It’s been doom and gloom in New York since the Knicks took an unexpected fall down the NBA Draft Lottery and landed the No. 4 pick, but prized prospect D’Angelo Russell is looking like he could very well be available after the top three picks are off the board. With Phil Jackson desperate to find a playmaker capable of thriving within Derek Fisher’s system and Carmelo Anthony short on talent at every position, landing Russell would represent a best-case scenario.
With less than one week until the selection process gets underway, the only thing we can seemingly lock into place is the fact that the Minnesota Timberwolves will take a big man with the first overall selection. Whether that’s Kentucky’s Karl-Anthony Towns (heavy favorite) or Duke’s Jahlil Okafor, the two-man race will not have any new entrants over the next six days (no matter what the Wolves may say about Russell). And while there’s some intrigue about whether the Lakers could shake things up by surprising at No. 2, it’s hard to envision a scenario where Los Angeles—a team with an impressive and proven history of developing stud big men with a desperate need for a franchise star down low—doesn’t take whomever doesn’t head to the Land of Lakes.
The real mystery, as usual when it comes to anything related to the NBA Draft, is what Sam Hinkie and his Philadelphia 76ers will do with the third overall pick. As little as just two weeks ago, it seemed clear that the Sixers would prioritize adding a playmaker to their combination of Twin Towers in Nerlens Noel and Joel Embiid, especially after considering Croatian Dario Saric will eventually be added that mix. Now, after a setback that has left Embiid (foot) operating without a timetable to return to action, there’s significant momentum behind the idea that yet another big man could land in Philadelphia and be drafted by the 76ers inside the top five for the third straight season. In his most recent mock draft, Jonathan Givony of DraftExpress has Kristaps ‘The Zinger’ Porzingis going in the three hole:
While Porzingis’ camp is rumored to be cool on the Sixers as a potential destination, that certainly won’t stop Sam Hinkie from picking him. Joel Embiid’s recent injury setback has made Porzingis a lot more attractive now, and there’s still a great deal of uncertainty regarding when Dario Saric (anyway more of a small forward) will come over. According to what we’re told, it absolutely won’t happen before 2016, and could get pushed back to 2017 when he’s no longer bound by the NBA rookie-scale contract. Regardless, Hinkie believes in swinging for the fences in search of maximum potential, and Porzingis, with his tremendous athleticism and sweet shooting stroke, certainly has a great deal of that.
That would be an ideal development for Jackson and Co. as the front office heads into its second draft, as it would leave the Knicks with their man ripe for the picking. Russell, a 6’5”, 195-pound guard who has drawn comparisons to James Harden and Manu Ginobili would be an immediate starter on a Knicks team void of talent, and he would help solve two of the Knicks’ biggest issues: floor spacing and moving the basketball. Considering he shot an electric 41.1 percent on three-pointers during his collegiate tenure, one has to think Russell sits alone atop the Knicks’ (realistic) draft board. In Jackson’s inaugural season that was filled with nothing but surprises, disappointments and underwhelming performances across the board, the Knicks need to crush the No. 4 pick like a Giancarlo Stanton home run. In other words—It has to be a true no-doubter.
ESPN’s Chad Ford also has Russell falling to the Knicks in his latest mock draft, and he too has The Zinger becoming the latest sandwich on the Philadelphia sports fan’s menu:
We’ve been hearing both Mudiay and Russell’s name here for months. But over the past few weeks multiple sources around the league suspect that Sam Hinkie may actually be leaning toward Porzingis.
Adding Russell to the mix would also allow the Knicks to pursue frontcourt help in free agency, something the team has prioritized as we enter the offseason. And while Greg Monroe is a popular name that’s floated often, Monroe wouldn’t solve any of the deficiencies along the Knicks’ front line, and it would likely cost max (or close to it) money to bring him onto the roster. Phil Jackson knows his roster won’t be one player away even with the addition of the No. 4 pick, and that one player most certainly isn’t Monroe. Instead, shopping in the free-agent bargain bin for players like Bismack Biyombo, Kosta Koufos and Al-Farouq Aminu may be a more realistic path back toward contention for a team that’s going to be built around Anthony and whatever player is selected at No. 4.
Since 2006, the Knicks have had seven first-round picks: Renaldo Balkman (2006), Mardy Collins (2006), Wilson Chandler (2007), Danilo Gallinari (2008), Jordan Hill (2009), Iman Shumpert (2011) and Tim Hardaway Jr. (2013). The only one remaining on the roster is Hardaway, who saw an inconsistent, up-and-down sophomore season during the first full season under Jackson’s watch. The Knicks have to have this selection be the one that defines the club for the next 10 years, and not because it was another misstep in the James Dolan ownership era. This pick has to be synonymous with success.
After a season of turmoil, disappointment and underperformance that saw the Knicks wind up outside the top three of the draft lottery, New York is in a prime position to land a franchise building block with the No. 4 overall pick. No doom, no gloom and an opportunity to rebirth a new brand of Knicks basketball. This is why Jackson came to New York.