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Knicks facing top rookies during West Coast trip

Kings guard Tyrese Haliburton, center, drives to the

Kings guard Tyrese Haliburton, center, drives to the basket against Nuggets center Isaiah Hartenstein and guard Will Barton during the second half of an NBA game in Sacramento, Calif., on Dec. 29, 2020. Credit: AP/Hector Amezcua

One night after taking on the No. 2 pick in the 2020 NBA Draft, Golden State’s James Wiseman, the Knicks faced a player whom they passed on in the draft and who has begun to make teams regret that choice: Sacramento’s Tyrese Haliburton.

The Knicks took Obi Toppin with the No. 8 overall pick and then grabbed a combo guard, Immanuel Quickley, with the No. 25 pick. Haliburton was high in many mock drafts but slipped to the Kings at No. 12.

He already has become a regular contributor for the Kings, averaging 11.1 points and 5.1 assists in 27.8 minutes per game entering Friday night’s 103-94 victory over the Knicks, a game in which he scored 16 points. Entering Friday, he had taken more than half of his shots from beyond the arc and converted 49.2% of them. He also had 66 assists and only 18 turnovers.

Though he was projected as a point guard by some, he has played alongside De’Aaron Fox in the Kings’ backcourt.

"The thing I like about Haliburton is the versatility," Tom Thibodeau said. "He’s both good with the ball and can play without the ball. So I think those guys complement each other well and they play at a high level for them.

"I watched his year at Iowa State last year, he got hurt early in the year. That probably slowed him down. But the games he did play in, he played very well, at a very high level."

Twin towers

Mitchell Robinson has made his name as a prominent shot-blocker, ranking fourth in the NBA as a rookie, sixth last season and now fourth. He entered Friday second on the Knicks with 1.8 per game, just behind Nerlens Noel’s 1.9, and Thibodeau is enthusiastic about what Robinson is doing.

"Terrific. I think what he’s doing in terms of anchoring the defense is a huge key to our team," Thibodeau said. "And Nerlens Noel also. We have great rim protection with both guys. I love the way they play for each other. Mitch got in early foul trouble, Nerlens went in, he held it together. Mitch came back and had a terrific second half. I think the tandem of those two guys, and that’s the one thing that we have now, we have quality depth."

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