The Knicks have shown signs of life due to a solid recent track record of NBA draft picks developing into role players. With the 11th pick in tow, chances are the team could use the talent available in the back of the lottery.
There was no way it was going to happen.
The New York Knicks have participated in 19 draft lotteries since the lottery’s inception in 1985 and have moved up just once, the inaugural ceremony. You know the story from there, the Knicks win the first-ever draft lottery and go on to select Patrick Ewing first overall. Since then, the Knicks are 0-for-18 in the lottery, failing to move up even a single space in 18 straight lotteries.
This year’s edition of sadness is not really all that sad. The Knicks entered lotto night with a 9.4% chance of leapfrogging into the top four. On the bright side, the Knicks did not move down, keeping the pick they started the night with, 11th overall.
With no chance at the cream of the crop of an allegedly top-heavy talent draft, there is a fair argument for the team to move the pick. The top thing on every fan’s mind is Donovan Mitchell. The Mitchell–Rudy Gobert era is all but over in Utah, it’s just a matter of a staring contest; who blinks first and leaves.
The interest in Mitchell is very straightforward: he is a star scorer the team would love to pair with RJ Barrett, who has shown star signs of his own to end the season. Had the Knicks surged up the draft order, similar to how the Lakers did the summer they landed Anthony Davis, a Mitchell homecoming trade could have gained serious momentum.
Luck wasn’t in the cards, but the Mitchell trade is far from dead, the saga in Salt Lake City is just beginning. Landing Mitchell in the near future would just cost the Knicks just about everything they have of value. Barrett figures to be untouchable, after that anyone could be fair game.
Then there is the fact Tom Thibodeau is not keen on playing rookies heavy minutes. Whoever the Knicks select figures to get accustomed to keeping his warm-ups on. Thibodeau has proven to be good for the development of the young players; however, he does show considerable reluctance in giving them too much of a role too quickly.
Timing is the key factor to be cognizant of with any decision to move the pick.
The 2020–21 season may have skewed the timeline for the Knicks’ title window. The Knicks are not a move away from closing the gap between them and the elite of the Eastern Conference. The team should still be in talent acquisition mode and there are capable players worth adding at 11.
The Leon Rose regime has been a mixed bag, but almost all the positive stems from the draft and development of those draft picks. Immanuel Quickley, Obi Toppin, Quentin Grimes, Miles McBride, and Jericho Sims all look to be well on their way toward contributing to wins. Rokas Jokubaitis has provided encouraging performances overseas and can relocate to New York soon.
There has never been a better time to bring young players into the fold in New York as a development machine has finally been set up. Not only have the young players flashed chemistry on the court, but their work together off the floor has also created a culture of gym rats.
Instead of blowing assets to try and move up, the team could calmly sit at 11 and allow their experts to deliver again. The key need for the offseason should be adding offensive punch to the roster and speed, two areas that doomed the Knicks last season. Two names that can check those boxes in the present and the future are Wisconsin’s Johnny Davis and Arizona’s Bennedict Mathurin.
Both spoke to the Knicks this week and should be near the top of the team’s draft board for their bucket-getting ability. Davis figures to have the inside track if it comes down to the two thanks to his two-way ability that should ingratiate him to Thibodeau’s good graces.
Quentin Grimes was a case study into the mind of Thibodeau and playing rookies. Grimes proved the ability to handle defensive assignments can get you playing time faster than offensive explosions. Davis seems to be cut from a similar cloth, and a season under the tutelage of Derrick Rose could pay huge dividends for an already crafty scorer.
Good defense by Ivey, better offense by Johnny Davis pic.twitter.com/tCvAwiz93L
— Stone Hansen (@report_court) January 4, 2022
Mathurin is the more exciting option and likely becomes a fan favorite during the pre-draft process for plays like this:
OMG BEN MATHURIN JUST BROUGHT THE HOUSE DOWN pic.twitter.com/e3bUzotPgw
— CBS Sports (@CBSSports) March 21, 2022
The Canadian wing could join Team Canada’s captain in New York and could prove to be an explosive second fiddle for Barrett on offense. Defense is the only thing that would hold Mathurin back. Offensively he can drive, he can shoot, and he can jump. Barrett grew as a playmaker the more Thibodeau put the ball in his hands, and Barrett’s ability to find lob threats would mesh nicely with Mathurin’s explosiveness.
At the tail end of last season when the young players shared the floor more frequently a faster, more dynamic team revealed itself. It looked like the team should be striving to be. Whether it is Davis, Mathurin, or someone else, there are plenty of options to move the needle without sacrificing anything.
Barrett is still growing and showing signs he can be a reliable 20-plus-point scorer nightly. Quickley, Toppin, Grimes, and Jericho Sims all showed promise with productive minutes down the stretch. Miles McBride did not have as many opportunities as the others, yet has also shown flashes of becoming a defensive terror.
Every name that was just rattled off is 24 years old or younger. The centerpiece, Barrett, will be just 22 years old at the start of next season. That is not even mentioning Cam Reddish or Jokubaitis. The only players the front office should think about moving at the moment are veterans.
Larger moves can be on the horizon for the Knicks. Right now, however, the smart play should be to keep adding talent to the mix and see what sticks well together. A full season to slowly distill the roster, weeding out the veterans that don’t figure into the plans sounds like a more fruitful way to spend next season.