As always leading up to the draft, rumors are flowing. One of the few that seems to have legs is the one that claims the Knicks are willing to trade down from the fourth slot, looking to get a future pick or a good young player in the process.
Phil Jackson and the rest of the front office have largely been derided by the debate that is reportedly taking place. This is the highest pick the Knicks have gotten in 30 years, since selecting Patrick Ewing first overall in 1985. Why not just pick the best talent available? Well, there are actually three very good reasons why the Knicks should not only have this discussion but actually pull the trigger on the right trade if it materializes.
1. There might not be sure things when they pick
The Knicks would be crazy to trade their pick before the draft. If one of Karl-Anthony Towns, Jahlil Okafor or D’Angelo Russell are available at four, they should select them. Towns’ worst case scenario is quality starter, Okafor fits their offense and Russell’s shooting makes his upside too significant to pass up. After those three, though? Every prospect has some serious questions marks.
Kristaps Porzingis is supremely talented and could be a star but not for a few years. He’s simply too frail right now to make a difference. Mario Hezonja and Justise Winslow play the same position as Carmelo Anthony. Emmanuel Mudiay’s 57 percent from the free throw line suggests changing his shot is not going to be easy. Everyone on that list along with a few other players are very good prospects but they are consolation prizes in this draft.
If the Knicks are not in love with any of the players in their range, trading down is not only smart but the best course of action.
2. Teams get desperate at the draft and the Knicks can take advantage of it
The players likely to be available at four might not be right for the Knicks, but surely there are some teams who covet them and might be willing to overpay. Eric Bledsoe is rumored to be available, and the Suns could throw in the 13th pick and maybe another young player as well. The Nuggets are rumored to be looking to trade up and could offer the chance to scratch the pick swap that’s coming next season (agreed upon in the Carmelo Anthony trade), which means the Knicks will have their own selection in 2016.
After weeks of hype, the prospects are looking better than actual NBA players and assets, but that’s obviously not always the case. Even a potential swap with the Celtics — who are rumored to be desperate to get into the top five — could prove interesting. Marcus Smart, this year’s 16th pick and the Nets’ pick from 2016 would allow the Knicks to load up on cheap, young talent while they target stars in free agency.
The Knicks have been too overeager to land a player in the past and have overpaid. This might be their time to do the fleecing.
3. Stars are sometimes available lower in the draft and they are cheaper
It’s possible no team in the first seven or eight spots wants to trade with the Knicks and no one comes with a killer offer. Even then the Knicks might decide to trade down because the player they wanted all along is supposed be available. And getting that guy lower in the draft means he will be cheaper.
New York has been rumored to be really intrigued by Trey Lyles and, more recently, Frank Kaminsky. Both players will likely be available in the middle of the lottery and because of the rookie scale, the difference in salary between the fourth and, say, the ninth pick is significant. Why pay Kaminsky $3.4 million in his first season when you can pay him $2.1 million while picking up an asset — any asset — in the process?
Public big boards from draft experts get so homogeneous this close to the draft that we assume all teams hold players in the same esteem. It’s entirely possible the Knicks are not ready to settle but actually feel Lyles is one of the best prospects in the class. The history of picks outside the top five whose career accolades exceed those of players selected higher is too long to recount but a recent example that comes to mind is Kawhi Leonard, the 15th pick in the 2011 draft who made $2.9 million the year after winning finals MVP.
There has to be some reason — be it fit in the triangle offense or upside — the Knicks have gravitated towards prospects outside the consensus top of the draft and if there is, they would be foolish not to trade down for them given the chance, considering the potential savings.
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Because they are the Knicks and they have a history of dysfunction, the default reaction to anything they even consider doing is assume it’s the wrong course of action. This time, however, their intention to potentially move down doesn’t sound crazy at all after a closer look.
The majority of rumors leading up to the draft never come true. In all likelihood, the Knicks will use the fourth pick to select one of the players that has been projected to go in the top five. If for whatever reason that doesn’t happen, though, it won’t mean these Knicks are just like the old Knicks. In fact it might mean that New York is finally taking a more rational approach to asset management.