By John Schmeelk
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The Knicks don’t have a draft pick in the top half of the first round this year (finally), yet this selection will be as important as any in recent memory.

After trading away the house to acquire Carmelo Anthony in February, the Knicks now hold very few assets to improve their team. They have no second round picks this year (though they will likely buy one or two) and no first rounder in 2012 or 2014. They have no cap space this summer and only whatever money Chauncey Billups’ expiring contract will yield them in the summer of 2012 (assuming he is not traded).

In other words: the Knicks cannot, under any circumstances, afford to miss on this pick.

This NBA Draft lacks sure-things or guaranteed stars, including projected top pick Kyrie Irving. Derrick Williams is a potential All-Star but many scouts think he is a tweener. And There’s Brandon Knight, a shooting guard in a point guard’s body. After those three, there are a bunch of risky foreign big men and other players with as many flaws as strengths.

This is not the year a team wants to be at the top of the draft. At pick No. 17, there’s actually an opportunity for the Knicks to draft someone that could end up being a top ten player in the draft class.

Predicting who that will be is impossible, considering no one knows who will be left on the board. No one had Prince Amukamara dropping to the Giants in this year’s NFL Draft, so I’m not going to sit here and tell you who the Knicks are going to land.

I will, however, tell you the type of player they should target.

With only nine players (Shawne Williams is a likely tenth) under contract for next season and no cap space, the Knicks have to fill out their roster with low-cost players that can contribute. Renaldo Balkman and Andy Rautins are two, but neither are expected to be major contributors. The Knicks need players that can help today. Projects need not apply.

Drafting a small forward is a bad idea. Carmelo Anthony plays a lot of minutes and both Landry Fields and Shawne Williams can chip in at that position as well. Anyone they draft at small forward, no matter how good, will have his impact mitigated by circumstances. I was prepared to make a similar statement about a power forward, but Amar’e Stoudemire’s ability to move over and play center if need be makes drafting a four an option.

But the two big areas of the need for the Knicks are at center and in the backcourt. The Knicks have no real big man, and would prefer not to play Stoudemire there. Someone that can score would be great, but defense and rebounding should take precedent over any offensive abilities. With Stoudemire and Anthony filling it up, the Knicks don’t need a ton of offense from the center position.

Shooting guard is another story. The Knicks desperately need someone that can knock down the open three with some consistency to keep defenses from collapsing on their two superstars. Fields will try to become that guy, but there are no guarantees he’ll be able to pull it off. There’s also a need for a wing defender, someone that can guard an opponent one-on-one and make it tough on them to score. With no enforcers in the middle, the Knicks’ perimeter defense needs to be able to keep their men out of the paint.

Billups is going to be the Knicks’ point guard for one more season, if that. New York needs a long term answer at the position, someone that can run the team and get Stoudemire and Anthony the ball where they want it. There’s no need for someone that wants to score. It has to be pass-first. Some fans are counting on Deron Williams or Chris Paul to show up next season, but there are no guarantees.

In the next couple days I’ll break down the potential draft prospects for the Knicks at No. 17 and then some potential sleepers (if they buy a couple second round picks). Follow me on twitter for the latest on the draft prospects:!/Schmeelk

Who should the Knicks pick? Be heard in the comments below…

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