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Lucky Number 25

The Knicks hitting on the 25th pick in back-to-back years is unheard of.

New York Knicks v Chicago Bulls Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images

For decades, the NBA Draft went by with the Knicks either as spectators or on the outside looking in. Past front-office leaders like Isiah Thomas traded draft picks like they were worthless. Or, like Phil Jackson, they squandered late first-round picks on players with low upside, only to fade out of the league in a few years. But under Leon Rose, the Knicks have primarily built their core through the draft, a reverse course of prior thinking. That is no more evident than the team hitting home runs on the 25th pick in the 2020 and 2021 Drafts. Immanuel Quickley and Quentin Grimes are two of the team’s most important young players.

Past Knicks picks in the 20s have been a mixed bag. There was the infamous “sleeper” quote attributed by Spike Lee to Renaldo Balkman when he was drafted 20th in the 2006 Draft. Balkman was out of the league after six seasons. The next season Wilson Chandler, an early prototype of Grimes’s game, was selected with the 23rd pick in the 2007 Draft. But he was shipped off in the package traded for Carmelo Anthony, only to thrive in Denver. And in 2013, the Knicks selected Tim Hardaway Jr. with the 24th pick, only to trade him to the Atlanta Hawks two seasons later before signing him back and then trading him again after two seasons to Dallas in the Kristaps Porzingus deal. LOL.

The Knicks hitting on and developing two late first-round picks is unheard of in 21st-century Kincks-dom. It goes to show the competence and focus on development Rose has instituted under his administration. Rose has made a trade in every draft since taking over as president of Basketball Operations in 2020. He drafted both Quickley and Grimes in subsequent draft day trade flurries. For Quickley, the Knicks managed to move up in draft order from the 27th and 38th picks to the 25th and 33rd. As a result, New York took Quickley out of Kentucky, who was officially chosen by the Oklahoma City Thunder as the 25th overall pick. For Grimes, the Knicks traded up this time, selecting Grimes, a third-team All-American from Houston, after swapping the No. 21 pick for No. 25. with the Los Angeles Clippers.

Grimes is now the starting shooting guard for the Knicks, while Quickley is the leading candidate for Sixth Man of the Year, averaging 14.2 PPG, 4 RPG, and three APG while shooting 36% for three. As a starter in 17 games, Quickley has averaged 21.1 PPG, 5.2 RPG, and five APG, filling in for Jalen Brunson. The Knicks haven’t built through the draft since the days of Donnie Walsh in the late 2000s (before shipping off their young core for Anthony). Rose was Anthony’s agent during those negotiations and saw first-hand how the trade depleted the Knicks’ supporting cast. He has learned from past Knicks mistakes and made building through the draft, with shrewd maneuvering, a top priority. Both Grimes and Quickley have untapped potential while already the two best two-way players on the roster.

The Knicks are not a team with rich Lottery luck. They have been drafted in the top 10 only 10 times since 2000. Of those picks, only Porzingis and RJ Barrett turned into anything resembling a star player. The importance of the team hitting on and then developing late first-round picks into valid contributors is huge. And, after two decades worth of dysfunction, they have finally made it work. That both players were selected 25th only adds to the magical vibes surrounding this Knicks revival.