Schmeelk: Now The Question For Knicks Is Whether To Keep Or Trade Draft Pick

Anthony Davis Is The Big Fish In Pond

John Schmeelk
May 15, 2019 - 11:32 am
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(If you’re looking for my raw emotions, skip ahead to the end of this column in my "Schmeelk’s Snippets" section.)

The first domino of the NBA offseason has fallen. The Knicks are selecting third in the draft. It is a crushing blow to the Knicks that they won't have the chance to draft the only player coming out this year with a high likelihood of being a perennial All-Star or All-NBA performer, Zion Williamson. There will likely be other good players in the draft, but the odds that there is another player who will be as good as Williamson are extremely small.

Despite the disappointment Knicks fans are feeling, they actually beat the odds (60% chance of picking fourth or fifth). It was not a great or even good result for the Knicks, but it wasn’t awful. Pick placement is very significant in a shallow draft and an offseason when suitors might be lining up for a star player in a potential trade. Outside of the top three, this draft is very dangerous territory where a lot of teams’ boards could look very different.

There is a general consensus (not necessarily mine) that the second tier in this draft consists of Duke swingman RJ Barrett and Murray State point guard Ja Morant, in some order. My early personal analysis is that Morant has a much higher ceiling with his near-elite athleticism and elite passing ability. The path for Morant to become a high-level point guard is a lot clearer than it is for Barrett, who has shown to be a good basketball player who can do a lot of different things well (at times), but he lacks elite athletic traits and a consistent jump shot.

Knicks president Steve Mills (left) and general manager Scott Perry
USA TODAY Images

(I look forward to doing more work on Barrett, which might alter my early opinion.)

But what I think doesn’t matter, and my projection on Barrett is probably more pessimistic than most. What matters is what other NBA teams think of those players. It would not be surprising at all if the Grizzlies choose to draft Barrett over Morant. Even if they don’t, there’s a really good chance another NBA team does think Barrett has true star potential given his elite production at Duke.

The ultimate decision the Knicks are going to have to make is whether they want to trade the pick. The biggest determining factor in that decision will be how free agency goes. If the Knicks fail to land the top free agents, keeping the pick, no matter who the player is, becomes an easy decision. The slow rebuild would continue.

If the Knicks do land free agents, however, trading the pick becomes a real option. Whether they walk away from the draft with Morant, Barrett or someone else, those players are all going to take a lot of time to become impact NBA starters. None will have the immediate impact of Williamson. If Kevin Durant arrives with a superstar friend and narrows the Knicks' championship window, turning the pick into a player who can help right away makes a lot of sense.

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The big fish in the pond is Anthony Davis. I get into the nitty-gritty details of a potential Davis trade in a separate column today, but the basics are simple. Stadium's Shams Charania reported Tuesday night that Davis still wants to be moved despite the Pelicans getting the top pick in the draft. But could the potential of a Williamson/Davis/Jrue Holiday trio motivate new general manager David Griffin to roll the dice and let the three play out the season? There’s no way to know at this early stage.

If Davis is dealt, the Knicks would have to compete with the Lakers (who now own the fourth pick in a stroke of luck the Knicks never seem to get), Celtics and whatever other mystery suitors appear. The third pick in the draft would be part of such an offer. Depending on the other offers, center Mitchell Robinson might have to be in the deal, too (along with Frank Ntilikina, Dennis Smith Jr. and Kevin Knox) in order to get it done. If Davis is being added to Durant and Kyrie Irving, it still might be worth it.

Other veterans might become available, too, who could end up being better fits for the Knicks.

There’s a chance the Wizards might look to move guard Bradley Beal, as they try to reset the franchise under the suffocating weight of John Wall’s megacontract. Would they have any interest if the Grizzlies look to trade point guard Mike Conley? There might be others whom no one is even talking about yet.

The third pick provides the Knicks with far more opportunities than the fourth or fifth ever could have. In that way, draft night was a win for the Knicks, even with the depressing reality of missing out on Williamson. How the team uses that asset to point the franchise in the right direction remains to be seen. If they land free agents, they should deal the pick; if they don’t, they should make the pick and develop the player. They will have options, and they can’t afford to screw it up.

Schmeelk’s Snippets

• The Mavericks ended up selecting 10th, which means their pick goes to the Hawks. In turn, that means they will convey their 2021 first-round pick to the Knicks with no protections on it as part of the Kristaps Porzingis trade. The Knicks will also receive Dallas' 2023 first-round pick, which will be top-10 protected in 2024 and 2025 too.

• I decided to be analytical first. Here’s my emotional response: While picking third was the median outcome of all potential results, it is still a huge disappointment for Knicks fans. After a 17-loss season and suffering through hideous basketball, it feels like the reward should have been bigger. It stinks, but as I have tried to point out all year, no one can escape math.

•  Fourteen percent. Those were the (pathetic) odds the Knicks had to win the first selection. The NBA changed the rules to discourage tanking, and it definitely worked. The Cavaliers, Suns and Bulls -- the other three awful teams this year that were ranked 2nd through 4th in the lottery -- all dropped down three spots in their draft positions, while the Knicks dropped two. Everything is much more random than it used to be.

The Knicks put themselves in this position and now they are reaping the risk of depending on bouncing pingpong balls. Next, they have to depend on the whims of free agent superstars, which can be just as unreliable. That comes July 1st. The draft is June 20. When all that is over, the Knicks are probably (hopefully) going to look very, very different.

It is going to be a wild ride.

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.