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An amateur GM looks back on the last seven years of Knicks draft picks

You win some, you lose some...but the Knicks have won their fair share of late.

NBA: NBA Draft Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

For all the shortcomings the Knicks have had as a franchise on the organization level, the draft has been one of the few bright spots over the course of this bleak, dystopic century. It began with Isiah Thomas setting several years of draft picks on fire with any number of bad trades, a byproduct of his misguided belief that the cornerstone to team building was expensive, high risk, low reward free agents with strong name recognition. So draft picks, wherever the team found them, became crucial to survival, or whatever survival might look like for a team that’s been mediocre to bad for 20 years, and over and over again- as the Knicks reliably fucked up every aspect of running their franchise- they converted on an uncommon number of their low value picks.

Arguably beginning with Trevor Ariza, the 43rd pick in the 2004 NBA Draft, who incredibly, was still kind of playing this season, the Knicks turned water into wine. Future all-star David Lee was taken with the 30th pick in 2005. Wilson Chandler was taken with the 23rd pick in 2007. Iman Shumpert was taken with the 17th pick in 2011. Tim Hardaway Jr. was taken with the 24th pick in 2013. When the team had a lottery pick, even if we came tragically close to getting the generational talents the fanbase dreamed of several times, the Knicks didn’t outsmart themselves, often making sound and intelligent picks, like Danilo Gallinari with the 8th pick in 2008.

So why the redraft? Well candidly, I’ve owed Joe an offseason piece for a few weeks now, and I wanted to look back and see both how well I would’ve fared over the last few years as the Knicks GM, and where we may have gone wrong in evaluating team construction, if not talent. The exercise isn’t evaluating each draft class with 20/20 hindsight and figuring what pick we should have made with a crystal ball, but instead an attempt to recall what player I had wanted at the time, both to pat myself on the back for being predictively brilliant, and occasionally to laugh at how dumb I was.

An important caveat before we get started here: I haven’t liked or really watched much college basketball since the early 2000s. I think the sport is gross and exploitive, and only carries a passing resemblance to professional basketball’s product that I simply don’t find entertaining. The one year rule should be abolished. What happens most years, is once the ping pong balls settle, I’ll do a few weeks of reading the research of other and much brighter actual analysts, and irrationally fall in love with a guy I will spend weeks at bars and on the internet insisting the Knicks absolutely need to draft and the entire future of the franchise hinges on us getting, Brandon Jennings or something. Let’s cook.

2015: Knicks Draft- #4 Kristaps Porzingis

Abe Wanted- Jahlil Okafor

Beginning this exercise with a spoonful of humble pie. I thought I knew better than the great Phil Jackson, who has won *checks notes* slightly more NBA championships than I have. I was dead wrong. I was in agony when we missed out on Jahlil, a can’t miss, traditional, nimble big man post-up destroyer. But Jahlil was infected by the Philly curse, discarded on a mile high pile of bodies that are all former Philly draft picks who have all fallen due to seemingly unrelated maladies that are stranger than what- one by one- destroyed the Springfield Nuclear Power Plant Softball Team.

But instead, Phil bet on a 7’3’ Latvian enigma who immediately started balling his ass off, playing an incredibly tantalizing, and in retrospect dangerous above the rim game few human beings his size have ever been capable of. Pay no mind to the fact that he’s a diva and an asshole who can’t stay on the court for even close to a full season. Can’t imagine that possibly coming back to haunt us.

Anyways, the point is I was wrong on this one, drafting is difficult and unpredictable, etc.

2016: Knicks Draft: No One

Abe Wanted: N/A

The Knicks punt on the draft entirely, despite having cash in hand and picks for sale. Seth covered it masterfully here. It was the first time in 21 years the franchise didn’t make a pick. They lost the first pick because of Bargnani Residue, which is the name of Glen Grunwald’s new scent in collaboration with Burberry, available now exclusively at the Macy’s on Fulton Mall and nowhere else.

That pick turned into Jakob Poeltl in the ninth spot, a perfectly serviceable big man who wasn’t even the Raptors best pick in that draft. I won’t lose much sleep over missing out on him. Let me just jump out here for a moment to say that in some respects, I’m happy the Knicks didn’t draft this year.

This isn’t remotely true, but in my mind, the Knicks have exclusively drafted either eighth or ninth in the draft since the team was founded in 1947. And every player they’ve ever drafted has appeared solid yet unspectacular, and has one or two troubling aspects of their game that could lead to them being good and productive players if they can just figure those one or two things out, and it never happens. And what’s more, I’m not researching this, but I’m fairly confident no good player has ever been drafted with the eighth or ninth pick in the long and storied history of the NBA Draft, and if Adam Silver really wants to reform the league, the draft should simply skip from the seventh pick to the tenth pick every year, like it’s the 13th floor in a hotel.

So fuck the eighth and ninth picks, fuck Jakob Poeltl, fuck Andrea Bargnani, fuck Glen Grunwald, and fuck the year 2016. As far as I can remember, the Knicks not drafting that season was the worst thing that happened that year, basketball or otherwise, unless I’m forgetting something.

As for who I wanted, I must’ve tuned this whole class out when I realized the Knicks weren’t drafting because I can’t say I have particularly strong memories of salivating over Henry Ellenson.

