Phil Jackson Should Be Happy If First-Rounder Develops Into Simply A Solid Roleplayer

By John Schmeelk
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The only Knicks fans who were surprised by the results of the Draft Lottery on Tuesday night were blind optimists or fools. Eighth was the worst realistic result for the Knicks, and it should be no surprise that was exactly what happened.

The chance for the Knicks to turn another brutal season into a potential franchise-altering, young player is now at best extremely unlikely. They will likely find a good player in the eighth spot, but it could be someone who takes years to develop, is one-dimensional or never even develops into a top-line starter.

MORE: Knicks Draw 8th Pick In Upcoming NBA Draft; Celtics Take Home Top Prize

Here are the last 20 players selected eighth in the draft:
• 2016: Marquese Chriss (Sacramento)
• 2015: Stanley Johnson (Detroit)
• 2014: Nik Stauskas (Sacramento)
• 2013: Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (Detroit)
• 2012: Terrence Ross (Toronto)
• 2011: Brandon Knight (Detroit)
• 2010: Al-Farouq Aminu (L.A. Clippers)
• 2009: Jordan Hill (Knicks)
• 2008: Joe Alexander (Milwaukee)
• 2007: Brandan Wright (Charlotte)
• 2006: Rudy Gay (Memphis)
• 2005: Channing Frye (Knicks)
• 2004: Rafael Araujo (Toronto)
• 2003: T.J. Ford (Milwaukee)
• 2002: Chris Wilcox (L.A. Clippers)
• 2001: DeSagana Diop (Cleveland)
• 2000: Jamal Crawford (Cleveland)
• 1999: Andre Miller (Cleveland)
• 1998: Larry Hughes (Philadelphia)
• 1997: Adonal Foyle (Golden State)

The best players from that group are Crawford, Gay and Miller. There are nearly as many total busts (Foyle, Alexander, Araujo) as there are full-time starters. Determining upside is only part of the equation in player evaluation. Just as important is determining what the player’s floor is.

2017 NBA Draft Lottery

NBA Deputy Commissioner Mark Tatum announces the New York Knicks having the eighth pick during the 2017 NBA Draft Lottery at the New York Hilton in Manhattan. Copyright 2017 NBAE (Photo by Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images)

Based on history, if the Knicks come away with a solid roleplayer with the eighth pick, they should be happy. They cannot under any circumstances afford to gamble and wind up with someone like Joe Alexander who gives them nothing. Finding an All-Star would be an aberration.

They also need to make sure that whoever they pick can complement their current young star, Kristaps Porzingis. This is a long-term investment. Whomever they draft is likely going to take some time to develop. He can learn how to play next to Willy Hernangomez and Porzingis. That’s how you build a successful team.

MORE: Keidel: Phil Jackson Further Proves He’s Not The Cure To Knicks’ Ills

Picking eighth, the Knicks will have their choice of whatever players are left from the fairly strong top tier of guys. There are 10 players Knicks fans should pay attention to.

Washington point guard Markelle Fultz, UCLA point guard Lonzo Ball and Kansas small forward Josh Jackson will never fall all the way to the Knicks, barring anything odd between now and draft night.

The next group of guys contains the following players:

• Jayson Tatum, Duke: There’s little to no chance he falls to the Knicks, as he will likely go fourth or fifth. A versatile forward.

• De’Aaron Fox, Kentucky: The chance he falls to the Knicks is slim to none. A super-fast point guard who could become the next John Wall but needs to put on weight and work on his shot. Knicks will dream of him and be disappointed.

De'Aaron Fox

Kentucky’s De’Aaron Fox dunks against Wichita State during the second round of the 2017 NCAA men’s basketball tournament on March 19, 2017, in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

• Malik Monk, Kentucky: An undersized shooting guard from Kentucky who can flat out score. Questions abound as to whether he is too short to play the wing and not a good enough ball handler to play the point. Good choice for the Knicks, if he falls. 60/40 he is not available.

• Dennis Smith Jr., North Carolina State: Scoring point guard with inconsistent effort and defense. Would thrive in pick-and-roll offense. Not a great passer, either. Doesn’t seem the Phil Jackson type. 50/50 he’s there.

• Frank Ntilikina, France: European guard who projects as a potential point guard but plays off the ball for Strasbourg. He’s tall (6 feet, 5 inches) and long with a solid jumper but lacks upper-echelon athleticism. He has all the tools to be an excellent perimeter defender if he adds strength. He should be available for the Knicks.

Frank Ntilikina

Strasbourg’s Frank Ntilikina dribbles against Cibona in the Basketball Champions League in Strasbourg, France, on Jan. 18, 2017. (Photo by Elyxandro Cegarra/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

• Jonathan Isaac, Florida State: A raw but long forward that should defend well from the get-go. He is thin and was too passive for much of his freshman year with the Seminoles. He has an undeveloped offensive game but has shown range and the athleticism to improve.

• Lauri Markkanen, Arizona: A tall-but-thin, skilled big man who can shoot the basketball. If he sounds too much like Porzingis, you’re right. Not a good fit.

Three of those players will be available for the Knicks when they pick eighth. Jackson has said he wants guards and wings, so fans should root for Markkanen and Isaac to draw teams’ attention before it’s the Knicks’ turn. It could push Monk down to the Knicks. Otherwise, they will be choosing from some combination of Smith, Ntilikina, Isaac and Markkanen. If I had to guess now, Ntilikina would be the pick from that group, but there’s still a lot of time between now and June 22.

Knicks fans need to understand they are still in line for a protracted rebuild. Whomever they get this season will be a part of that, but may not be anything more than a support player. Finishing eighth in the draft lottery all but assured that.

Now the Knicks will have to pick the right guy. That’s the hard part.

For everything Knicks, Giants, and the world of sports, follow John on Twitter at @Schmeelk

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