The surest way to build an NBA title contender is through top draft picks. High-end talent on rookie-scale contracts: what’s not to love, assuming you overlook billionaires screwing millionaire players and thousandaire fans? The Knicks have a well-earned rep for failing to be “a model of intelligent management.” But that doesn’t mean they’re hopeless heathens when it comes to conventional logic. To wit: 24 players were drafted first or second overall between 2003 and 2014. After signing Michael Beasley this summer, the Knicks have now employed five of these dazzling double dozen.
24 players picked No.1-2 in the NBA draft between 2003 and 2014. Knicks are well represented in the bottom half of the win shares/48 chart pic.twitter.com/jKur8bbBE8— Joseph Flynn (@ChinaJoeFlynn) August 9, 2017
Derrick Rose may have disappointed many of us as a shooter, a passer, a defender, and a human, but his lone season in NY, despite opening with a dispiriting civil sexual assault trial and ending with a disheartening torn meniscus, was MVP-caliber compared to the Knicks’ other recent high-lottery projects. It’s a testament to New York’s tradition of poor guard play, how far Rose is from what young Rose once was, and the Marburyesque hollowness of his numbers that a guy who’s still a threat to score 20 a night and would have done so on the cheap next season was by year’s end persona non grata to most Knick fans.
Derrick Williams put up the best per-36 numbers of his career his lone year as a Knick, and showed an ability to get to the line and flourish in transition. On the other hand, he was still Derrick Williams, which will get you far in life, but not so much in the NBA.
Andrea Bargnani? Let’s focus on the good times. There were some!
Neither the Knicks nor Bargnani own a monopoly on disappointing former top 2 picks. Exhibit B:
Darko Milicic never neared the upside that led Joe Dumars to punt away a surefire dynasty by passing on Carmelo Anthony, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. Remarkably, Milicic produced fewer win shares in 468 career games than Greg Oden, 2007’s infamous bust, did in only 105. But the Serbian’s career lasted nearly a decade, and nowadays he’s a seemingly contented farmer, producing over 10,000 pounds of fruit every year. Need a moment to think up a “No. 2” joke connecting fruit and crap? I’ll wait.
The players on this list share another commonality: they’ve pretty much all been rumored to be headed to Madison Square Garden. LeBron James has been linked to the Knicks since 2010, and with his second departure from Cleveland seemingly a go next summer, the grapevine is ripe with rumors he could form Team Banana Boat in Manhattan—some of the rumors have been perpetuated by another name on the list, Blake Griffin. Griffin himself has been attached in Carmelo Anthony trade talk since last year. If Melo gets traded to Houston, Milwaukee could be the third team to finally seal the deal, potentially sending 2014 No. 2 pick Jabari Parker to New York.
Kyrie Irving is another name on the list, and after he went public with his desire to get on one of the rescue boats outta Cleveland before LeBron jumps ship, some Knick fans held hope—fleeting, childish, unfounded hope—that New York might be able to swing a deal for the West Orange, NJ (née Australia) star. But now Irving is a Celtic, and since 24/7 sports media long ago over-saturated our present, we live with an eye and a half trained on the future, always; already talk has started about Boston targeting Anthony Davis, another name high on the list of top-two picks.
The past three drafts have seen the usual mix of hope and hype at the top. Karl-Anthony Towns can pretty much play wherever he wants when/if he reaches free agency. D’Angelo Russell would be a Knick if the NBA were horseshoes; instead, he’s the latest Brooklyn personnel move that elicits fawning praise despite zero history of success. Ben Simmons and Brandon Ingram are still more zygote than known quantity. Markelle Fultz said it would have been “amazing” to be drafted by the Knicks. “Amazing” is a cold, distant adjective, the faint-hearted’s variation on “interesting.” You can fit entire galaxies between what’s “amazing” and what’s “available.” I think it’d be “amazing” for my students loans to disappear; it’d be amazing if they were a realistic debt and not a monument to the evils of usury. Lonzo Ball sells $500 sneakers. I don’t care how generous a passer he may be; for that price, I’d rather root against him from a safe distance, both geographic and ideological.
This year the top two picks could be Michael Porter or Luka Doncic. I’ll be rooting for the Knicks to go 82-0, but when they end up 32-50, I’ll be rooting for them to finish one or two in the lottery for the first time since this was record of the year.
When they don’t, I’ll exhale, slowly, then talk myself into Collin Sexton or Lamar Peters, and post-date my hope that Porter or Doncic join the Derricks and Darkos of the world as someday Knicks. Pick up every discarded lotto ticket you ever come across and eventually, one turns out to be a winner. It has to. Right?