The New York Knicks have their highest draft pick in 20 years, selecting at No. 4 in this year’s NBA Draft.
The No. 4 spot is actually a bit of a disappointment for the Knicks, who tanked and finished with the second-worst record in the NBA. Picking fourth is also particularly tricky in this year’s draft.
Though this is considered a deep, talented draft class, the Knicks have needs at every position, and given how historically few and far between top lottery picks have been for the team, there’s immense pressure to get this one right.
Falling to No. 4 in the lottery likely means the Knicks will just miss out Karl-Anthony Towns, Jahlil Okafor, and D’Angelo Russell, the three players generally considered the best in the draft. Towns and Okafor are potential franchise-changing big men while Russell almost perfectly fits the mould of a modern NBA point guard.
While there are good prospects below them, they all have bigger question marks, and the Knicks face the increased risk of missing on their highest, most important draft pick in two decades.
Emmanuel Mudiay is a big, athletic point guard, but he’s a bit of an unknown after skipping freshman year of college to play a year in China, where he battled injuries. Ditto for Latvian big man Kristaps Porzingis, who the NBA world has little exposure to. Some of the NBA world is concerned about Mudiay and Porzingis because they never played in the NCAA. The success rate for prospects who only have professional experience overseas is iffy, and if either one doesn’t live up to their potential, the Knicks will have wasted their most important draft pick in decades.
The Knicks could look into two defensive stalwarts in Justise Winslow and Willie Cauley-Stein, but both need to develop on offence and may have lower overall ceilings than the top tier of players. Winslow and Cauley-Stein project to be good players, but their potential weaknesses have caused some to wonder if the Knicks would be reaching by taking them No. 4.
One option is for the Knicks to trade down in the draft, getting back a player and a lower pick where there’s less pressure for the prospect to immediately perform well in the NBA. Knicks president Phil Jackson has stated the team will consider trading down, and Knicks Blog’s Keith Schlosser reports that the Knicks may consider it to draft Murray State point guard Cameron Payne. The inherent risk, of course, is whether the player the Knicks would get back and the lower draft pick would be worth more than a top lottery pick.
These are the same dilemmas almost every team faces in the draft, but the current state of the Knicks and this particular draft makes them more pronounced. The Knicks are trying to rebuild quickly through this draft and free agency. If they miss on their draft pick, it only adds to their list of needs in free agency, where money is precious.
The Knicks could luck out. Mudiay and Porzingis’s size, potential, and seemingly steeper learning curve seems to fit the 76ers’ brand of rebuilding, leaving Russell to possibly fall to the Knicks at No. 4 (assuming Towns and Okafor go in the top two). However, if Towns, Okafor, and Russell go in the top three like many people expect, the Knicks have a tougher choice to make, and it could have serious ramifications in the future.
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