Schmeelk: For Knicks Fans, Draft Lottery Will Bring Euphoria, Heartbreak Or Something In Between

John Schmeelk
May 13, 2019 - 12:10 pm
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The NBA draft lottery is finally here, and the final draft order will be revealed Tuesday night shortly after 8:30. Even with all the Knicks' cap space and free agency aspirations, Tuesday will be the most important day of the team's offseason.

Landing the first pick, which will be Duke power forward Zion Williamson, would give the Knicks a potential star on a rookie contract to pair with whomever they land in free agency. A chance to draft Williamson would also make the Knicks the front-runner in any potential trade for Anthony Davis. It changes everything.

Even if the Knicks completely strike out in free agency, landing Williamson in the draft would make the offseason a success and make a dreadful season worthwhile. He could turn the Knicks into a winning franchise (to what level remains to be determined) for a decade. Fans, however, would be wise to temper their enthusiasm.  The Knicks' odds are ... poor.

• First pick: 14%
• Second pick: 13.4%
• Third pick: 12.7%
• Fourth pick: 12%
• Fifth pick: 47.9%

Zion Williamson
USA TODAY Images

The Knicks' history shouldn’t give fans any comfort, either. They haven’t moved up in the draft lottery in 34 years since they drafted Patrick Ewing first overall in 1985. The franchise hopes to erase that streak by sending Ewing to the dais in Chicago to represent the team. Will it work? Probably not.

This is when the sports reporter hat comes off and I put on my Knicks hat. Now I’m season-ticket holder John Schmeelk, and WFAN.com writer John Schmeelk. I’m wearing my throwback Ewing jersey right now.

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Can this team catch a damn break? Seriously. While the Knicks have had small odds to move up in the draft lottery the past 15 years, the number of times they have moved down has actually defied the odds.

This year is not off to a great start. This is the first time the Knicks have had the best odds to win the lottery since it took its current form. It also happens to be the first season the NBA changed the odds to make it far less likely (25% vs. 14%) that the team that has the worst record gets the first pick, or even stays in the top three (64.3% vs 40%). How can something like that happen?

They’re the Knicks. That’s how.

It also happens to be a draft in which there is only one player with a likelihood of becoming a top-15 level player in the NBA. The second and third picks could net players with All-Star potential in Murray State point guard Ja Morant and (according to some people who aren’t me) Duke shooting guard RJ Barrett. Picking fourth and fifth might be no different than picking eighth or ninth in this draft. It’s a mess after the top three picks. How can something like this happen in a year when the Knicks finally have the worst record but still only a 14% chance of picking first and a 60% chance of picking fourth or fifth?

They’re the Knicks. That’s how.

The 2018-19 Knicks season was tied for the worst season in franchise history. Seventeen wins! Aside from Mitchell Robinson’s shot-blocking savant ways, the team wasn’t fun and mostly miserable to watch. This is where all the pain and misery can become worth it. Williamson would make those hours of watching Emmanuel Mudiay fall down count for something except evidence of my own masochism.

Here will be the range of my reactions to Tuesday night:

First pick: Unadulterated joy. There might be streaking. I apologize to my neighbors in advance. I honestly believe if this happens, then Kevin Durant will also come, as will another star. It means the Knicks have finally turned themselves around. It guarantees nothing close to a title, but it does promise the team will be fun again.

Second Pick: Satisfaction. It isn’t Zion Williamson, but Ja Morant is a decent enough consolation prize. My mind will then immediately begin to worry that the team will select RJ Barrett instead of Morant, and that won't stop until draft night. The second pick could also be a very valuable trade piece if the team decides to pursue Davis.

Third pick: Annoyance leading to a begrudging acceptance. After being mad about the team missing out on the the chance to draft the only two players I believe are likely to become All-Stars in this draft class, I will then begin to rationalize. There’s a chance the team picking second goes for Barrett instead of Morant, leaving the point guard for the Knicks. There’s also a chance the Pelicans still find this pick valuable in a future trade for Davis. By the time the draft rolls around, I will have convinced myself everything will be OK, only setting myself up to be crushed on draft night when the team picks someone stupid or when I learn the pick held little value to the Pelicans in trade talks.

Fourth or fifth pick: Fury. I just hope I don’t wake up my infant daughter who will be sleeping upstairs. I have warned my wife that it will be emotional. This would be an epic disaster. There likely will be a player available in one of these spots who will turn into a future All-Star, but figuring out who he is and selecting him is extremely difficult in this class. Trading out of the pick here, whether it is further down into the lottery or for a veteran player becomes likely. The bottom line is the Knicks will not get nearly enough value out of the ugly 17-win season they just subjected their fans to.

I like to put on a thick veil of realism (some might call it pessimism) when it comes to the Knicks. If you never believe it will work out, then you can’t be crushed when it doesn’t. But as I write this over the weekend, I already see the hope seeping in through the small fissures of my heart and mind.

All this talk of Durant coming to the Knicks (along with another star of his choosing) is a fait accompli and is making me wonder, even if just in the deep recesses of my subconscious, that this is the offseason everything changes and the franchise turns the corner. It would have to start Tuesday night. Landing Williamson would, in fact, change everything.

But the scars are too deep. I remember the Knicks dropping to fourth in their 17-win 2014-15 season and missing out on Karl Anthony-Towns. I remember all the times there was a 5% to 30% chance of moving into the top spot or top three going for naught. I remember falling one pick short of Stephen Curry. Why is lottery night this year going to be any different? They are the Knicks, and good things don’t happen to them.

Unless ... this is the year when things change.

One can only hope.

You can follow John on Twitter at @Schmeelk and subscribe to his podcast, "The Bank Shot" on RADIO.COM, iTunes and other places where podcasts are found.