The NBA Draft lottery is coming up soon. There are several options in play for the New York Knicks, who could pick anywhere in the top four or outside of the top 10.
Perhaps one of our greatest modern inventions—I say without a single note of sarcasm in the slightest—is Tankathon. It’s a website, for those unaware, that provides hope for the hopeless and gifts the teams (and fans) not fortunate enough to be experiencing the postseason with possible scenarios for the upcoming NBA Draft via simulation. You can see where your team is initially expected to draft ahead of the actual drawing of the ping-pong balls. If you’re a fan of the New York Knicks, odds are you have visited this website countless times over the years.
One simulation I performed this weekend saw the Charlotte Hornets, who presently have even worse no. 1 pick odds (a 1.0% chance) than the Knicks, drawing the top pick, thus handing them the opportunity to draft Gonzaga’s Chet Holmgren, the presumed prize of this draft pool. There’s roughly zero chance this happens, but thanks to Tankathon, one can dream.
So, who cares if the Knicks are slated to pick 11th, as their no. 1 pick odds sit at 2.0%, slim-to-none? There are infinite worlds in which the Knicks have draft picks all over the lottery, held next Tuesday, May 17th. And given the recent release of Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, we decided to yet again dive into the Multiverse of Knicks-ness and see where, and in particular, who New York could end up selecting in the 2022 NBA Draft, starting with the most realistic outcome.
The initial simulation: Pick no. 11 – C Jalen Duren, Memphis (17 PTS, 11.6 REB, 1.8 AST, 3.0 BLK, 1.2 STL per 36 mins)
As with every possible pick, this one comes with elements of both perfection and imperfection. Duren is the youngest player likely to go off the board, which can often be an exciting prospect, but can also give pause for teams looking for more developed, plug-and-play type players. I’m not one who tends to worry too much about age. Did I watch you play on the collegiate level, and were you a stud? Cool, you fit.
That’s where Duren falls in my mind. He is both physically developed and ready to be plugged and played, right from the get-go. He’s lengthy and physical, an explosive rebounder and shot-blocker, perhaps the best in the draft in both regards. He’s a capable, if-not-elite perimeter defender, whose ability to stay in front of quicker players thanks to his width and footwork would immediately serve a Knicks team in dire need of dexterous defensive players. Honestly, he has the opportunity to make a player like Mitchell Robinson, who is injury-prone and about to become quite expensive should he re-sign in New York, expendable.
Offensively, Duren is a great interior scorer with sensible decision-making qualities on the perimeter to boot. He’s not going to be launching any long twos any time soon, but he’s a solid passer who I can already envision finding a streaking Obi Toppin on a baseline cut. The Knicks struggled to take advantage of lineups in which they spaced the floor last season, and Duren would immediately service that need. He can catch difficult passes down low by utilizing his 7-foot-5 wingspan, but is best when he’s hit with a lob or is corralling offensive rebounds; going up to finish a layup after pulling down one of his team’s misses is hardly a problem for him.
The downside to that aspect of his play, though, is that Duren has a disappointingly underdeveloped back-to-the-basket game, and his post presence requires some significant work. As noted, he relies far too much on lobs, and would sooner/more easily score on plays where he has an open lane to run to the rim and catch a pass in stride. If he gets a mismatch off a switch, the story changes. But he’s still not even 19; his frame, while broad, still has some developing left to do if he’s going to push NBA defenders off their spots to take advantage of his own.
But he does fit well with the Knicks, and would likely have no shortage of opportunities to develop from the moment he arrived in Madison Square Garden. That big a stage feels perfect for a player of Duren’s assured demeanor; his skill set would fit right in, too.
Expected, just not ideal: Pick no. 12 – G Johnny Davis, Wisconsin (20.8 PTS, 8.7 REB, 2.2 AST, 0.8 BLK, 1.2 STL per 36)
When Johnny Davis has the ball at the top of the key, his defender might as well resign to the fact that he has what is roughly a 99% chance of getting a shot off. There are endless options for Davis to take advantage of. Say his teammate elects to set a screen; should you switch, he’ll slip it and dive toward the restricted area. If he gets by his man—and with that rocket-like burst off of a hesitation dribble, he will—his finishing ability at the rim is second-to-none.
But there’s a big difference between getting shots off and putting the ball in the basket, which Davis can obviously do, just not always at an elite (or efficient) level. He was asked to be a primary scorer during his sophomore season at Wisconsin because he needed to be in order for the team to succeed, and though he most certainly got his numbers, he did so on 43-31-79 shooting splits over the course of the season. He shot just 46% from inside the arc. Not great. According to Synergy Sports, on dribble jumpers last season, he made just 35.5% of his shots from the midrange and just 30.6% from three. In catch-and-shoot scenarios, he made only 34% of his triples.
Davis often looked like a guy who felt like the only way he could create points was by doing it himself, no matter how difficult or inefficient a shot it would take to do so. He averaged just 2.1 assists per game last season, and that went along with 2.3 turnovers. He failed to capitalize on many an offensive trip. Arguably, that was what led to Wisconsin’s fizzle of a March Madness run.
He’s athletic offensively, but he doesn’t always apply that same sort of fire on the defensive end. He’s lean and can get bounced off of bigger opponents, which most of his future NBA contemporaries are bound to be. Because of these detractions, but also because of his offensive upside, should he find a more consistent shooting stroke, I liken Davis to pre-breakout Jordan Poole.
