Paolo Banchero #5 of the Duke Blue Devils celebrates after...

Paolo Banchero #5 of the Duke Blue Devils celebrates after a play during the first half against the Arkansas Razorbacks in the NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament Elite 8 Round at Chase Center on March 26, 2022 in San Francisco, California.  Credit: Getty Images/Ezra Shaw

For the Knicks, this is a time of excitement and hope. And if history is a guide, by about 10 p.m. Tuesday, it will be a time of disappointment and regret.

They'll have another turn in the NBA Draft Lottery, where it feels as if the franchise has been atoning for the lingering rumors of a fix (spoiler — there wasn’t one) ever since the first lottery in 1985.

Back then, it seemed as if the NBA was intent on putting the Knicks, one of its marquee franchises, in place as a contender. There were stories of a frozen envelope, crimped corners of an envelope and about any other conspiracy theory one could conjure as they wound up with the opportunity to draft Patrick Ewing. But since then, the Knicks have endured a painful history in the lottery — in it far too often and experiencing painful results.

The Knicks have been in the lottery 17 times since that first try and have never moved forward in the draft — falling backwards seven times and finding their fate unchanged in the 10 other attempts.

With the 11th-worst record in the NBA, the Knicks enter this lottery with a 2% chance of earning the top pick and a 9.4% chance at moving into the top four. Their best odds are to remain at No. 11 — a 77.6% chance — and their next-highest odds (12.6%) is to drop to No. 12. We won’t even think about the chances of dropping to 13 or 14 in the draft if the Clippers, Hornets and Cavs all jump into the top three.

We’ll focus instead on the optimism and what the draft could hold to help the Knicks avoid finding themselves in the lottery again next summer — which would be the ninth time in 10 years.

Here are the best-case scenarios (five players to consider if the Knicks can jump into the top four) and the reality (five players to consider if the Knicks remain at 11 or drop to 12).

The top five

Jabari Smith (Auburn, 19 years old, 6-10, forward): There are critics who point to his ballhandling skills and defense right now, but those are fixes to worry about in the future for a smooth-shooting player with a frame that reminds scouts of Kevin Durant.

Chet Holmgren (Gonzaga, 20, 7-0, forward/center): Speaking of comparisons, Holmgren’s are often used as a reason to doubt his prospects — his rail-thin frame has those critics thinking about him defending Nikola Jokic and  bringing back memories of Shaquille O’Neal powering to the rim against Shawn Bradley. But he already is an elite shot-blocker with perimeter offensive skills and a toughness that his body will catch up to with work.

Paolo Banchero (Duke, 19, 6-10, forward/center): Banchero might be what Holmgren hopes to grow into — already a skilled scorer inside and out with guard abilities and the strength and smarts to score inside. Considered the top pick early in the season, he saw his status dip as he sometimes seemed to display inconsistent effort, but he showed by the end of the NCAA Tournament that he could end up being the best of the class.

Jaden Ivey (Purdue, 20, 6-4, guard): While he may not be in the prospect class that the first three are, Ivey would be an intriguing fit for the Knicks — an explosive guard who can score efficiently and excitingly at the rim. While some don’t peg him as a classic point guard, he has the bloodlines for it — his mom, Niele Ivey, is a former WNBA point guard and the current Notre Dame women's basketball coach.

Keegan Murray (Iowa, 21, 6-8, forward): Watching the postseason — as the Knicks are — you see how many teams have a skilled and smart player who can defend multiple positions, score in a variety of ways and contribute to winning. That’s Murray’s calling card as he approaches the draft. He shot 38% from three-point range as a sophomore and averaged 23.3 points per game but also defended all over the court.

Five to hope for if the Knicks stay put

We won’t skip players here with the possibility of one falling to the Knicks — or the team opting to combine assets to move up.

Shaedon Sharpe (Kentucky, 19, 6-6, wing): You say you didn’t see him with Kentucky? Well, join in with the rest of the scouts in the NBA who wonder what he’ll be. He not only did not play at Kentucky but was unranked in high school until a star turn at the Nike Elite Youth Basketball League, when he jumped to the top of his recruiting class. Athletic wing who can score at every level.

A.J. Griffin (Duke, 18, 6-6, wing): Could you picture a pair of Duke wings working together at the Garden for the next decade with Griffin joining RJ Barrett? Similar skill set — strength and slashing. But he has an ability to score creatively in the paint and sank three-pointers at a 48.3% rate this season. He has lost time to injuries in high school and college, but when he’s played, he’s been elite.

Jeremy Sochan (Baylor, 19, 6-9, wing): Let’s get this out of the way first — in a league predicated on shooting these days, he’s got a long way to go. But everything else? He’s got it, starting with the ability to defend every position in a way that would warm the heart of Tom Thibodeau, playmaking ability and a motor that doesn’t stop. 

Dyson Daniels (G-League Ignite, 19, 6-6, guard: Thibodeau talks about how there are many types of point guards, but Daniels is old school in that the Australian is a playmaker and passer first. His shot needs work, but he also defends well for a young player.

Bennedict Mathurin (Arizona, 20, 6-6, wing): Strong, athletic scorer with three-point range and highlight-reel dunks. Defense not yet up to Thibodeau standards, but he’s a hard-nosed defender who could blossom in the NBA.

Game Seven awaits

The NBA won out with a pair of Game 7s in the conference semifinals, and both are series in which fans would be willing to watch eight or nine of these matchups. But particularly interesting has been the Celtics and Bucks, pitting the team that knocked off the Nets in four straight against the defending champs.

What that series has shown more than anything is that defense  still  is a thing in the NBA despite the best efforts of the rule-makers to tamp down any plan to slow a scorer. The Celtics were the best defensive squad in the regular season, and it’s continued through the postseason. They have done a good job on Giannis Antetokounmpo — which is a testament to his greatness when you see his numbers. They have frustrated him and baited him into offensive fouls, and still he’s putting up historic numbers — including 44 points in Game 6. 

No-win trade

The performance — and odd demeanor on the court — of James Harden left the 76ers and their fans wondering just what they got themselves into when they traded for him. That's the same thing Nets fans are thinking about Ben Simmons, who never got in a game because of conditioning, mental health and back issues that have yet to be resolved.

The deal has produced no winners yet, and  both franchises have to decide on future paths — contract extensions for Harden in Philly and for Kyrie Irving in Brooklyn. And maybe most important, it has clarified that character and competitiveness have to be scouted as well as ballhandling and shooting.


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