelation and taken the heat off Toppin.

Quickley found Toppin cutting to the basket or one monster dunk and the former Dayton superstar threw down another monstrous slam during garbage time to finish with 5 points.

However, it is stretch-4 league and Toppin may not be that type.

“He’s been underwhelming,’’ one NBA scout said. “I wasn’t convinced he really was a 3-point shooter. He could make them but wasn’t a shooter, per se. He scored a lot around the basket at the college level and his stock got elevated early and he became a conventional-wisdom high lottery pick. “Groupthink’’ took hold.’’

Across the painfully long pandemic vacuum from March 11 to draft night, Haliburton’s name popped all over the mock-draft map — from a third pick all the way down to outside the top ten. Sacramento snatched Haliburton at 12, even though they have the fastest point guard in the league in De’Aaron Fox.

Sources indicate the Knicks were worried about Haliburton’s slender build.

“I’m a big fan,’’ the NBA scout said. “He knows how to play, an excellent passer, winning player. He’s got a funky-looking three, but he’s shooting 49 percent from there. He’s versatile, can play the 2 or 1 – maybe smallball 3. He’s a steal at 12.”

With his athleticism and moving without the ball, Toppin and Quickley could eventually turn into pick-and-roll mainstays.

“He’s really athletic and he can pop and shoot threes so his versatility, you can see why he was picked so high,’’ Quickley said of his band mate. “He’s a great player, had a great college career. So he’s going to be a dynamic force for this year and years down the road. Just his versatility, offensively and defensively, I feel like he can do a lot of stuff.’’

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