Most Knicks probably just read that sentence as “The Knicks are drafting Jordan Poole,” but I want to reiterate: pre-breakout Jordan Poole, a.k.a. the guy who was puttering around the G League just last season, working on his finishing, and now takes advice from Stephen Curry. The Poole we see setting the postseason on fire today is hardly the one that existed 365 days ago, and Davis will require a lot more ironing out should he end up a Knick. He won’t inherit the luxury that is having Curry and Klay Thompson as mentors. Frankly, I’d like for Davis to stay as far away from Evan Fournier and Alec Burks as humanly possible. There is a great deal of potential there. I’m just not sure it works all that well with the Knicks, who currently boast a guard-heavy roster as is.
The ideal scenario(s): Pick no. 2 – F Jabari Smith, Auburn (21.2 PTS, 9.3 REB, 2.5 AST, 1.3 BLK, 1.4 STL per 36) or F Paolo Banchero, Duke (18.8 PTS, 8.5 REB, 3.5 AST, 1.0 BLK, 1.1 STL per 36)
In the five simulations I conducted, the Knicks jumped up to no. 2 overall twice—never to no. 1; sorry, Chet’s Army—and with that second pick, selected a different player each time. They end up winners either way: I think Auburn’s Jabari Smith and Duke’s Paolo Banchero are undoubtedly the two best players in the field.
Let’s start with Jabari Smith, who was tasked with the impossible last season at Auburn: essentially leading a 20-win team to a 30-win season. The guards Bruce Pearl chose to field alongside Smith were… let’s be kind and say less-than-ideal. Still, the potential star in Smith took flight, on his way to proving his future pro abilities as a scorer from everywhere on the court. He’s defensively versatile; he’s an elite jump-shooter with a release point and stroke that five-year vets would envy. There have been some not-too-ridiculous comparisons made to early-in-his-career Kevin Durant. The idea of drafting Smith should have Knicks fans clamoring for the balls to fall their way even more than they are already.
And then there’s Banchero. While he couldn’t lead Duke and Mike Krzyzewski to the storybook ending they looked primed for upon reaching last season’s Final Four, was certainly the team’s best player and, at times, looked as pro-ready as any player in the field. In an alternate universe, Banchero could have justifiably given the late stages of college ball the Ben Simmons treatment by sitting out. (Well, sure, that applies to his 2021–22 season, too, but that situation is a bit more complicated. Back when he was with LSU, Simmons just had no interest in showing up.)
Banchero profiles a little differently than Smith. He was 6-foot-1 at the start of his seventh-grade year and operated primarily as a guard; by the end of that year, he was 6-foot-5. Nowadays, he’s pushing seven feet, though scouting reports grant him a generous, if dishonest, 6-foot-10. What’re a few inches, right? For Banchero, it’s separation. He can operate in coast-to-coast situations, and he can battle down low. Smith is a better floor-spacer, but both are elite finishers and scorers all-around.
There aren’t any prospects like them in the field. Chet may be the perceived crown jewel, but it’s the players like Banchero and Smith that feel like the guys who have the clearest shot to make an immediate impact. I dream of seeing one of them in Detroit alongside Cade Cunningham, building a contender from the ashes of a franchise whose credibility as a threat has disintegrated. But hey, either one would fit well in New York.
Buuuuut there’s almost no chance the Knicks get this lucky. If they do, I think—out of interest for my safety and that of those around me—I’ll avoid New York City for the better part of the next calendar year.
Hmmmmm: Pick no. 4 – G Jaden Ivey, Purdue (19.8 PTS, 5.6 REB, 3.5 AST, 0.6 BLK, 1.0 STL per 36)
Not quite as unlikely as the Smith/Banchero scenario, yet perhaps more intriguing. That adds up, given that Ivey might be the single most intriguing player on the board.
Let’s start with the fact that he looks and plays like the ideal lead guard in every single sense. He’d immediately crack New York’s rotation, without breaking anything resembling a sweat. He can shoot with the best of them; he is a phenomenal passer, especially on fast breaks, and the flashes he shows on defense are enough to make Marcus Smart shudder. But I fear that having to take on such a heavy offensive burden from day one could seriously stunt his growth as a playmaker—something he could still use despite his advanced ability as a distributor. That should be priority one; so, perhaps he’s not quite the right fit with the Knicks.
Then again, Ivey has so much potential to be an elite NBA scorer that, if given the opportunity, any team that ends up picking where he’s slated to go would be silly to pass on his upside. He has a high ceiling and an even higher floor. He could be Donovan Mitchell. He could also be a worse-shooting version of Buddy Hield. Both are good NBA players. One is just a perennial All-Star, while the other is a gunslinger that playoff teams covet at the trade deadline. He performed similarly at Purdue to Hield at Oklahoma, but his intangibles predict a more successful NBA career than Hield’s.
Frankly, the Knicks would be in better shape than they were when they entered the draft by selecting any of the players outlined above. Every single one of them would fit wonderfully alongside the only player (RJ Barrett) the Knicks should even bother prioritizing as part of their future. They will stand beside him on the 2022–23 season ticket billboards, pamphlets, and automated emails. And they will be the player that the Knicks hope to once again flip their script with as a primary contributor. Any team can lose at the draft. But with these options, the Knicks feel set up for the ideal outcomes.