Friday night in Houston, the Knicks were able to hold James Harden to 35 fewer points than they did during the Rockets trip to Madison Square Garden back in January, when he exploded for 61. However, Houston led by 20-plus points for most of the evening, which allowed Harden and his fellow starters to rest the entire fourth quarter.
The Beard finished with 26 points, eight rebounds and eight assists in 29 minutes, while Mario Hezonja, starting at point guard in place of Emmanuel Mudiay (sore left shoulder), tallied 16 points, 16 rebounds and 11 assists. Per Basketball-Reference, he is the first Knicks player with at least 16 points, 16 boards and 11 dimes since Richie Guerin accomplished the feat back in December of 1957.
However, individual stat lines from this contest, as is the case with basically every other game played by the Knicks this season, will soon be forgotten. The Knicks are on pace to finish with the worst record in franchise history. New York has to win two of their final three games to avoid that ignominious distinction. (The 2014-15 squad, which ended up at 17-65, are the current record-holders.)
Still, the important takeaway from Friday night was that the Knicks loss, in conjunction with the Phoenix Suns victory over the New Orleans Pelicans, guaranteed that New York with finish the 2018-19 campaign with the league’s worst record. This means that the Knicks will pick no lower than fifth overall in the 2019 NBA Draft.
Now that we know New York will enter the May 14th lottery drawing with the worst winning percentage, here are the odds of the Knicks landing in each of the top five slots:
No. 1 overall pick: 14.0%
No. 2: 13.4%
No. 3: 12.7%
No. 4: 12.0%
No. 5: 47.9%
Yes, despite a disastrous season, New York has just a 14% chance to win the Zion Williamson sweepstakes. Despite having compiled more losses than any other team in the league this millennium, the Knicks have not had the top overall, let alone a top-three selection, since they struck it rich with Patrick Ewing in 1985.
Unfortunately for New York, this is the first year the NBA implemented a revised lottery format (intended to discourage “tanking.”) Last year, and every other year dating back to 2005, the team that finished with the worst record had a 25% chance to win the lottery, a 64.2% chance of landing in the top three, and couldn’t fall lower than fourth overall.
Here are the odds of landing in each of the top five slots for the team that finished with the worst record last season:
No. 1 overall pick: 25.0%
No. 2: 21.5%
No. 3: 17.8%
No. 4: 35.7%
No. 5: 0%
Yes, this is agonizingly frustrating for long-suffering Knicks fans. Not only because of the extraordinary promise of presumed top pick Zion Williamson, but also because there is a perceived drop-off between the few prospects at the top tier of most draft boards and the next level of players.
According to most pundits, the consensus top three players in the 2019 draft will be Williamson, fellow Duke freshman R.J. Barrett, and Murray State point guard Ja Morant. While losing out on Zion would be heartbreaking for most fanbases dreaming of No. 1, walking away with either Barrett or Morant would be a very satisfying consolation prize. In fact, in the coming weeks, some will argue that Morant and/or Barrett are “safer” selections than Williamson, with a higher floor.
However, dropping out of that top three is where things could get tricky. Personally, I am of the belief that Texas Tech stud sophomore Jarrett Culver is relatively close, in terms of talent and upside, to Barrett and Morant. A gifted athlete with a phenomenal frame (6’6″ with a 6’9″ wingspan) and the all-around skill set required to excel in today’s NBA, has the tools to develop into a very good pro.
Yet, after number four, things get dicey. De’Andre Hunter, Darius Garland, and Cam Reddish will likely be the three names most commonly bandied about at No. 5. While each of these three players is enticing prospects in their own right, there are serious questions and concerns about each. Hunter is a versatile forward from Virginia with freakish size and athleticism, but he’s already 21 years old and hasn’t taken the leap forward this season that many were expecting. Garland is an exciting, young, stud scorer and plays a position of need (point guard) but tore his meniscus back in November and has been sidelined since. Having to rely on game tape from high school games is always unadvisable. Reddish was the third highest-ranked player in his class (behind only Zion and Barrett), but was frustratingly inefficient and inconsistent during his lone season at Duke. Over his final 12 games, including the ACC and NCAA tournaments, Reddish shot a putrid 33.5% from the field and had more turnovers than assists and steals combined.
Outside of these three, Coby White, Brandon Clarke, Nassir Little, Romeo Langford, Jaxson Hayes, Sekou Doumbouya, Kevin Porter Jr. and Rui Hachimura are names that could potentially enter the conversation as well.
We’ll have plenty of time to examine the top prospects on the board in the five weeks leading up to next month’s lottery. However, Knicks fans are hoping the franchise finds some much-needed luck, enabling them to focus on one name, and one name only.