Fretting over who the Knicks will select at no. 9 on June 21st is stressful, but there’s still enjoyment to mine among draft speculation and ceiling talk when comparing and contrasting NBA prospects this time of year.
It’s becoming my favorite early June tradition—getting tied up in knots evaluating potential New York Knicks draft picks. Up until the 2018 NBA Draft, Knicks fans everywhere will be devouring content while trying to pick a prospect to (somewhat) irrationally invest in. June is for passionate arguments about the unknowable futures of teenagers and twenty-somethings.
And it’s awesome.
Which Bridges, Mikal or Miles, will you fall out with your friends over? Which flawed floor general, Trae Young or Collin Sexton, is the indisputable answer to the Knicks now institutionally ingrained question mark at point guard?
It’s no fun to sit back like a rational human and conclude that the draft is consistently a graveyard for sure-things and certainties. That we should punt on prediction altogether. That all of these kids are quality prospects with varying strengths, weaknesses and bodies. That their futures will be shaped more by the situation they land in than their combine measurements or even college production.
No, fellow Knick fanatics. We all must choose a favorite and be willing to defend our choices against all attacks.
Here’s a play-by-play of a classic pre-draft binge in June: spend five blurry-eyed hours consuming video of prospects at all levels. (Logging an unhealthy number of hours on YouTube is a favorite method of irrational immersion.) As you get disorientated amongst the sheer mass of footage—remarkably without watching a single missed jump shot from a single prospect—you should start to form an attachment and bond with your running favorite.
We must be thorough in the scope of our irrational investment. We could trade up (Memphis Grizzlies, I’m looking at you) or we could trade down (hello Los Angeles Clippers). So be sure to jump from highlights to breakdowns to interviews, welcoming Luka Doncic pipe-dreams through sleeper-prospects like Zhaire Smith.
How should I extrapolate that seven-word answer into determining whether Mikal has the mentality to be an All-Star? How much does a two-and-a-half-inch wingspan deficit impact Miles’ ceiling? Just how relatively successful have the first names Mikal and Miles been in the NBA? (There has never been a Mikal, the most successful Miles is Miles Plumlee… so make of that what you will).
Maybe you’re the type of fan with a contrarian streak bold enough to go against the collective Bridges’ bandwagons. I understand. The scars of the archetypal pure point guards the Knicks have missed out on in the past run deep.
Maybe you talk yourself into taking perhaps the most polarizing prospect in the draft; Trae Young. The controversial point guard is undersized, with the wingspan of an adolescent T-Rex, and is expectedly limited defensively. On the plus side, he’s an offensive flamethrower who was born out of the resulting supernova of Steph Curry’s back-to-back MVP years. How can we pass on the next Steph Curry? You wonder. It’s a reasonable question that we’ll have an answer for in five years, for better or worse.
Maybe you’ve allied yourself with a point guard like Collin Sexton, the polar opposite of Trae Young, whose playmaking is questionable, but playing style screams New York Knicks. He’s been described as having Eric Bledsoe’s body with the mindset of Russell Westbrook. What could be more New York than that? This dude dropped 40 for Alabama last season when his team was playing three on five, and they barely lost. Eventually losing by five, 84–89. How can we pass up this kid?
If you’re struggling to make your choice, that’s O.K. too! Your struggles are likely due to the fact that the draft, and the late-lottery in particular, is a total crap-shoot! There is value in attempting to quantify and rank every year’s crop of prospects, of course, but more as a tongue-in-cheek attempt at evaluation. Even the most-knowledgable professionals often admit that they don’t really know anything. The draft is an inexact science in the same way that James Dolan is a questionable owner.
Picking the right 20-year-old is really, really difficult. And despite the amount of trauma the Donovan Mitchell and Giannis Antetokounmpo types in the draft have caused on the fanbases who passed them up, the likelihood of a better player being taken at some point after your pick in the late lottery is actually extremely high (as Daryl Morey points out at the 37 minute mark in this podcast).
So don’t stress too much about who you pick; the chances are that 99 percent of NBA fans, including yourself, and the overwhelming majority of general managers are screwed-up as well.
We can’t talk about the perils and pitfalls of the pre-draft process without talking about player comparisons. Those beautiful oversimplifications are a great weapon in any draft debate, both to inflate your favorite with a complimentary comparison and deflate your least-favorite with an equally disrespectful one.
Depending on your preference; Trae Young is the next Steph Curry or the next Jimmer Fredette. Sexton is the next Westbrook or the next Rodney Stuckey. Mikal Bridges is either Klay Thompson or Kent Bazemore. Miles Bridges is Draymond Green or Anthony Bennett (who was once compared to Zach Randolph and Larry Johnson coming out of college.)
The variability on the spectrum of player comparisons perfectly sums up the problems in evaluating draft prospects. It’s the kind of lazy, absolutist analysis that hot-take NBA culture is fueled by and it’s pretty useless except as a reminder of how volatile the draft really is. Donovan Mitchell was being compared to Norman Powell at this time last year, which is to say, anything can happen with these kids—making the next few weeks a lot of fun!
The 2018 draft will be the first time the Knicks have back-to-back top 10 picks in just under a decade, last taking Danilo Gallinari in 2008 and Jordan Hill in 2009. So for this franchise and fanbase, the opportunity to indulge in a little irrational investment is a rare one.
Safely pick your favorite with the knowledge that history shows there is no right answer. Then sit back and enjoy the sleepers, surprises, and shocks that the Draft never fails to deliver, and pray to the draft-gods that we dodge Anthony Bennett–shaped bullets and snag an unlikely superstar with the ninth pick.