Will the Knicks put an end to their rookie paradox?

Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sports

They hate rookies. They excel at finding quality rookies. It's a Knicks thing.

New York Knicks shooting guard Tim Hardaway Jr. was named to the All-Rookie First Team on Thursday -- a well-deserved award for a kid who finished second among NBA rookies in total win shares in 2013-14, per Basketball-Reference.  The sniper for Michigan may have played some pretty terrible defense even by Knicks standards, but his three-point shooting and preternatural feel for the fast break made him a steal for New York at the No. 24 pick in last season's draft.

Hardaway's appointment to the All-Rookie squad was the third such honor bestowed upon a Knick in the last four years -- Landry Fields made First Team, All-Rookie in 2010-11, as did Iman Shumpert in 2011-12. How good is that? Best in the league, per The Wall Street Journal's Chris Herring:

This club racks up All-Rookie honors like the Cleveland Cavaliers collect first-overall picks, despite the fact that they have never drafted in the lottery during that period. Here are the picks New York has made since 2010, including the second-rounder they purchased from New Orleans in 2011, ranked by their draft position and their accumulated win shares relative to the rest of their class:

Year Drafted Pick No. Win Shares Rank
Andy Rautins 2010 38 60
Landry Fields 2010 39 12
Iman Shumpert 2011 17 17
Josh Harrellson 2011 45 33
Kostas Papanikolaou 2012 -- --
Tim Hardaway Jr. 2013 24 2

Kostas Papanikolaou was a throw-in for the Ray Felton trade, and has yet to play in the NBA. Other than him, the only draftee to actually under-perform, relative to his draft status, was Rautins.

Ah, but these are still the Knicks...which means bad news can never be far behind:

Our man Jorts was traded away in the Marcus Camby deal -- new Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy will probably turn him into a moonshine-swilling frontcourt beast. Fields regressed once the Knicks started to revolve around Carmelo Anthony (though he was still a good defender), signed a free agent deal with Toronto, and fell off a cliff as he dealt with a mysterious nerve ailment. And Shumpert -- the most promising player of the bunch -- took a giant step back in 2013-14 after what looked to be a breakout sophomore campaign. The front office has been trying to trade him for years, and now his value is pretty much at its nadir.

It would be overly simplistic (though not exactly wrong) to simply call the Knicks an incompetent organization. What they are is an organization made up of a few very shrewd basketball minds, run at the top by a meddlesome owner who values loyalty far more than competence.

The very top brass (read: Dolan) assembles the roster the way a 10-year-old drafts a fantasy team (Did you know Andrea Bargnani once averaged 21.4 points per game!!!!1!). Young, unproven players are actively discouraged -- if not for the Ted Stepien Rule (prohibiting teams from trading first-round picks in consecutive years) and the constraints of the salary cap, this team might be completely devoid of rookies.

And yet, there are rare moments -- when the league essentially holds a gun to the team's head and forces it to use whatever pick remains on the scrap heap -- when the Knicks' scouting department is allowed to shine. This was a hallmark of the Donnie Walsh and Glen Grunwald eras -- they found cheap, unproven talent wherever they could. If it wasn't the draft, it was from Europe (Chris Copeland, Pablo Prigioni) or the D-League (Jeremy Lin). They didn't always hit home runs, but when given a chance, they got the job done.

(Note: This is why I'll never buy into the idea that Grunwald was behind the Bargnani trade. Given Grunwald's good track record, Bargs' CAA ties, and the fact that Steve Mills and the CAA clique pushed Daddy Grun out shortly thereafter, the whole thing reeks of interference from above.)

But these young players are still little more than draft picks the owner was forbidden by NBA law to trade. The team doesn't want them, and is simply biding time until they can be traded. Is it any wonder, then, that they have failed to develop players? There's only so much work you're going to do grooming a future trade chip.

That is also why I don't buy into what appears to be the Knicks' biggest draft mistake of the past four years -- the failure to take Lance Stephenson in the second round. Stephenson is an amazing talent, but he would have been the absolute worst player for the Knicks system. Can you imagine how he would have reacted to the kind of treatment Mike Woodson gave Shumpert -- calling him "rook" into his third season, staring daggers into him after every mistake while veterans continued to brick contested jumpers and blow off defensive assignments with impunity? It wouldn't have been a pretty sight.

It takes a special kind of person to be a Knicks rookie -- not only must you excel immediately, you must submit yourself to an hierarchy that places almost no value on you as a player. Their greatest hope for you is that you become the bait to lure in a bigger name.

Fortunately, there are signs that the man upstairs might be changing his thinking...ever so slightly. Even before Dolan made Phil Jackson the highest-paid executive in NBA history, he took a baby step in the right direction in December when he refused to trade Hardaway and a 2018 first-rounder for Kyle Lowry. Hardaway might not even have been the right youngster to put such faith in (and Lowry would have helped this team oh so much), but you have to start the process somewhere.

The fate of the organization's future (hopefully) now rests with Jackson, who has already made overtures about keeping Shumpert in the fold. If Melo decides to bolt, and the Knicks go into a true rebuild, they'll have little to work with -- two first-round picks and zero second-round picks between now and 2018. They will need to get creative in order to bring in young talent...a trick they've pulled off before, on several occasions.

This time, however, the Knicks might want to consider using these young players as more than just trade bait.

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