By Joe Pantorno
For a seventh-straight season, the Knicks are on the outside looking in.
The NBA’s confirmation of a 22-team return-to-play format confirmed that the Knicks would miss the playoffs yet again — a dubious tradition that extends every year back since 2014.
While there weren’t many positives to take away from a 21-45 record that proved to be their final tally when play was halted on March 11 due to the coronavirus outbreak, the Knicks still won four more games than they did all of last year despite playing 14 fewer.
A young core showed some promise in the down season as RJ Barrett showed flashes of stardom in his rookie campaign while the likes of Mitchell Robinson continued trending upward toward the status of a dominant big man.
There is still incalculable development that needs to be done, ranging from other youngsters such as Frank Ntilikina, Kevin Knox, and Dennis Smith Jr. — and that all comes down to the coaching staff that will be in place next season to nurture those youngsters.
After all, new president Leon Rose has six months to find a new head coach, install that coach’s desired assistance staff, and establish a clear and concise direction for a franchise that has lacked just that over the last 20 years.
Multiple whiffs on marquee free agents in year’s past should help nudge the Knicks toward developing a contender through their bevy of youth, and they are expected to have another prominent opportunity to add a top prospect during this year’s draft to be held on Oct. 15 rather than its regularly-scheduled late-June time slot.
The Knicks will find out exactly where they are picking on Aug. 25 during the NBA Draft Lottery, which deciphers the order of the first 14 teams of the selection process. This year, it will comprise of the eight teams that were not invited to the NBA’s restart in Orlando and the six teams that did not qualify for the playoffs after the completion of the final eight regular-season games.
Based on their final record, the Knicks have the best odds at getting the No. 6 pick in the draft. There is, however, a 37.2% chance that they jump into the top-four and a 9% chance they get the No. 1 overall pick.
If the Knicks were to somehow catapult into the top two or three draft picks, they would have a legitimate shot at taking LaMelo Ball, the top point-guard prospect in the class of 2020 who most recently plied his trade with the Illawarra Hawks of the NBL in Australia.
Given recent history, though, it’s fair to assume that the Knicks will have that sixth pick come October.
Their strategy will undoubtedly shift to the next tier of available point-guard prospects that feature North Carolina’s Cole Anthony and international prospect Killian Hayes from France.