2017: Knicks Draft: #8 Frank Ntilikina, #44 Damyean Dotson, #58 Ognjen Jaramaz

Abe Wanted: Malik Monk

The real answer is I badly wanted De’Aaron Fox, whose draft stock steadily improved in the run up to this draft, seemingly by the day, to my horror, but the Knicks didn’t have a shot at him so it’s unfair to have him as my choice here. Of course, in the eighth spot we drafted Frank, who seemed OK on paper, and I gave Phil the benefit of the doubt because he was coming off the Porzingis pick. I subsequently fell in love with him, as he became one of the most polarizing Knicks players, really in my entire lifetime, and now he’s playing meaningful minutes, doing crucial yeoman’s work on a Western Conference Finals team, so you were wrong and I was ultimately right.

Oh, wait...Monk, shit. Well, you know, coming out of college he looked like a potentially explosive wing, but he was a replacement level scorer for a complete train-wreck Lakers team this season, after the team who drafted him just let him walk away…so let’s wait and see. Of course, we all should’ve wanted Donovan Mitchell, a New Yorker who we just may eventually (chillingly) see suit up for the Knicks, but like the other 12 teams who drafted before Utah that year, I didn’t see it.

2018: Knicks Draft #9 Kevin Knox, #36 Mitchell Robinson

Abe Wanted: Mikal Bridges

On my kids, this is true. It was his draft position, the Knicks reached for the young big body without paying attention to his potato head. What I saw in Bridges was an incredibly solid, if unsexy 3&D wing who would be in the league for at least ten years. The kind of competency and future continuity the team desperately needed. And I nailed it. So there you go. Did I even expect Bridges to turn into what he’s become? Not really. Had I even heard of my godson Mitchell Robinson before the Knicks drafted him? Also no. Is this proof I should be the General Manager of the New York Knicks? Absolutely.

2019: Knicks Draft #3 R.J. Barrett, #47 Ignas Brazdeikis

Abe Wanted: RJ Barrett

A pretty obvious one. Not much to talk about here. I remember being heartbroken and devastated watching the lottery that the Knicks had lost out on the #1 pick, when really I should’ve been heartbroken and devastated the Knicks didn’t get #2, but part of me will always believe if Ja comes to New York, it would’ve opened a hole in the multiverse and today he’d be Steve Francis (the Knicks version) 2.0.

RJ is about to be the first Knicks pick to earn a second contract in a generation, not much to complain about. The good thing about picking out of #3 as opposed to #8 or #9 is there is generally a lot less guesswork. Tanking, it works folks!

2020: Knicks Drafted: #8 Obi Toppin, #25 Immanuel Quickley

Abe Wanted: Tyrese Haliburton

As an aside, it’s pretty incredible that just in the last few years, going over the drafts between 2015 and 2020, what an influx in talent we’ve seen in a short period of time. I’m glad the league is about to expand. We’re ready for it.

I’ve written often and effusively about my love for Obi Toppin, and why I have made a mortal enemy of Thibs due to his reluctance to give him the burn he deserves, and I honestly had no idea Quickley would become what he has for the Knicks, but man, did I want, and do I still sometimes think about what this team would look like with Haliburton at point. There is nothing I love more in basketball than an elite point guard, and it’s the single position that has haunted the Knicks more than any other this century, and Quickley will hopefully get an opportunity to see what he can do as our point guard of the future, but with Halliburton, we were at a spot where we could draft a guy who would’ve fallen perfectly into where many had projected him to go based on ability, and then basically everything you could’ve wanted for him as a player came true. So it’s still a bit of a tough beat for me. Particularly when you see what the moron Kings unloaded him for, when rumor had it we were on the one yard line for a deal that would’ve delivered the Kings other star point guard I’ve coveted since 2017 in exchange for a malcontent.

Pain all around, but I would say even now, before we definitively know how this all pans out, 2020 was probably the best Knicks draft since 2005, when we got Channing Frye, David Lee, and Nate Robinson.

2021: Knicks Drafted: #25 Quentin Grimes, #34 Rokas Jokubaitis #36 Deuce McBride, #58 Jericho Sims

Abe Wanted: N/A

Look, I could lie to you and say I was a Bones Hyland truther from day one, or would prefer Cam Thomas to Deuce, but that would be a lie. The team drafts these guys and I fall in love with them, that’s kind of how it works. I have friends that still give me shit because of the time I saw the Knicks play the Warriors in person Kevin Knox’s rookie year, and I couldn’t stop raving about how Draymond barely came up to his shoulder.

Because of my relationship with college ball, I’m not going to get terribly invested when the Knicks are drafting this deep. I read the names on the ticker, shrugged, read the draft grades, and waited for Summer League. A moment ago, I said the 2020 draft was the greatest the Knicks had in 15 years. What’s crazy is way outside the lottery, in a few years, there’s at least a chance we look back and say this was better. Grimes is going to be the kind of career 3&D guy the whole league is looking for, the early returns on Sims are giving poor man’s Jarrett Allen, and Deuce is a completely competent and serviceable, gritty as fuck back up point (for the time being!). I will keep it in my pants when it comes to Rokas, but only for now. Only for now.

My point is, you can see an immediate leap in evaluation and the clarity of thinking on behalf of the regime in the front office. Yes, Thibs is our coach for at least the beginning of next year, but if the Knicks keep drafting like this, sooner or later the team won’t have any sore Burks thumbs left for Thibs to play. I can’t wait to see what we do next (PRAY FOR JADEN IVEY!).