By John Schmeelk
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Thursday night is the most important night for the Knicks franchise since they selected Kristaps Porzingis two years ago.
Selecting eighth, they will have the opportunity to get a good player no matter who goes before they get to the podium. The Knicks might also trade their best player and future franchise cornerstone.
The following is my guide to the Knicks' draft night experience.
Schmeelk's Top 10 For The Knicks
1. Markelle Fultz
2. Lonzo Ball
3. De'Aaron Fox
4. Josh Jackson
5. Jonathan Isaac
6. Jayson Tatum
8. Malik Monk
10. Donovon Mitchell
The top nine players on this list would represent good value for the Knicks.
In my second version of this list I had Ntilikina and Monk in a tie at No. 7, but I considered that a copout so I made a tough decision. All spring I've been arguing for choosing Monk over both Ntilikina and Smith, but in the past week I've changed my mind and here's why:
Ntilikina has the best chance of the three to be a true two-way star. Monk and Smith both have a very small chance of being able to guard their position in the NBA, so even though they are far more advanced offensively I rate them below Ntilikina.
Ntilikina's 7-foot wingspan and attitude assures his ability to defend, and he has shown enough raw tools and shooting ability to give hope that his playmaking ability will develop. He has a better chance of becoming an above-average offensive player than Monk or Smith have of reaching that level on defense. His defensive skills are just as impressive as Monk's and Smith's on offense.
The exception here, and this is why Monk is ahead of Smith and so close to Ntilikina, is that Ntilikina should be able to guard point guards in the NBA. Putting Monk in that position would necessitate a much bigger point guard and would require specific roster construction. Smith will have issues guarding anyone in the NBA, and Monk seems like he has a better set of intangibles than the North Carolina State guard.
Despite the fact that the Knicks are in need of point guards and wing players, Isaac (or Tatum) should be the priority over all three guards mentioned above if he happens to drop. Like Ntilikina, he has immense defensive potential, and his jumper is already good for a big man. A front line with Isaac and Porzingis for years would be extremely long, disruptive defensively and would stretch the floor on offense.
Predicting What Phil Jackson Will Do, Starting With Porzingis
The elephant is in the room. Phil can destroy this whole night by trading Porzingis and not getting back a king's ransom. Based on his interview on MSG on Wednesday night, Jackson still seems very miffed about Porzingis missing his exit interview and would be willing to move him for three assets. The only teams with those types of assets are the Celtics and maybe the Suns. The conversation should start with what Boston got for the No. 1 overall pick, and then ask for two other pieces, one of which must be another No. 1 pick that could be a lottery pick. For Phoenix, it would start with Devin Booker and the No. 4 pick.
Even then the Knicks should be very hesitant to move on from Porzingis. His upside is likely higher than any of the players they would acquire in a trade. Porzingis has flaws, but also has the chance to be special. Those players don't grow on trees and a team should never be anxious to trade such a talent. Under no circumstances should Jackson let his annoyance over Porzingis skipping a meeting trade a franchise cornerstone. He's too important for that and Jackson has to be willing to look past it. His trade record with the Knicks is abysmal and he can't afford a bad return for Porzingis.
In terms of the draft, Jackson has said publicly that he needs guards and wings, which really doesn't rule out any of the 10 players I have listed in my big board. Even Isaac might be able to guard small forwards with his length. Jackson likes long players and Isaac certainly fits into that category (as does Ntilikina).
The one player in the group that doesn't feel like a Jackson player is Smith. He wants to dominate the ball and play screen-and-roll with a spread floor, which is not the way Jackson wants to play. Monk is great at scoring off the ball, making him a good fit for the triangle on offense. He could be a point guard in the triangle as well since that position doesn't dominate the ball like it does in other systems.
Assuming no one from my top six drops and Jackson has to choose between Ntikilina and Monk I think he will go with the European. He has spoken about wanting his players to be unselfish and to play within a team system. Ntilikina, playing in Europe and out of the AAU circuit, has a better chance of playing the type of basketball Jackson wants than Monk. Yet, I would not be surprised by the Knicks taking either Monk or Ntilikina and the Knicks would be served well by both.
The only way Jackson can mess this up is by drafting someone like Luke Kennard or Justin Jackson at No. 8. Mitchell would be a reach, too, but he is at least a top-12 player in the draft class. Any of these three would be excellent picks in the teens.
I would expect the Knicks to add another draft pick at some point Thursday night if they can work out a deal. The Blazers are the most likely team to move a pick (they own the 15th, 20th, and 26th selections) and the Knicks can take one of their big-contract players into their cap space to facilitate a trade. The Pistons might also move their selection at 12 if they can find a valuable enough veteran. The Knicks will surely try to convince them Courtney Lee should be their guy.
The Knicks also have two second-round picks, which often are best used on draft-and-stash players if the right person is available. The rate of success in the second round is very low, but the Knicks have had some success there in past years.
It's a big night for the Knicks and they need to take advantage of it.
-- Jackson also mentioned that Carmelo Anthony still doesn't seem inclined to approve any sort of trade, but Jackson would revisit the possibility after the draft. I bet Melo is on the roster this season.
-- Jackson, inexplicably, left the door open to re-signing Derrick Rose. Apparently, it was fine he just skipped a game, but Porzingis skipping an exit interview is a mortal sin.
-- The funniest and most infuriating part of the interview was his statement as to why Knicks fans shouldn't be worried: "I think we know what we are doing." He went on to admit the team's record didn't indicate that, but Jackson's (delusional) self-confidence is still there, making the prospect of him trading Porzingis because of a slight to him all the more possible.
For everything Knicks, Giants, and the world of sports, follow John on Twitter at @Schmeelk
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