The 2019-2020 regular season has come and went and, as usual, the New York Knicks were one of the worst teams in the NBA. While the 16 playoff teams are gearing up for a run at the Larry O’Brien trophy, the knickerbockers find themselves doing the same thing they have for the last seven years: pressing their luck in the NBA’s draft lottery. Allegedly (joking) the worse your record is in the regular season, the higher your odds are of pulling the highest pick possible, but I have a theory. A theory that the New York Knicks are cursed.
Now don’t get me wrong, the Knicks have been bad. Really (really) bad. But I don’t believe that is entirely their fault. The tanking method has worked for almost every team that has enforced it over the past decade. The 76ers have become one of the top teams in the east, the grizzlies are on the precipice of becoming an NBA title contender, and the Phoenix Suns just finished the bubble-ized regular season with a perfect 8-0 record (the best of all teams invited). The Knicks, however, have shown little to no progression over the last four seasons. This is partly due to a lackluster front office, a Twisted-Metal-esqe coaching carousel, and a horrible batting average in free agency. Usually, these issues are corrected through the draft. Homegrown stars are almost always the first step in dragging a franchise out of the metaphorical NBA basement. There’s just one problem:
The Knicks have the worst luck humanely-imaginable.
Maybe it’s karma for the NBA rigging the first-ever lottery back in 1985 to send Patrick Ewing to the big apple (That’s hardly even a theory at this point, look it up), but this organization cannot catch a break. The team hasn’t moved up a spot in the lottery a single time in the past five years, and four of those years they either moved down or didn’t have a pick at all. The difference between a single spot in the NBA draft can be the difference between LeBron James and Darko Milličić (literally). You’d think that the universe would throw the Knicks a bone once in a while, especially with what that fanbase has gone through over the last 20 years, but somehow New York has found themselves on the wrong side of the ping-pong balls almost every time. Even when they fall into the slot they are most likely to get, some form of bad juju ends up following them regardless. The team is surrounded by such bad fortune its become a running joke. Not just by fans of the other 29 teams in the association, but of the blue-and-orange Gothamites themselves.
So with the 2020 NBA Draft lottery on the horizon, it seems only right to take a look back at the last five years, and how the draft process has battered the Knicks’ hopes and dreams like a Reggie Miller three-pointer.
New York finished the 2014-2015 regular season with the second-worst record in the league, and a chance to select Big 10 Rookie of the Year D’Angelo Russell with the number two pick (or if they were fortunate enough to win the first pick, Kentucky’s superstar big man Karl Anthony-Towns). Unfortunately for them, that didn’t end up happening (get used to reading that in this article). The Knicks fell to the fourth pick, missing out on both Russell & Towns (and Duke star Jahlil Okafor, which was a big deal at the time believe it or not). The franchise tends to miss big in these situations, but this wasn’t one of them. New York hit a home-run with the selection of Latvian sensation Kristaps Porzingis.
Despite the decision being ridiculed by the media (and the fans), the 7-foot-3 power forward turned out to be the best draft pick the Knicks had made in years. Porzingis looked like the player of the future in his first two years in the league, even earning an All-Star selection in 2018 at just 22-years-old. It finally seemed as if the franchise had found its home-grown superstar but, as we’ve established, the Knicks aren’t allowed to have nice things. New York’s resident unicorn would suffer a torn ACL in the back half of his third season. After a tumultuous rehab and a falling out with the front office, Kristaps would demand a trade from the team.
Porzingis would never play another game in a Knicks uniform, and the two prospects that the Knicks could have drafted with the second pick have three All-Star appearances between the both of them.
The Knicks didn’t actually select anyone in the first round of the 2016 NBA Draft. This is because of that monster deal that the team made for All-NBA forward Carmelo Anthony all the way back in 2011. New York traded away Wilson Chandler, Raymond Felton, Danilo Gallinari, Timofey Mozgov, their 2014 and 2016 1st round picks, and a couple of seconds for Anthony, the Nuggets 2016 pick (that they ended up trading away in another deal), and the rotting carcass of Chauncy Billups (plus a few other random players to make the money work).
