Evolve or perish.
That’s the law of the wild and the mandate in the NBA.
Only the Chicago Bulls, because of a one-in-a-generation talent by the name of Michael Jordan, could prevail without a top-flight center.
Today the game favors the mercurial point guard – Curry, Irving, Paul, Thomas, Wall, Westbrook. Put them in a pick and roll and if you’re a defender, hit the panic button and reach for Rolaids.
The only team in the last 10 years to win a title with a great center was the 2014 San Antonio Spurs. Tim Duncan was the man in the middle, but it was Kawhi Leonard who won MVP honors.
Today teams without an elite lead guard make playing in the NBA like driving the Autobahn in a four-cylinder hybrid. You’re getting passed.
“The league has made a giant step toward allowing guards to have freedom,’’ Knicks President Phil Jackson said in his state of the team press conference in mid-April. “Big guys are even using their hands on screening at the top of the key. There’s a whole disregard for referees to call that as a foul although it’s not the same on the baseline when a guy’s screening.
“I think they really want the guards to be out there – the Westbrooks, Hardens, the Isaiah Thomas, Currys etc. That’s been the directional change in the league and I think it’s on point, and that has to be everything that you’re doing defensively.’’
Westbrook, Harden, Thomas, Curry – where is the next great point guard? Possibly in this Thursday night’s draft (7 p.m.; ESPN).
The fortunes of several NBA teams, including the Knicks, could change dramatically because no draft in recent years has had the quality and depth at point guard as this one.
As many as five point guards could go in the Top-10 picks.
The first two point guards to be taken will likely be Washington’s Markelle Fultz and UCLA’s Lonzo Ball, meaning there is a great chance the Knicks will have a crucial decision to make with the No. 8 pick.
Kentucky’s Malik Monk, France’s Frank Ntilikina and Dennis Smith Jr. of NC State all have specific strengths. The Knicks can begin that debate now.
Here’s our look at how the Top-10 picks will unfold:
1. Philadelphia 76ers – Markelle Fultz, PG, Washington
The 76ers look to pair Fultz with last year’s No. 1 overall pick Ben Simmons to form an uber backcourt. #TrustTheProcess, sure. Trust the health of Simmons and Joel Embiid – that’s the question.
2. Los Angeles Lakers – Lonzo Ball, PG, UCLA
LaVar Ball declares himself NBA GM of the Year for thinking he bullied the process in order for his son to go to the hometown Lakers. Now the pressure is all on Lonzo to produce.
3. Boston Celtics – Josh Jackson, SF, Kansas
Danny Ainge gets another top pick and gets a tough, athletic wing defender who’s perfect for coach Brad Stevens. What’s the next deal? The Celtics need an elite front court presence.
4. Phoenix Suns – De’Aaron Fox, PG, Kentucky
Our favorite player in the draft because of talent, team-oriented attitude and maturity. They have Eric Bledsoe. How many Kentucky PGs can a team keep when there’s a market for PGs?
5. Sacramento Kings – Jayson Tatum, SF, Duke
Tons of offensive upside, which if realized, could transform him into an elite scoring small forward. #WhatsTheProcess? Kings are in complete overhaul mode.
6. Orlando Magic – Jonathan Isaac, PF, FSU
All the physical tools to become a rebounding machine and a nasty defensive presence, but he’s got some maturing to do. As for Orlando, its front court needs the Disney magic wand.
7. Minnesota Timberwolves – Lauri Markkanen, PF, Arizona
Power forward is a misnomer here. Think stretch forward. I’m not as high on him as most, and wouldn’t be surprised if he slid.
8. New York Knicks – Frank Ntilikina, PG, France
Yes, we know Monk and Smith Jr. are available. The Knicks brass didn’t fly to the land of croissants to scout him and not come away impressed with length, PG skills and IQ.
9. Dallas Mavericks – Dennis Smith Jr., PG, NC State
A power pack of a PG who is often in attack mode. If not for a high school knee injury, and the firing of his college coach which led to a late-season swoon, he might be higher.
10. Sacramento Kings – Malik Monk, SG, Kentucky
They got a scoring forward at No. 5 and an electric motor player such as Monk to pair in the backcourt with Buddy Hield would help. But in the talent-rich West, the Kings remain pawns.