Knicks Draft Comes Down to Timing, Probability and Fate

Let me share with you a secret: I was invited by the NBA to be a witness to the NBA Draft Lottery drawing this year in Chicago.

And I respectfully declined.

There’s no way my heart could take it. I also could not guarantee there wouldn’t be a Braveheart roar if the Knicks happened to have won it in my presence among others invited to silently observe.

And, just so you know, the Knicks are not supposed to win this thing anyway.

Oh, sure, they had the worst record, which means they should have the best chance to win. But no, not really. Not anymore.

The NBA changed the system this year to almost ensure the team with the worst record wasn’t a lock to win it. That’s curious because, in the history of the lottery, only seven times has the team with the worst record ever actually won it.

Only 7 times in 34 years.

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But the trend changed dramatically in recent years. The worst record has won it in four straight times, from the Timberwolves in 2015 to the Suns last year. That right there would suggest the Knicks won’t win it this year. It would be hard to imagine the lottery playing out to the worst record for a fifth straight year.

Actually, as we know in the revamped lottery odds, the Knicks have a better chance to get the fifth pick than get No. 1. So, you can say it’s already rigged to keep the Knicks from landing the top pick and Zion Williamson when they reveal the NBA Draft Lottery drawing on Tuesday night in Chicago.

There are more odds to include in the math that could come into play if you believe in timing, probability and fate.

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The Knicks may have the same 14% chance to win the lottery as the Cavaliers and Suns, but let’s consider the Suns just won the lottery last year and the Cavaliers have been awarded three No. 1 picks in a four-year span from 2011-14.

Honestly, if the Cavs win it for the fourth time in eight years, there needs to be an investigation far more than any conspiracy theories that will come to play if the Knicks win it and Zion lands in the biggest market in the league.

Meanwhile, this will be the 13th time the Knicks are in the lottery since 2002 and we should point out here, like a baseball announcer says the word “no-hitter”, that they’ve never won it. In fact, the Knicks have never won the NBA Draft Lottery under the current “weighted” system, which began in 1990. Their only lottery win, the inaugural 1985 lottery, was a hand-drawing of cards from a hopper.

That one landed Patrick Ewing in New York.

NEW YORK – 1985: Patrick Ewing #33 of the New York Knicks poses for a portrait with the Knicks General Manager Dave DeBusschere and NBA Commissioner David Stern during the 1985 NBA Draft at The Felt forum in New York, New York. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory copyright notice: Copyright NBAE 2002 (Photo by Noren Trotman/ NBAE/ Getty Images)

The Knicks had the third-worst record in the NBA that year, mainly because their all-star, Bernard King, blew out his ACL late that season. The Knicks and the seven other non-playoff teams that year had an equal 14.29% chance to win.

[Hey, note the 14% chance.]

That is still the most talked-about lottery in NBA history because of the outcome. Conspiracy theories abounded about how then-commissioner David Stern set it up so Ewing, a college superstar, would land in New York. In fact, I once asked Stern what thought went through his mind as it was revealed the Knicks would get the No. 1 pick.

“Oh my God,” he told me, “They’re gonna wonder how I did it.”

There will be conspiracy theories again if the Knicks somehow win it for the first time in 34 years since that night in Secaucus, New Jersey. And Adam Silver will likely wonder as he’s watching, “Oh my God, they’re gonna wonder how we did it again.”

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The only problem is, there is no way to set it up. It’s simply up to timing, probability and fate. The lottery drawing takes place in a secluded room with a host of witnesses before the actual lottery reveal you see on TV. There is no frozen envelope and no hidden ball trick. It’s all recorded and later presented for the world to see.

It’s also quite boring unless you’re the team that wins. But you can’t tell anyone because you are locked in that room until the lottery show is over. They even make you give up your phone for that time. This is another reason why I turned it down. I’d be like Pookie from New Jack City in that room, jonesing for my iPhone as the draft positions were revealed.

“It be cawwlin’ me….”

Every Knicks fan I have come across, be it on the street, in the subway or on my radio show seems resigned to the fact that the Knicks will not win this lottery. It’s the typical New York expect-the-worst-hope-for-the-best mentality. It’s the front we put up to avoid disappointment. It’s our shield.

I’m here to tell you there’s a chance. I’m also here to tell you it is less of a chance than they had in 2015 when they had the second-worst record and a 19.9 chance to win it, but fell to 4th, which, according to the numbers, was their highest probability finish at 31.9%.

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Hey, it happens. This year, they have an overwhelmingly better chance of finishing 5th (47.9%), which is the highest percentage of any pick by any team in the top 9.

So, yes, it’s rigged against them. And once it happens, we will discuss the options for the Knicks with that 5th pick and remind you that Walt Frazier was once a fifth overall pick and so was Scottie Pippen and Charles Barkley and Dwyane Wade and so on. But no one wants to focus on that right now.

Right now, there’s still a chance. It’s been 34 years since lightning struck. They’ve had 12 opportunities to win it over the last 16 years and not once — not even when they already traded the pick (2006, they were No. 2) — have they hit.

The Knicks are trying to do the right things to become a winning franchise again. It can start with one big win on Tuesday night. All of the math says they’re actually not supposed to win.

But what if they do?