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Skill, not luck, will guide the Knicks’ course

JAIME C. HARRIS | 5/19/2017, 3:46 p.m.
Even Walt Frazier’s satirical splendor couldn’t move the basketball gods to elevate the Knicks into one of the top spots ...
Dennis Smith

Even Walt Frazier’s satirical splendor couldn’t move the basketball gods to elevate the Knicks into one of the top spots in the NBA Draft, which will be held June 22.

Frazier, representing the franchise—for which he is a broadcaster and one of its greatest players—at Tuesday night’s Draft Lottery, donned one of his famously flamboyant outfits, accentuated by his two championship rings won with the Knicks in 1970 and 1973, and as expected drew much attention from those in attendance as well as the national audience watching on ESPN.

But by the end of proceedings, it was the Knicks sliding to the eighth spot that elicited the most reaction from their fans lighting up social media. With only a 5.3 percent chance to land the No.1 overall pick, a slight 18.3 percent prospect to secure one of the top three picks, and a favorable 52.2 percent probability to be slotted at No. 7, the Ping-Pong balls placed the Knicks at No. 8 to the disappointment of many of the team’s die-hard supporters. Nevertheless, the outcome is far from bleak. Speculatively, the upcoming draft is rich in talent. It is particularly flush with guards and wing players, positions Knicks president Phil Jackson has said is the team’s priority.

“This is about the youth,” he expressed to reporters subsequent to learning the Knicks’ draft position. “Our opportunity could have been seventh, could have been 10th. So eighth we’ll live with. We think that we’re good at what we do, and we look forward to a young player that we’ll be able to draft next month.”

Jackson’s theory is plausible and indeed prudent architecture if built sturdily. If luck is the residue of design, then the Knicks’ course will assuredly be determined by skill far more than fortune. The aptitude of the franchise’s key decision makers, notably Jackson and general manager Steve Mills, its scouting department and coaches is infinitely more important than their draft position.

The San Antonio Spurs’ Kawhi Leonard, arguably the second best player in the world, was drafted 15th in 2011. The Indiana Pacers’ Paul George, one the game’s most gifted all-around performers, was the 10th pick the year prior. And the Boston Celtics’ Isaiah Thomas, who this season has emerged as one of the league’s most dynamic backcourt stars, was the 60th and last pick in the 2011 draft.

Frank Ntilikina, an 18-year-old, 6-foot-5 point guard from France; Dennis Smith, a 19-year-old, 6-foot-3 freshman point guard from North Carolina State; and Malik Monk, a 19-year old, 6-foot-3 shooting guard from Kentucky are on the Knicks’ radar. It’s highly likely two of the three will still be on the board when the Knicks are on the clock.

Additionally, the Knicks have the 44th and 58th picks, where a pair of Oregon guards, 6-foot-6 Dillion Brooks and 6-foot-4 Tyler Dorsey, and 6-foot-6 Villanova senior Josh Hart may be available and sooner rather than later become key rotation players in the mold of the Spurs’ Jonathan Simmons, who went undrafted in 2012 after his final year of college basketball at the University of Houston.

It’s all contingent on the system. Not the lottery system, but the Knicks’ system of molding players who aren’t selected at the top of the draft.