This deal is clearly lopsided in the Nuggets favor (especially in hindsight), but its even worse when you factor in that Anthony was already seriously considering joining the Knicks in free agency. Not free agency a few years down the line, but the free agency just five months after the deal was completed. Melo had even publicly demanded a trade out of Denver, so it’s not hyperbole to say that New York could not have had more leverage in those talks, and they managed to give up the farm anyway.
The Nuggets would select Kentucky point guard Jamal Murray with the Knicks’ 7th overall pick. The former Wildcat has become a huge piece to the team’s title-contending roster and is coming off a playoff-career high 36 points in their postseason opener against the Jazz this past Monday.
To put things into perspective: Jamal Murray has never won less than 40 games in his four-year career with the Nuggets. If we aren’t counting the season in which Anthony was traded to the team, New York only hit the 40-win mark a single time during Melo’s tenure.
Remember when I mentioned how important the difference between a single pick can be? Look no further than 2017. The Knicks dropped one spot from their projected 7th overall pick and selecting French point guard Frank Ntilikina at #8.
The player selected at number 7? Arizona seven-footer Lauri Markkanen.
Lauri has shown serious future-all-star potential since he entered the league, averaging 16 points and seven-and-a-half rebounds over his first three seasons. Ntilikina, on the other hand, has been in-and-out of the G-league during his time with the Knicks. He barely averaged over 6 points a game in the shortened 2019-20 regular season.
The 2018 Draft Lottery is the only one in recent memory where the Knicks actually got the pick they were projected, so there aren’t any conspiracy theories at play here. Although it is worth mentioning that New York did opt to select Kentucky Freshman Kevin Knox over his fellow wildcat Shai Gilgeous-Alexander.
Knox started a mere 4 games for New York in 2019, whereas Shai is currently in the midst of a breakout campaign. His 19 PPG have been integral to the Thunder’s improbable playoff run.
This one hurts. Probably as much as the previous four years put together.
The Knicks entered one of the deepest drafts in years with the worst record in the NBA, and the 2019 NBA Draft Lottery (or what could more accurately be described as “the Zion Williamson Sweepstakes”) seemed like it was destined for New York to finally find themselves with some good fortune. The Zion-to-New York bandwagon had reached maximum capacity (social media was cluttered with edits of Zion, alongside soon-to-be free agents Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving no less, rocking the famed blue and orange), and the Knicks nabbing the first overall pick would be the first true sign of light the organization had seen in almost 20 years.
Spoiler alert: They didn’t, and it wasn’t (more than likely, at least).
New York would fall to the third pick, missing out on Williamson and Murray State Point Guard Ja Morant. Not to downplay Duke star R.J Barrett, who the Knicks drafted at #3 and averaged 14 points in his rookie campaign, but there was a fine line between the top two picks and the one right after. While Barrett has “Future-All-Star” written all over him, there is seemingly a much higher celling out of his 2019 draft classmates. Both Zion & Ja appear to not just be franchise cornerstones, but players that can lead a team to an NBA Championship. The two are already averaging 22.5 & 18 points per game respectively. There’s a difference between a player like Kemba Walker and a player like Stephen Curry.
Not a bad draft for Knicks by any means, but it’s the same story as it has been for the last twenty years: Close, but no cigar.
This year’s draft lottery takes place tomorrow night at 8:30 EST, just before game two between the Lakers and Trail Blazers, and the Knicks once again have one of the highest odds of getting that #1 overall pick (nine percent, to be exact). Is it likely that the Knicks are picking first in the draft come October? Absolutely not. With the way that Lady Luck has treated them over the past five years, is it even possible?
Follow Me on Twitter: @TrentOsborneFS