The Knicks' RJ Barrett gets past the Magic's Robin Lopez,...

The Knicks' RJ Barrett gets past the Magic's Robin Lopez, right, for a basket during the first half of an NBA game Sunday in Orlando, Fla. Credit: AP/John Raoux

As the Knicks finish this disappointing season, there still are nights like Sunday when it turns into a party on the bench. Players happily celebrated every dunk, RJ Barrett urged the crowd to stand and cheer, and Obi Toppin urged the same Amway Center crowd to chant “RJ Barrett!” over and over. The smiles and joy were evident as the clock ran down on a 30-point victory over the Magic.

But with the schedule down to three games, there is a nagging feeling that every win could pull Ping-Pong balls from the Knicks in the upcoming NBA Draft Lottery.

There is a frustrating history with this — the Knicks struggling through most of the last two decades but not landing the top pick since 1985, when they won the first lottery and grabbed Patrick Ewing.

Barrett is as good as it’s gotten for the Knicks in decades, a No. 3 overall pick who has shown hints of a player who can be penciled in for years to come as a key piece in any success the team will have. But even with the team already eliminated from postseason contention, Barrett puts wins today over lottery luck in May.

“Nah. Our picks have been working out so far,” he said Sunday, referring to the contributions of the young players on the roster. “Our picks are very good and jelling together. The guys we picked, we don’t step on each other’s toes too much. We actually work really well together. Whatever happens, I trust the organization to make the right choice.”

According to, the Knicks (35-44) currently sit 12th in lottery odds — with 7.1% odds of landing a top-four pick and a 1.5% shot at the No. 1 pick. They still can rise as high as a tie for No. 8 (Ping-Pong balls are split evenly among ties) with the Lakers — which brings 26.3% odds for a top-four pick and 6.0% for the top overall pick.

The next-highest pick on the roster drafted by the team is Obi Toppin, whom the Knicks grabbed at No. 8 in 2020, and maybe the most productive is Immanuel Quickley, who they got at No. 25 in the same draft. Mitchell Robinson was a second-round pick in 2019 and Quentin Grimes (25), Miles McBride (36) and Jericho Sims (58) were all selected deep in the draft.

So give some credit to the scouting staff — and the addition last year of Walt Perrin, who found gems outside the lottery for the Utah Jazz for years. Some sources have indicated, however, that Grimes and McBride were players that coach Tom Thibodeau pushed hard for in the draft decision-making process.

But like Thibodeau, Barrett believes that the lottery is less important than building a base for what they hope is a return to form as a team next season.

“This helps build momentum, trying to finish out the season strong and carry that momentum into next year,” Barrett said. “Every game is important for us as a team for guys to develop and see who we are and who we’re going to be.

“We’re a very good team. Earlier in the year we let a couple slip away, but that was tough. We know we’re better than what our record has shown this year.”


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