By John Schmeelk
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I decided to write this story today because I assume that I’m not going to be rational on Tuesday.
The NBA Draft Lottery is the equivalent of Christmas morning for a five-year-old, except there’s an actual chance of getting a lump of coal in the stocking. It’s the official end of the year and — hopefully — a reward for all the suffering Knicks fans have endured since October.
There hasn’t been a more important night for the franchise in a very long time. Knicks fans everywhere will be panicking as they hope for the best, but deep down inside believe the team will somehow wind up selecting 24th overall. (No. 5 is New York’s lowest possible spot.)
But in truth, the Knicks will be in excellent position on June 25, no matter where they pick. Alright, maybe not if they have the fifth selection (12 percent chance), depending on opinions regarding Willie Cauley-Stein, Justise Winslow and the two top European prospects. This year’s NBA Draft is widely considered to be four players deep in the top tier, and while there seems to be a consensus growing around Karl-Anthony Towns, there’s a reasonable chance that Jahlil Okafor, D’Angelo Russell and Emmanuel Mudiay could be All-Stars, or even franchise players. There’s a chance this will be like the LeBron James draft, where four of the top five picks are All-Stars (James, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh, Dwyane Wade) and one is a bust: Darko Milicic.
Knicks fans that have fallen into the trap of Towns-or-bust will be crushed if the team doesn’t get the first overall pick (19.9 percent chance) on Tuesday night. He probably has the best chance of all the prospects to become a unique two-way player who can not only play dominant defense at center, but also score. He might not fill that role right away, but he should be able to block shots as a rookie and stretch the defense a bit with a mid-range jump shot.
In order to get Okafor, the Knicks will likely need the second pick (18.9 percent chance). Okafor is the likely 2016 Rookie of the Year, with a realistic opportunity for averaging a double-double, and perhaps even getting close to 20 points and 10 rebounds per game. Luckily for the Knicks, they will probably get Okafor if they pick third (17 percent chance) and the Sixers select second. Odds are that Philadelphia won’t pick another big man given their past drafts, unless they have a chance to get Towns at No. 1.
If Knicks fans want one of the two guards, picking third or fourth (32 percent chance for 4th, 49 percent combined) it will work out just fine. Russell and Mudiay are very different players, with the former being a great shooter and passer, and the latter having elite athleticism but some raw aspects to his game. Russell would be an ideal fit as a combo guard in the triangle, while Mudiay could bring much-needed penetration to break down the defense.
That’s why picking fifth could become such an issue. If the Knicks land outside the top four (a pick they reportedly could trade), there’s a much better chance of taking a bust. While Cauley-Stein will be a very good defender at the next level, he has no offensive game to speak of and may never be more than that. Winslow had most of his success in college playing as an undersized four against slower power forwards. At 6-foot-6, he will have to play small forwards in the pros, and there are legitimate questions as to whether that may limit his effectiveness. Meanwhile, drafting Europeans like Kristaps Porzingis and Mario Hezonja is always a risk given the competition gap coming to the NBA from overseas.
If Knicks fans don’t get the first pick, they can be disappointed — but don’t freak out. At No. 2, the Knicks will get the most dominant post player to come out of college since Tim Duncan. At third or fourth overall, the Knicks will get a lead guard that can control the ball for the franchise for a decade. That isn’t a bad thing either.
Don’t freak out unless they pick fifth. That’s when a top pick in this draft becomes extremely risky.
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