You want to talk conspiracy theories?
The Knicks won the infamous “Frozen Envelope” draft lottery of 1985, which ensured college superstar Patrick Ewing would land in the biggest media market after the NBA had other critical markets such as Boston (Larry Bird), Los Angeles (Magic Johnson), Chicago (Michael Jordan) Detroit (Isiah Thomas) and Philadelphia (Charles Barkley) well-stocked.
The NBA moved to a weighted system — using ping pong balls and probability — in 1990. The Knicks have been regular attendees in the draft lottery since 2002 and, guess what?
They have never won it.
They’ve never moved up, either. Even when other teams owned the pick, it never moved up. And after the Knicks dropped from 7th to 8th in this year’s draft lottery, check out this little nugget:
The Knicks have dropped a spot in the draft order in three of the last four lottery drawings.
So, conspiracy theorists, ask yourself this: Are they still paying for 1985?
“Could have been 10,” Phil Jackson said as he reached for optimism. “So 8th we’ll live with.”
If he was in charge in 2009, when the Knicks held the 8th spot and missed Steph Curry, a future two-time MVP, he might have a different opinion. But at this point, Jackson can’t control where he picks, he and his staff can only make the best pick when their turn comes up.
Who should it be?
While most of us who have been following this team over the years knows how long it’s been since they drafted and developed a point guard. Mardy Collins was taken 29th overall in 2006.
Aside from Mardy, you have to go back to 1994, when Charlie Ward, the Heisman Trophy winner, was drafted 26th overall. He was developed in a winning environment and became a critical piece and locker room leader on the success of the rugged teams in the late 1990s.
Seven years prior, it was Mark Jackson, who remains the last Knicks draft pick to win Rookie of the Year. That was 30 years ago, kids.
So yeah, it’s about time the Knicks found a franchise point guard. Luckily, this is considered a draft heavy with point guards, much like that 2009 draft when the Knicks missed on Curry. When the Knicks were on the clock, Jrue Holiday and Jeff Teague were still on the board. The Knicks could have traded down for either, who went later in the first round. There was also DeMar DeRozan, too, who was selected at No. 9.
Who did the Knicks take?
Jordan Hill. A power forward.
This year, Jackson acknowledged the wealth of guards in this draft class. But he didn’t point to that position exclusively.
“We have a guard need,” he said. “We have a wing need.”
The Knicks will look at a lot of players, so don’t be surprised by the long list of names that will be associated with them. Don’t be surprised by talk of the Knicks looking to find an extra first-round pick to their collection if a deal can be made. This is a deep draft with talent at the guard and wing positions.
The one name that has been attached to the Knicks well before the draft lottery is Frank Ntilikina (nee-le-keen-a). He won’t turn 19 until late July, so he will enter the NBA as a very raw prospect, but one with great potential.
He’s 6-foot-5 with a 7-foot wingspan, and on tape, he has the tenacity and footwork to be a tremendous defensive player. On offense, he has improved steadily, but will face questions about his shooting ability. This past season while playing professionally in Europe, Ntilikina showed off a development in three-point range, especially in the FIBA U18 European Championships last December. But that’s a far cry from NBA speed, NBA defense and NBA pressure.
Another guard the Knicks will spend a lot of time considering is NC State guard Dennis Smith Jr., who is a physical dynamo at 6-foot-3 and 200 pounds. Smith Jr. is strong and explosive and could develop a game at the NBA level similar to Isaiah Thomas if he can prove to be a consistent three-point shooter. In college, he hit 36% from downtown, which isn’t an elite mark.
The concern with Smith is his defensive ability, especially against bigger guards, and if he is more of an AAU point guard who relies on pick-and-roll play to generate his offense.
Malik Monk is a player to monitor here as well. While he was one of college basketball’s best scorers at Kentucky this season, Monk could drop to 8 for one simple reason: Size. He’s a two-guard who measures at 6-foot-4 and doesn’t have a great wingspan (6-fooot-4) to make up for the height difference. Monk is a bona fide scorer and an explosive athlete with defensive potential, but will he be as effective in the NBA game at that size at the two guard? If the Knicks see him as a good fit in the Triangle, maybe they can use him at the point guard spot, where his size won’t be a factor.
And it’s not just star-potential talent, but a very valuable quality exists deeper in this draft: Tough, smart, defensive-minded players. That’s where you look at the second round picks (No. 44 and 58) and see some interesting possible targets. Here’s where more experienced college players who are physically mature and have a high IQ (read: Seniors) are on the radar.
Personally, I really like Sindarius Thornwell of South Carolina and Deonte Burton of Iowa State as valuable plug-and-play options in the second round. Both are strong physically with great defensive upside and a lot of character. Put Villanova’s Josh Hart in the category of a learner and a winner who could become a key piece of an NBA bench.
There will be more names to talk about as the process moves into the workout phase right up to draft night on June 22. There may even be some trade scenarios to consider. While the draft is the main priority for the franchise right now, there is the obvious Carmelo Anthony situation that looms over the organization.
Jackson reiterated the preference to trade Melo to a contender and move the Knicks into full rebuild mode. But Melo owns the no-trade power, so he controls when, if and to a degree, where he would be traded.
“We’d like him to have success somewhere,” Jackson said. “We’re not going to be there.”
Jackson said the Knicks “hopefully will be maybe” a playoff contender next season, but added that “it would be tough to consider us a possible champion.”
For now, the next win they’re looking for is on draft night.
“I don’t anticipate we’re going to pull a rabbit out of a hat,” Jackson said. “But we’re looking for the best player, at this point, to fit what we need.”
Here’s the question: Is that need based on the Triangle? If so, would Jackson pass on a more talented player if he felt he didn’t fit the Triangle?
A lot more to discuss in what is just the beginning of a very busy and important offseason.