Acing the NBA draft hasn’t been the Knicks forte for a long time. With few exceptions, the franchise hasn’t maximized production from its various draft slots in the annual draft.
Few teams have, of course. But the ones who have often find sustained success — the Spurs come to mind.
Second-guessing the draft is a hobby of hoop-heads, and unless the Knicks land a cornerstone player at the No. 4 slot in this month’s draft, they’re likely to hear grumblings about a missed opportunity for years. That’s the nature of the beast.
With that in mind, here are the top drafts over the past 40 years in which the Knicks could have drafted far better for themselves in the first round, with the pick number in parentheses.
Knicks picked: Michael Ray Richardson (4)
Should have taken: Larry Bird (6) or Maurice Cheeks (36)
Yes, maybe Larry Bird would have been leading a Knicks dynasty in the 1980s. Bird’s selection by the Celtics was a special case, however. He was draft eligible as an Indiana State junior because his original Indiana University class had graduated, a little-known loophole that was soon tied off. Hard to fault the Knicks here, but worth noting. While Richardson was a skilled player in his prime, drug issues led to a lifetime ban that cut his career short. Perhaps a better choice would have been Maurice Cheeks, a point guard who retired with the third-most assists ever at that point.
Knicks picked: Darrell Walker (12)
Should have taken: Clyde Drexler (14) or Doc Rivers (31)
Walker wasn’t a bad player, but his time in the NBA wasn’t the most memorable. The same can’t be said for Drexler, a Hall of Famer who led the Trail Blazers to two NBA Finals appearances and won a title playing second-fiddle with Hakeem Olajuwon’s Rockets. When discussing many missed opportunities, hindsight is 20/20. In this case, the Knicks passed on a second-team All-American who help lead Houston to an NCAA title, opting for a second-team All-American on a lesser Arkansas squad. Drexler, who played in the same conference as Walker, shared co-Southwest Conference Player of the Year honors. Walker did not. Additionally, Doc Rivers went in Round 2 and enjoyed a 13-year career before becoming a top NBA head coach.
Knicks picked: Kenny Walker (5)
Should have taken: Ron Harper (8), Arvydas Sabonis (24), Mark Price (25), Dennis Rodman (27) or Jeff Hornacek (46)
This class, noted for the numerous careers derailed early by drugs and alcohol, had value late. “Sky” Walker didn’t fall into such trappings, but the highlight of his career was a win in the 1989 Slam Dunk Contest and not his in-game contributions. Rodman became a Hall of Famer and all-time great rebounder, and Harper teamed with him and Michael Jordan on the second Bulls three-peat squad. Price and Hornacek were among the best long-distance shooters of their generation, and Sabonis enjoyed a Hall of Fame international career as well as success as a part-time center on some strong late-90s Trail Blazers teams.
Knicks picked: Jerrod Mustaf (17)
Should have taken: Toni Kukoc (29), Antonio Davis (45) or Cedric Ceballos (48)
Mustaf played just one season with the Knicks and was out of the NBA within four years. His reputation also took a hit when he was connected to, but never charged with, the 1993 murder of his pregnant girlfriend. Instead, the Knicks could have landed solid sixth-men Kukoc or Davis, or mid-90s scoring specialist Ceballos.
Knicks picked: John Wallace (18), Walter McCarty (19) and Dontae’ Jones (21)
Should have taken: Zydrunas Ilgauskas (20), Derek Fisher (24) or Ben Wallace (not drafted)
The Knicks had three first-round picks in what was one of the top two draft classes ever. Unfortunately, most of these picks came too late to select Allen Iverson (1), Shareef Abdur-Rahim (3), Stephon Marbury (4), Ray Allen (5), Kobe Bryant (13), Peja Stojakovic (14), Steve Nash (15) or Jermaine O’Neal (17). All of these men became All-Stars, and a few will join the Hall of Fame. The Knicks were left with were three players who combined for 16,608 NBA minutes, fewer than any of the above. One could argue the Knicks might have found a way to package these picks and move up to take any one of them, but even if they kept the picks and landed future current Knicks coach and former Lakers title contributor Fisher or All-Stars Ilgauskas or Wallace, they would have been in much better shape during their 1999 NBA Finals run.
