By John Schmeelk
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The Knicks’ inglorious 2016-17 season came to a merciful conclusion Wednesday night, as they beat the 76ers in dramatic fashion on a game-winning jumper by Maurice Ndour of all people. The Madison Square Garden crowd might have been ecstatic, but most Knicks fans watching at home were, at best, neutral, or more likely upset.
The win put the Knicks in a tie with the underachieving Timberwolves for the sixth-worst record in the NBA. Being alone in sixth and tied for sixth don’t truly have much of an effect on the Knicks when it comes to moving up in the NBA Draft lottery on May 16. The Knicks have about a 1-percentage-point lower chance at finishing in each of the top three spots than they would have had if they finished with a worse record than Minnesota.
Right now, the Knicks have a 5.3 percent chance of finishing with the top pick, a 6 percent chance of finishing with the second pick and a 7 percent chance of finishing with the third pick. They have an 18.3 percent chance of finishing in the top three. The Wolves have the same exact odds the Knicks have of moving up. If the Knicks had finished alone in sixth, they would’ve had a 21.3 percent chance of a top-three pick. The odds didn’t shift all that much.
Where the tie could hurt is in the coin toss that will take place at the NBA league offices next week (likely Tuesday). The coin toss will break the tie on where the Wolves and Knicks will pick if neither move into the top three picks of the draft. If the Knicks win the toss, they’ll have a 43.9 percent chance of picking sixth, a 33.1 percent chance of picking seventh, a 4.5 percent chance of picking eighth and a 0.1 percent chance of picking ninth.
If the Knicks lose the toss, they have no chance of picking sixth, a 57.2 percent chance of picking seventh, a 22.6 percent chance of picking eighth, a 1.8 percent chance of picking ninth and a less than 0.1 percent chance of picking 10th. Those odds are significantly different, making the coin toss next week important. Based on the Knicks’ luck the last 15 years, most fans are not optimistic.
It is still early in the draft process, but here are who the Knicks will have a chance at wherever they might pick.
Washington point guard Markelle Fultz, UCLA point guard Lonzo Ball and Kansas forward Josh Jackson: Some combination of these three guys is likely to be the top three picks in the draft. Fultz is a scoring point guard with size and strength. Ball is the best passer to come out in years. Jackson is a two-way, do-everything small forward. All of them have the potential to be franchise players, and the Knicks should do somersaults if they have the chance to pick any of them.
I was tempted to split this into two tiers itself, but I’m not quite there yet. The top of this tier is filled by Duke small forward Jayson Tatum and Kentucky point guard De’Aaron Fox, whom I expect to go in some combination at four and five. Fox is a fast, penetrating point guard who needs to work on his shot. Tatum is solid all around and should be able to contribute right away in a lot of areas.
The second part of this group is who the Knicks will have to choose from if they pick sixth to ninth. It’s comprised of North Carolina State point guard Dennis Smith Jr., Kentucky shooting guard Malik Monk, Arizona big man Lauri Markkanen, Florida State forward Jonathan Isaac, Michigan State forward Miles Bridges and French point guard Frank Ntilikina.
Smith is an athletic scoring point guard, but he has already torn an ACL once and had poor body language at the end of N.C. State’s disappointing season. Monk is an undersized two guard with a very creative and varied offensive game. Isaac is raw, but his skills and size (6-foot-10) are rare. Markkanen shouldn’t be an option for the Knicks since he matches Kristaps Porzingis’ skills. Bridges still might not declare as a versatile forward. Finally, there’s Ntilikina, who is just 18 and only averaged 6 points and 1.5 assists in France last year. He will need time to develop. But scouts like his size (6-5), and his feel for the game is intriguing.
Without having looked deeply into some of the players in this group, I would rank them in this order for the Knicks: Monk, Smith, Isaac, Ntilikina, Bridges, Markkanen. No matter how badly the lottery goes, the Knicks are guaranteed to get a player from this group.
No word when and if the Knicks might make team president Phil Jackson available to the media. He has not talked directly to the fan base since the season started. He needs to soon so the fans know the direction he is taking the franchise.
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