If we follow the spiritual logic of Phil Jackson, the basketball gods owe the Knicks. After competing to Game 82, to the point of winning three of their final six games to earn one win more than the Minnesota Timberwolves out of the first seat in the NBA Draft Lottery, the Knicks saw the system bump them down two big spots.
On Tuesday night, the Timberwolves were rewarded for their ineptitude by being only the fourth last place team to win the lottery since the weighted system was instituted in 1990. They were the first since the Orlando Magic in 2004.
The Knicks, who sat in the second seat, dropped to fourth overall. They were leapfrogged by the Lakers (21-61), who lost eight of their final nine games of the regular season.
But then again, the 76ers (18-64), who took the No. 3 pick, also hopped over the Knicks.
So while we’re all bemoaning the Knicks late wins that, in hindsight, cost them the No. 1 overall pick, we could also say their losses cost them the second and third picks, as well.
The worst the Knicks could have fallen was 5th. This is still the franchise’s highest draft position since it won the very first lottery drawing in 1985 and landed Patrick Ewing.
“It’s not a setback at all,” Knicks GM Steve Mills said after the lottery show at the New York Hilton Midtown.
“We went into the draft knowing that we were going to get a good player anywhere from one through five . . . Even if it was the first pick, that player, I think, was going to take some time to develop. So our view hasn’t changed in that regard.”
What most likely changed is the idea of drafting a big man, such as Karl-Anthony Towns or Jahlil Okafor, who are the likely first two picks. That shifts the focus to guards and the names D’Angelo Russell and Emmanuel Mudiay, two big guards with very different skill sets, are the next on the draft board.
Let’s assume, with the presence of Nik Pekovic, the Timberwolves go with Towns at first overall to fill the power forward spot vacated by Kevin Love. That gives them a nice front line of Pekovic, Towns and Rookie of the Year Andrew Wiggins, with a backcourt of Ricky Rubio and Kevin Martin.
The Lakers would scoop up Okafor at No. 2 and hope he can be the next generation in line with the history of great Laker centers, from George Mikan to Wilt Chamberlain to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar to Shaquille O’Neal.
That leaves the 76ers, who would be targeting a guard anyway because they have Nerlens Noel and Joel Embiid from the previous two drafts. Do they go for Mudiay, the big, athletic guard who already has some pro experience playing in China and could be their next generation Allen Iverson? Or do they take Russell, who is more of a facilitator and outside shooter?
Right now, I believe Philadelphia goes with Mudiay. His athleticism in pick-and-roll with Noel and Embiid, surrounded by shooters the team found this past season in Hollis Thompson and Robert Covington, would make for a very intriguing young group.
That leaves Russell, the most prototypical Triangle guard in the draft, waiting at No. 4. Russell is 6-foot-5, with a 6-foot-9 wingspan and ridiculous vision. He’s a lefty who goes strong to the basket with his right hand and makes quick passes that show an uncanny anticipation of the game.
Now, is Russell, who won’t turn 20 until next February, physically ready to play rotation minutes at the NBA level? That’s always the question with high picks in the One-and-Done Era. Even if he can think the game at NBA speed – and you can expect the Knicks will spend a lot of time testing Basketball IQ (think: Gruden QB camp) when they meet with draft prospects – it may take a little time before you can expect an immediate impact.
But as Mills said, the Knicks were not expecting that out of anyone, even with the No. 1 overall pick.