Knicks picked: Frederic Weis (15)
Should have taken: Metta World Peace (16), Andrei Kirilenko (24) or Manu Ginóbili (57)
Knicks fans knew from the get-go they whiffed with the big Frenchman now known for two things: never making it to the NBA and being dunked on by Vince Carter in the 2000 Olympics. The fans wanted Ron Artest, who became an All-Star and a head case who changed his name to World Peace. Other teams in this draft found success with their international draft choices in Kirilenko (Jazz) and Ginobili (Spurs).
Knicks picked: Donnell Harvey (22)
Should have taken: Michael Redd (43)
This was, bar none, the worst draft class in NBA history. Not one player was selected to more than one All-Star team, and just one of this class’ three All-Stars was a lottery pick. That said, Harvey lasted just 205 games over five seasons before washing out of the league. The Knicks would have benefitted from taking a chance on sharpshooting guard Michael Redd, who won a gold medal with the 2008 U.S. Olympic team and played 12 seasons before injuries prematurely shortened his career.
Knicks picked: Nene (7)
Should have taken: Amar’e Stoudemire (9) or Carlos Boozer (34)
It’s not that Nene didn’t pan out. He did, just not in the Big Apple. He was traded to the Nuggets on draft night for Antonio McDyess, who played just 18 games with the Knicks. Maybe the Knicks would have traded Stat if they had drafted him instead, but if not they would have had a prime Stoudemire before injuries robbed him of his incredible athleticism. Two-time All-Star Boozer would have been a solid choice, too.
Knicks picked: Michael Sweetney (9) and Maciej Lampe (30)
Should have taken: David West (18), Boris Diaw (21), Josh Howard (29), Mo Williams (47), Kyle Korver (51), Jose Calderon (not drafted)
The Knicks had the misfortune of not winning the LeBron James sweepstakes or even settling for Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh or Dwyane Wade. Instead they were left with the hefty Sweetney, who didn’t make an impact and was out of the league by 2007, and Lampe, who washed out by 2006. Among those chosen later still thriving in the NBA are West, Diaw, Williams and Korver, the latter of whom was an All-Star this year. Calderon is now the Knicks starting point guard after a solid career spent mostly with the Raptors.
Knicks picked: Renaldo Balkman (20) and Mardy Collins (29)
Should have taken: Rajon Rondo (21), Kyle Lowry (24) or Paul Millsap (47)
Balkman and Collins are out of the league. Lowry and Millsap played in the All-Star Game at the Garden in February. Oops. The Knicks didn’t think they would need a point guard at the time with Stephon Marbury on the roster, and Lowry did not develop into a top player until recent years, but it’s hard not to let it sting that the Knicks could have had him. Same goes for Rondo, who helped the Celtics to a championship in 2008. Millsap clearly slipped far, but Balkman was a reach even at the time. If only the Knicks had reached a little deeper, they would have been rewarded.
Knicks picked: Iman Shumpert (17)
Should have taken: Tobias Harris (19), Kenneth Faried (22), Reggie Jackson (24), Jimmy Butler (30), Chandler Parsons (38) or Isaiah Thomas (60)
The jury remains out on this class, but four seasons in it’s easy to see who the top talent is. Shumpert isn’t among them. So many players selected after him are among the top contributors on their respective teams. Butler emerged as an All-Star this season, and both Faried and Parsons were on the U.S. team that won the FIBA World Cup last summer. Thomas has emerged as one of the game’s premier sixth men capable of instant offense. Harris and Jackson are both due to receive significant raises this summer on the free-agent market.