By John Schmeelk
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The Knicks that fans have seen for most of the season showed up in the second half of Wednesday night’s game against the Milwaukee Bucks.
Their pick-and-roll defense, specifically against Giannis Antetokounmpo, was dreadful. Their transition defense was just as bad. The result was an 11-point defeat and an excellent result for the #Knickstank movement.
Only seven teams have a lower winning percentage than the Knicks and only six have more losses, but New York is balancing on a narrow precipice. The Knicks are just two games in the loss column away from being tied for the fourth-worst record in the league. At the same time, they are just three games in the loss column from being tied for the 10th-worst record.
The difference between the 10th spot in the lottery and the fourth is stark. Between the eighth and 10th spots, teams have about a 2 percent chance of landing the top spot and anywhere between a 6.5 and 6.8 percent chance of being in the top three.
At the seventh spot, the chance of getting the top spot jumps to 4.3 percent and in the top three goes all the way up to 15 percent. The chance of getting top pick from sixth to first ascends from 6.3 percent all the way up to 25 percent. The chance of landing in the top three jumps nearly as sharply. At six it sits at 21.5 percent and then ascends to 29.1, 37.8, 46.9, 55.8 and finally 64.3 for the team with the worst record.
Dropping out of the top seven should be considered a borderline disaster for the Knicks, as it would limit the chance they have to choose between as many of the talented players in the draft as possible. They could still certainly get an excellent player between eighth and 10th, but the odds aren’t nearly as good. It also makes the chances of getting the consensus top two players in draft, Lonzo Ball and Markelle Fultz, close to nil.
The Knicks’ schedule is interesting. They are currently in the middle of their easiest stretch of the second half of the season. Their next four games feature back-to-backs against the lowly Nets and Pistons. Splitting those would probably be at most realistic, but losing three out of four would be the preferred result. That would mean they would have to lose once to the Nets, which may be asking too much. Both the Pacers and Pistons are fighting for a playoff spot, so let’s say the Knicks go 2-2.
After those four games, the Knicks head on a four-game trip against the Clippers, Jazz, Blazers and Spurs. The Utah and San Antonio games are part of a back to back in the middle of the trip. Losing all four is a distinct possibility, but let’s say they finish the trip 1-3.
The Knicks finish with seven of their last nine at home with no back-to-backs. They play in order: at home against the Pistons and Heat, at the Heat, at home against the Celtics, Bulls and Wizards, at the Grizzlies, at then at home versus the Raptors and 76ers. Despite the fact that seven of the games are at the Garden, every team other than Philadelphia is either in or competing for a playoff spot. If the Knicks finish that stretch 3-6, that will put their overall record in their final 17 games at 6-11.
In that scenario, they would finish with an overall record of 32-50. That would place them at the following seeds in past drafts:
2012: (lockout season)
2007: Three-way tie for 6th
Where 32-50 would land the Knicks this season is impossible to predict, but based on history it would likely be between sixth and 10th overall. The odds they get into the top five are slim.
In other words, if Knicks fans want a real chance at a top-two pick, they need to root for their team to win no more than four games the rest of the season.
Here’s the path: Lose three of their next four, then get swept on their western trip, and, finally, win no more than three of their final nine games. It is asking a lot, but that’s the most realistic chance they have of landing a top pick in the draft.
The only benefit to a bad season is to land a great player in the draft. The Knicks need to give themselves the best chance of accomplishing as much. You can’t ask the players to lose on purpose, or even for the coach to actively sabotage the team. All you can hope is for the players to begin to mail it in, and for someone like Carmelo Anthony to shut it down with a minor injury the rest of the way.
It’s the best way for this awful season to have lasting meaning. The Knicks’ awful 17-win campaign two seasons ago got them Kristaps Porzingis. The pain was worth it. The last 17 games will determine whether or not the pain will be worth it this season.
For everything Knicks, Giants, and the world of sports, follow John on Twitter at @Schmeelk