The Knicks have a chance to go from worst to first Tuesday night.
Team president Phil Jackson's rebuilding efforts could be expedited if the Knicks can cash in on the worst record in the franchise's 69-year history, win the NBA Draft lottery and get the first overall pick. Kentucky big man Karl-Anthony Towns is the early favorite to go first.
The Knicks have a 19.9 percent chance of picking first and can't drop any lower than fifth.
It's been 30 years since the Knicks won the first lottery, when the prize was Patrick Ewing. They eventually became a perennial contender.
Jackson and the Knicks, who will be represented by general manager Steve Mills on stage at the lottery, hope the pingpong balls are good to them Tuesday night and give them a reason to celebrate that anniversary.
"That moved the franchise in a way which everybody recognizes," Jackson said. "We think there are a couple of players in this draft that might be able to do that."
Towns and Duke center Jahlil Okafor are expected to go 1-2 and be impact players. Ohio State point guard D'Angelo Russell and point guard Emmanuel Mudiay, who played in China last season, round out the top four. Duke forward Justise Winslow and Kentucky center Willie Cauley-Stein could be there at five if the Knicks don't deal the pick.
The Knicks won two of their last three games to finish 17-65, one game behind Minnesota for the NBA's worst record. The Timberwolves have a 25 percent chance of winning the lottery. But the bottom two teams haven't fared well since the NBA went to its current weighted system in 1994. Only three times in the past 21 years has the last-place team won the lottery. The No. 2 team has picked first only twice and second only twice.
"There are all these numbers out there that are kind of unusual," Jackson said. "So it's a real crapshoot. There's no doubt about it . . . We feel like it's a lottery like anything else, and we'll just go in there with a positive attitude and take what comes out of that lottery."
The real question: Will the Knicks keep what comes out of the lottery?
If they pick first or second, odds are they will. Towns and Okafor have different skill sets but are considered ready-made players.
Towns is more versatile and a better defender. Okafor is a more polished scorer. But Towns is a good fit if the Knicks can sign free-agent big man Greg Monroe.
"Dude's got a knack to score," Cauley-Stein said of Towns. "He can put the ball in the hoop. He does a lot of good things defensively. He uses his body really well. He's going to [make] an impact early. He's NBA-ready."
Russell and Mudiay are very talented, but it might be risky to hand over the point-guard duties to a 19-year-old. If the Knicks fall to third, fourth or fifth, it can't be ruled out that they will trade down for multiple picks or make a trade.
"We'll consider everything," Jackson said. "Everything starts when the picks come in on the 19th of May. Everything starts to germinate from there.
"Do you move a pick 1, 2, 3 or 4? That's questionable. Do you move a pick five if that's the result and use it as a chip? Maybe. So there's a lot of options out there. The reality is we want to grow a star through this system that'll be here for 15 years and a career."