Building a champion
It has been said time and time again that the way to build a team is through the draft. It is the best way to land a superstar and get young inexpensive players that can be molded. Look at every champion over the past 30 years. All those teams needed the draft to get core players. A team needs assets in order to trade for a great player and needs good players on the roster in order to attract star free agents. There is no way around it, drafting well is a necessity. There is a direct correlation between drafting well and winning. You can’t do one without the other.
Review of the league
The value of the draft is evident when you look at the best teams. The Lakers drafted Kyle Kuzma, he is their third best player. They also needed to have quality young players on roster in order to trade for Anthony Davis. The Bucks drafted Giannis Antetokounmpo and some of their key role players. Brooklyn’s ascension from worst franchise in the league to free agent destination wouldn’t have happened if they hadn’t hit on a couple of exciting young players in the draft; Caris LeVert and Jarrett Allen.
Players Knicks could have drafted
The biggest argument against building a team through the draft is that your team will need to tank for several seasons just to have a chance at a franchise player. However, that is not true. When you look back at past drafts their are plenty of great players that were not high lottery picks. Below is a list of players the Knicks could have drafted that are in their primes right now. There is only one lottery pick on the list and that player was drafted 10th. There are also two 2nd round picks on the list. As you can see, the Knicks could have assembled a formidable team just by drafting well. Just imagine how different things would have been if they would have just drafted Jimmy Butler instead of Iman Shumpert? Carmelo would have had the complimentary star player he badly needed. Or if they would have just acquired a 2nd round pick to draft Draymond Green in 2012? Those are two all-star quality players that are quote on quote “Built for New York”.
While the Knicks can’t go back and undo their mistakes. They can look forward and project how the Knicks young core compares versus the other players from the last three drafts; 2017, 2018 and 2019. When you look at the last three drafts the one thing that stands out is how many good players have entered the league. Below is the list I came up with of the 10 best players thus far based on a combination of talent and production. The top four look like bona fide superstars, especially number #1, Luka Doncic. But the rest are not far behind and most are already all-star caliber players.
- Luka Doncic, Dallas, 3rd pick in 2018 draft
- De’Aaron Fox, Sacramento, 5th pick in 2017 draft
- Jaren Jackson Jr., Memphis, 4th pick in 2018 draft
- Ja Morant, Memphis, 2nd pick in 2019 draft
- Donovan Mitchell, Utah, 13th pick in 2017 draft
- Jayson Tatum, Boston, 3rd pick in 2017 draft
- Trae Young, Atlanta, 5th pick in 2018 draft
- Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Oklahoma City, 11th pick in 2018 draft
- Bam Adebayo, Miami, 14th pick in 2017 draft
- R.J. Barrett, New York, 3rd pick in 2019 draft
The first thing that pops out is that Memphis is going to be really good thanks to Jaren Jackson Jr. (Triple J) and Ja Morant. They also hit on a nice player in Brandon Clarke that is not on the list. As it pertains to the Knicks, you notice that there are three players on the list that the Knicks could have drafted; D.Mitchell, Gilgeous-Alexander and Adebayo. The main reason these players were not drafted by the Knicks is because they didn’t fit the team’s need at the time. While I like the players the Knicks selected in those two drafts (2017&2018); Ntilikina and Knox. The lesson learned is that you have to prioritize best player available over need. The good news is that none of the Knicks’ picks is considered a bust. All the young players have been solid and have shown they are still developing. The only concern is Dennis Smith Jr, but his issue appears to be more mental than anything else and he showed signs in the game against Atlanta (12/17/19). The great news is that Mitchell Robinson and R.J. Barrett have shown they can quickly become stars. Robinson was the steal of the 2018 draft and Barrett has been the 2nd best player in his class, behind Morant.
Better late than never
While the Knicks have been the last team to understand the value of the draft, only taking 30 years to come around. They have gone all in on the rebuild and have put themselves in a position to finally be a real player in free agency for 2021. While they haven’t hit on a superstar yet, the breadth of young talent on their roster is impressive. Like every organization, they will need some degree of good fortune. The entire draft is like an actual lottery, the more picks you have, the better your chances of hitting on a winner.