Today, phenom freshman Jahlil Okafor, will make his Garden debut not as a member of the Knicks but rather as a Duke Blue Devil hoping to win Coach K’s 1000th by beating St. John’s. There will undoubtedly be fans in the Madison Square Garden seats envisioning Okafor donning the orange and blue as he works his brilliant post moves. However, with the recent end of the Knicks three game winning streak, the Knicks dream of drafting Okafor with the #1 pick is far from being close to reality.
At 8-37, the Knicks own the second worst record in the NBA behind the dreadful 7 win Minnesota Timberwolves and barely have the same number of wins as the ever tanking Philadelphia 76ers. It was no surprise the Knicks three game winning streak arrived when Carmelo Anthony made his return against the Pelicans at home after a long period of rest for his sore knee. Knicks unfortunately faced and defeated a depleted New Orleans team without Anthony Davis or Jrue Holiday, a Sixers team with no Tony Wroten nor Nerlens Noel (he was apparently “sick”, I’m on to you Hinkie!!!) and a poor Orlando team that lost talented rookie PG Elfrid Payton in the final minutes of a close game. In fact, if Melo didn’t sit out the game against the Charlotte Hornets, they probably would’ve beat a team without Kemba Walker.
Yes, the win against the Pelicans did the stop the ongoing jokes about the Knicks’ prior 16 game losing streak. But did the Knicks receive accolades for beating the equally as painful to watch, Sixers (take a look at this and tell me with a straight face that they’re trying to win)? Did they get a pat on the back for beating a rebuilding Magic team? I understand that some Knicks fans forgot what a win looked like from their favorite team but these past few wins only means less chances for the Knicks drafting a potential franchise player they desperately need.
This brings me to the Knicks upcoming schedule. The Knickerbockers will soon face sub 500 teams in the Kings, Pacers, Lakers, Celtics, Nets, Heat, and Magic before the All Star Game. If the Knicks aren’t careful, New York (assuming Carmelo plays of course) is fully capable of winning five of these seven games especially against a Lakers demoralized by most likely losing Kobe Bryant for the season and a Celtics trading everyone on their roster for pseudo-first round picks. Having greater than 10 wins before the All Star Break will seriously put the Knicks in a disadvantage against both the 76ers and T-Wolves in pursuit for the season’s worst record.
Fans might respond to my suggestions by rightfully bringing up the point that having the best odds in the draft doesn’t necessarily land you the top pick. After all, the worst team has a 75% chance at not obtaining the #1 pick right? While this is valid, how long can we keep assuming the worst team won’t win the lottery? The last time this happened was in 2004 when the Orlando Magic drafted Dwight Howard with the first pick. But the chances keep getting stronger that the worst team will once again win the lottery because it hasn’t happened in the last ten years!
I also understand the notion that many believe the Knicks will have many chances to lose games after Carmelo Anthony eventually sits for the remainder of the season. Those who observed the last few draft lotteries, however, will be swift to tell you that there often isn’t a big gap between the records of the bottom five teams in the league.
For example, let’s take a look at the 2008 NBA Draft. Conveniently enough, the Knicks were tied with the Clippers for the fifth best odds in the draft lottery. Both teams were 23-59 that season. How many wins did the teams tied for the third best odds have? The Minnesota Timberwolves and Memphis Grizzlies both had only 1 less win than the Knicks with 22 wins. Meanwhile the now OKC Thunder were clever not to split any lottery balls by being the only team with 20 wins and the second best odds. One more win won the Knicks the sixth pick in the 2008 Draft and the rights to Danilo Gallinari. You might’ve heard who went fourth and fifth overall, both Russell Westbrook and Kevin Love, were picked just ahead of the Knicks. History repeated itself in 2009 when the Knicks selected Jordan Hill with the eighth pick only to see their prized jewel, Stephen Curry, go seventh to the Golden State Warriors. Only three games separated both teams.
The Knicks are fortunate enough to be in position to have a pick in a draft that looks top heavy with star prospects such as Jahlil Okafor, Emmanuel Mudiay, and Karl-Anthony Towns. Make no mistake, the Knicks should be grateful if they’re able to land any of these teenagers but Okafor, in my eyes, is clearly the best hope for the team. Okafor is easily the most polished and NBA ready draft prospect. Both Towns and Mudiay have very high ceilings but will take at least two to three years to develop into their All Star potentials. Okafor commands a double team for any team guarding in the post right now! He seems as the ideal low post scoring threat in Phil Jackson’s triangle offense which would run on the double teams needed to guard Melo and Okafor. Another legitimate question needed to be asked is if Phil and Carmelo have three years to spare for the development of the top 3 draft pick? Anthony is currently in his prime and the clock is definitely ticking. Phil Jackson, meanwhile, signed a five year deal and would like to get this team back to contention sooner rather than later. Jahlil Okafor would be the perfect prize for a tough 2015 Knicks season and possibly a recruiting pitch for potential free agents who are interested in cleaning up the mess in MSG. But for this plan to work, the Knicks can’t be winning meaningless games. That might mean the difference between a Stephen Curry and a Jordan Hill, just ask the Knicks.