By Liam Beatus
Two years ago, when the Knicks made their last top 10 pick, I was highly critical of Phil Jackson’s first attempt as executive in the NBA Draft. Porzingis was a raw, European talent that not many had seen before. Plus, many feared he would join the long list of tall European big men who would be a bust. Porzingis, Willy Hernangomez and Mindaugus Kuzminskas exceeded expectations. Can Jackson find more Zen in this draft class?
Warning: this is just a 2017 projection; it’s impossible to know how an incoming rookie will perform.
First Round/8th Pick: Frank Ntilikina France
The Big Apple needed guard help for a long time. While Ntilikina lacks a highlight reel, he is a long prospect who can make an impact on both ends of the floor.
The French native’s seven-foot wingspan and body type projects well to the NBA. While he does not possess elite speed, his athletic ability should be an asset. At 6’5”, he could be a matchup nightmare against a smaller guard.
While not a perfect fit at either position, he can play both point guard and shooting guard. A selfless passer with a decent jump shot, Ntilikina won’t be a shot-creator at the next level, nor will he finish at the rim like others in this class. If his three-point shot continues to improve, he will be a fixture in the Knicks’ starting line-up for years to come.
The biggest question: How does he fit into the Knicks’ roster? Only 18, Ntilikina is still pretty raw in terms of his strength. Teams will body him and find mismatches in the paint where he could struggle on switches. Ntilikina fits the spot at point guard, especially since Derrick Rose (who was a big defensive liability in 2016) is unlikely to leave the Knicks. He won’t bring the same offense like Dennis Smith Jr. or Malik Monk—both of whom the Knicks could have picked—but he could be more steady on both sides of the ball. Ntilikina will not take any shots away from Melo or Porzingis.
I don’t love this pick because Ntilikina does not have a high ceiling. When Porzingis was selected at four, the ceiling was the roof (to quote the great Michael Jordan), so while Knicks fans weren’t thrilled on draft night, the seven-footer might have an upside as high as Karl-Anthony Towns, the first pick in Porzingis’ draft class in 2015. Many think Ntilikina could be a solid starter, but not an all-star.
Kentucky’s Malik Monk would have been my pick in the eighth spot, but the Knicks got the backcourt help they desperately needed. Monk was an explosive player in transition and a lights-out shooter under John Calipari last season and his athleticism should translate well at the next level.
Second Round/44th Pick: Damyean Dotson Houston
In today’s NBA, you can’t go wrong with a strong three-point shooter. Last season at Houston, Dotson shot an absurd 44% from beyond the arc, slashing opponents with his efficient scoring numbers. Dotson, also at 6’5”, will not be a primary ball handler, but as a spot-up, catch-and-shoot perimeter player, if the threes fall, he will earn playing time. While many experts predict that Dotson can handle his own on defense, he probably won’t be a standout defender, but should not prove to be a major liability.
Dotson’s major weakness: He cannot create his own shot. With Carmelo Anthony and Kristaps Porzingis still on the roster, the Knicks have playmakers on offense. At 23, Dotson’s potential is fairly low, the expectation for second rounders.
He was kicked off the Oregon basketball team following his sophomore season, one of three Oregon players linked to sexual assault allegations and was dismissed from the team in 2014. If Dotson was not linked to this case, his grade would have been higher than a B.
Second Round/58th Pick: Ognjen Jaramaz Serbia
Jaramaz played in Serbia for the Mega Bemax—a Serbia-based team that produced a few NBA talents, most notably Denver’s Nikola Jokic who looks to be a perennial all-star. Jaramaz, admittedly, was not even on my radar for the Knicks’ final pick; many expected them to take an NCAA vet like Nigel Williams-Goss or VJ Beachem. As mentioned with Ntilikina, Phil Jackson found gems among overseas players, and the Zen master is rolling the dice with Jaramaz.
Jaramaz is the third 6’5” guard the Knicks took in the 2017 draft. More of a point guard than a shooting guard, he is raw at the offensive end. He lacks a consistent jump shot and his playmaking abilities could improve. What Jaramaz lacks in length, he makes up for with his high motor. Jackson could have gone in another direction with this pick; his boom potential is far lower than his bust possibility.