To all the Knicks and Nets fans in this city, I can’t say I blame you if you’re not very excited for tonight’s NBA draft, even if it is at Barclays Center for the second year in a row. After all, neither team had a pick in either the first or second rounds as of yesterday evening — although the Knicks could be getting two if their blockbuster trade goes through.
It has to be frustrating for fans to know that their salary cap-strapped teams can’t even bring in a middling prospect tonight without last-minute deals. The Knicks would have been selecting 12th and 42nd overall — picks currently belonging to the Magic and Rockets, respectively — and the Nets would have slotted in at Nos. 17 and 47 — the Celtics and 76ers, respectively, have those picks now.
But what if the Knicks and Nets were guaranteed a draft choice every year, no matter how willing the front office is to part with them years before they know how good Andrew Wiggins and Jabari Parker are supposed to be? What if there was a third round of the draft, with picks that could not be dealt? It’s time the NBA went that route.
The league hasn’t had a third round since 1988, a year in which former standout Knick Anthony Mason was chosen in that round, and both former Nets coach and Spurs point guard Avery Johnson and ex-Knick John Starks went undrafted. That draft saw 75 players selected when the league was smaller — back when the Heat and Hornets were first-year expansion franchises. Adding a third round now would balloon the draft to 90 picks.
There has been talk in recent years of expanding the draft, with some jarring twists such as lottery teams getting two first-round picks. I’m not proposing anything dramatic like that. Simply that the third-round selections be locked to their teams, guaranteeing each fan base someone to potentially be excited about the next day.
I know what many of you are thinking. “Who is worth drafting in the third round when most of the second-round picks never make it?” And you’re right, to an extent. But there remain plenty of players who went undrafted who make an NBA roster, some of which become vital contributors. Over the past five draft classes, that group includes former Knicks sensation Jeremy Lin and Trail Blazers starter Wesley Matthews, to name the most prominent examples. About 20 undrafted players from every draft class find their way into an NBA game at some point.
And, with the growing trend of NBA teams having exclusive affiliation with their D-League team — as the Knicks did with the new Westchester Knicks — teams could populate the entire D-League roster with a mix of veterans and project-level draft picks that would be under NBA team control. Currently, only a limited number of D-League players are affiliated with NBA teams, with the rest being signed to the league itself.
Maybe the NBA will revisit a third-round again someday. For you Knicks and Nets fans looking ahead and seeing how many future picks already have been traded: here’s hoping.
Scott Fontana, amNY’s sports editor, can be reached at email@example.com