By John Schmeelk
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The Knicks might have turned a corner on Thursday night. For the first time in a long time, they actually acted like a real NBA organization with a long-term plan.
They executed their plan despite the fact that a large portion of their own fan base was going to be very unhappy with their decision. By drafting Kristaps Porzingis, the Knicks showed they might actually be figuring things out. They understand they are in the middle of a long-term rebuilding process that is going to take time. They understand that trying to “win now” is what got them into this situation to begin with.
They understand that planning the future based off of Carmelo Anthony’s presence is not the way forward. They passed on other players that might have helped sooner for the player that might help them the most in the future. For once, the Knicks actually did what they were supposed to do.
Is Porzingis going to be a star? Will he be a bust? I don’t know. Nobody does. The same can be said of Justise Winslow, Emmanuel Mudiay, Willie Cauley-Stein and Mario Hezonja. There are no guarantees with D’Angelo Russell or Jahlil Okafor, either.
Will any or all of these players be better or worse than Porzingis in five years? Nobody knows for sure. The draft doesn’t offer guarantees. There are no such things. The draft is a crapshoot, a high-stakes gambling night that determines the fate of NBA franchises across the league for years to come.
On Thursday night, the Knicks placed a very big bet. They had no choice. They were down to their last few chips. Thy knew if they didn’t hit it big, they would be out of the game for a long time. Even a modest bet and victory wouldn’t put them in a much better place than they were before. Worst of all, they knew another opportunity like this might not come along for years. The Knicks were at rock bottom. They had to hit and win big, or be destitute and stuck in the poor house. That’s why Phil Jackson decided to bet on Porzingis.
This is a home-run swing. Sometimes, when you swing for the fences you strike out. Of course, you can also strike out when you are trying to hit singles or doubles. But the payoff has the chance to be special. When the Knicks were locked out of the top three on lottery night, fans worried that the team’s chance of getting someone who could be a transcendent star was gone.
Porzingis put them back in that game. His raw skills give him just as much potential as any of the other players in the draft. He could be the best player taken in the draft in five to seven years. That’s the type of player the Knicks desperately need, someone who can carry the franchise once Anthony rides into the sunset.
Standing at 7-foot-1 without shoes, Porzingis will be listed at 7-foot-3 in the NBA. He has a 7-foot-6 wingspan. Those measureables give him more potential than any of the other players that were there at number four. The fact that he only weighs 230 pounds is what scares people. He is a twig right now. Might he contribute less than those other players in the next two seasons because of that? Probably, and that’s why I had him behind some of those guys on my big board before the draft. But there’s no guarantee of that, either.
Uneducated fans have thrown out Fredric Weis as a reason the Knicks shouldn’t have taken Porzingis. That’s like saying you won’t travel to Paris because you had an awful time at an airport in Bulgaria on a layover. One has nothing to do with the other. Zero. Nada. Zilch. All Europeans are not alike, the same way all Americans are not alike. Should the Timberwolves have passed on Karl-Anthony Towns because Sam Bowie, a fellow Kentucky center, was a bust? That comparison is just as ridiculous as Weis and Porzingis.
His skill set is somewhat similar to Andrea Bargnani (perimeter big man), but if scouts are right, what separates the two is their love of the game. Porzingis loves the game the way Kobe Bryant does. He is an addict. He loves it and can’t get enough. Darko Milicic did have the potential to be great, but he didn’t work hard enough to reach that potential. Many have said the same about Bargnani. Maybe the scouts are wrong, but that’s what they say.
Don’t believe me? Here is a quote from Yahoo Sports’ Adrian Wojnarowski: “I think Porzingis will be a star in New York. More elite GMs believe in his talent than any other player in this draft.”
Has this been said before about players that failed? Absolutely, but no one is more locked into NBA front offices than Woj. If he says there is a consensus on a guy (if there ever is one), then there is a consensus. The Knicks didn’t fly into left field and make this pick. He was actually the next best player available in terms of raw talent. The Knicks are coming off the worst season in franchise history, and that’s precisely the player they should have taken given their circumstances.
That doesn’t mean they won’t be wrong about him, but the process was right. They identified their favorite player and picked him, everything else be damned along the way. They didn’t let ownership change their minds. They didn’t let the predictable boos from fans change their minds. They didn’t let potential bad perception change their minds. They acted like an adult organization for once, and that is what should make Knicks fans happier than anything.
— I love the Jerian Grant trade. The fact that Jackson was able to get a first-round pick, and a relatively high one, for Tim Hardaway Jr. was a coup. He is a big guard who can play both backcourt positions, and is the perfect combo guard for the triangle.
He is great at getting to the basket and effective in the pick and roll, something the Knicks might run more of with him and Porzingis. He is an inconsistent shooter, but is better off the dribble than on catch and shoots. He gives the Knicks a playmaker who can help Anthony. On defense, he isn’t the strongest physically, but he has quick feet and has the length to improve on that end. He will be 23 years old in October and depending on free agency, he could be a starter for the Knicks this year.
— The Knicks also traded tw second-round picks for one of Porzingis’ teammates in Spain, Guillermo Hernangomez. He seems like a good fit in the triangle as a post-up big man, but he won’t be coming to the United States for at least another year. No word on what second-round picks and with what protection were sent to Philly. He should be a quality draft-and-stash player. The Knicks didn’t use their cash to buy another second rounder, which I thought was foolish and a missed opportunity. This team needs to fill out its roster.
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