By John Schmeelk
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As the Knicks and the rest of the NBA enter the All-Star break, it’s time to look at one of the two things that matter — the other is player development — for the Knicks in the second half of the season: where they sit in the draft lottery.
The tank is on. Whenever Kristaps Porzinigis returns from his ACL tear, he will need young, skilled and talented players to join him on the floor. While the Knicks expect to have significant cap space in the summer of 2019, the best way to get those types of players is in the draft.
It is the last season before the lottery will no longer be as dramatically weighted toward the teams with the worst records, so finishing as close to the bottom of the standings as possible couldn’t be more important.
First, a look at the percentages: (Note: “Lower” means the chance a team selects lower than where they finish.)
Seed 1st 2nd 3rd Top 3 Seeded Place Lower
Worst Record 25% 21.5% 17.8% 64.3% NA 35.7%
2 19.9% 18.8% 17.1% 55.8% NA 44.2%
3 15.6% 15.7% 15.6% 46.9% NA 53.1%
4 11.9% 12.6% 13.3% 37.8% 9.9% 52.3%
5 8.8% 9.7% 10.7% 29.2% 26.1% 44.7%
6 6.3% 7.1% 8.1% 21.5% 43.9% 34.6%
7 4.3% 4.9% 5.8% 15% 59.9% 25.1%
8 2.8% 3.3% 3.9% 10% 72.4% 17.6%
9 1.7% 2% 2.4% 6.1% 81.3% 12.6%
10 1.1% 1.3% 1.6% 4% 87% 9%
11 .08% .09% .12% 2.9% 90.7% 6.4%
Right now, the Knicks sit with the ninth-worst losing percentage in the NBA and a record of 23-36. The 10th- and 11th-worst teams, the Lakers (23-34) and Hornets (24-33), both have two fewer games played than the Knicks but have two and three fewer losses, respectively. It seems unlikely that the Knicks could fall lower than ninth at this point, especially given the fact that the Lakers’ draft pick is going to the 76ers, so they should have no motivation other than to win games.
There isn’t nearly as much optimism above the Knicks in the standings. (Note: Teams are ranked in order of winning percentage.)
Team Record Games Back Last 10 Streak
1. PHX 18-41 -- 1-9 L7
2. ATL 18-41 -- 4-6 L2
3. DAL 18-40 .5 2-8 L2
4. ORL 18-39 1.0 4-6 L3
5. SAC 18-39 1.0 4-6 L1
6. MEM 18-38 1.5 1-9 L7
7. BKN 19-40 1.0 1-9 L7
8. CHI 20-37 3.0 2-8 L1
9. NYK 23-36 5.0 2-8 L8
At first look, the Knicks aren’t in terrible position. They sit in ninth, only one game in the loss column behind the Bulls. Just five losses separate the Knicks from the Suns and Hawks, who are tied for the NBA’s worst record. Four teams are only three or fewer losses away.
But everyone needs to pump the breaks for a moment.
The Knicks have played 59 games already this season, three more than the team with 38 losses (Memphis) and two more than the teams with 39 losses (Sacramento and Memphis). Once those three teams catch up to the Knicks in games played, New York will likely be anywhere from four to six games away in the loss column. The Bulls, with just one more loss than the Knicks, have to make up two games, which could further distance themselves from New York.
To put it simply, the Knicks are realistically about five games behind a group of seven teams with the worst records in basketball with only 23 left to play. This group of seven teams has lost a combined 29 straight games. In their last 70 games, they have a combined record of 17-53. As bad as the Knicks are, it is going to be extremely difficult to make up that many games against a significant number of those seven teams with only 23 contests remaining. Those teams are just as bad as the Knicks and won’t win many games the rest of the year.
Realistically, the Knicks would want to try to slip into the top six, which would give them at least a 20 percent chance of getting into the top three on lottery night and a infinitesimal chance of picking any lower than seventh. That means they would need to pass the Bulls and two of the seven worst teams in the league. It would be hard, but not impossible. The sixth spot would give the Knicks a realistic chance of selecting an impactful player who can help the franchise long-term.
The Knicks are fortunate there is a fairly deep top tier of players in this year’s draft class. Luka Doncic (forward, Real Madrid), DeAndre Ayton (center, Arizona), Mohamed Bamba (center, Texas), Marvin Bagley (power forward, Duke), Michael Porter (forward, Missouri), Jaren Jackson (power forward/center, Michigan State) and Trae Young (point guard, Oklahoma) are all considered high-end prospects.
Mikal Bridges (forward, Villanova), Miles Bridges (forward, Michigan State), Wendell Carter Jr. (center, Duke) and Collin Sexton (point guard, Alabama) are not that far behind.
Even at nine, where the Knicks stand now, they would get a good player, but they should want the best possible chance to have their choice of the crop. Sixth is about as optimistic as even a dose of realism will allow. It is a good sweet spot.
Realistically, the team would probably have to go no better than 4-19 to have a decent chance at sixth. They have games remaining against Orlando (two), Sacramento, Dallas and Chicago. Circle them on your calendar. They are “must lose” if the Knicks want to give themselves any shot at moving into the top three on lottery night.
For everything Knicks, Giants, and the world of sports, follow John on Twitter at @Schmeelk