New York Knicks: Takeaways From Phil Jackson's Past NBA Drafts 1
Jun 23, 2016; New York, NY, USA; A general view of a video board displaying all thirty draft picks in the first round of the 2016 NBA Draft at Barclays Center. Mandatory Credit: Jerry Lai-USA TODAY Sports

Phil Jackson has had the opportunity to select prospects in two NBA Drafts as Knicks President. What can be learned from those two drafts?

The NBA Draft Lottery on Tuesday will determine where the New York Knicks pick, and no matter where they land, Phil Jackson must nail this pick.

In the 2014 NBA Draft, Jackson drafted Cleanthony Early and Thanasis Antetokounmpo. Early, a standout in two March Madness appearances with Wichita State failed to match the expectations of Knick fans. The former Shocker struggled to hit the three ball and battled injuries.

Ultimately, Early only managed to play in only 56 games over two seasons for the Knicks. Antetokounmpo, the younger brother of Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo, also left Knick fans underwhelmed with his play and failed to make the jump from the D-League to the NBA.


The next season Jackson found himself in an unfortunate position. After a miserable season in which the Knicks went 17–65, the ping pong balls cost the Knicks the second pick in the NBA Draft, with the team falling to fourth.

In a move that shocked the basketball world, Jackson selected a skinny teenager from Latvia over hyped prospects such as Emmanuel Mudiay, Willie Cauley-Stein, and Justise Winslow. Jackson also acquired Notre Dame guard Jerian Grant in a trade for Tim Hardaway Jr. While Grant lasted only one below-average season in New York, Porzingis has quickly developed into one of the most intriguing young players in the association. Jackson also picked up Willy Hernangomez in a trade with the Sixers early in the second round, who looks to be another hit by Jackson.

To review, five players, two hits, three strikeouts.

The 2017 NBA Draft is Jackson’s third crack at the NBA Draft. Luckily for Jackson, this is a draft class full of guards that can start for the franchise for the next decade. But like any draft, no prospect is a guarantee.

So what can be learned from Jackson’s first two goes at the NBA Draft?

Jun 25, 2015; Brooklyn, NY, USA; Kristaps Porzingis (SPN) reacts after being selected as the number four overall pick to the Miami Heat in the first round of the 2015 NBA Draft at Barclays Center. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

1. Jackson is Not Afraid to Draft Overseas Talent, Especially Early

Many fans of the NBA are skeptical to take a chance on players outside the United States early in the draft, and for a good reason. For every Kristaps Porzingis drafted, there will be two or three Darko Milicic‘s. This is not to say overseas prospects should be avoided in the NBA Draft, as there are many foreign players who find success in the NBA. However, there have certainly been many highly touted foreign-born players who have failed to translate their game to the NBA properly.

Since 2002, there have been 19 players who did not attend college in the United States drafted in the top ten of the NBA Draft. Out of those 19 players, only one of those players, Yao Ming, made an NBA All-Star Game.

Jackson did not buy into avoiding these types of players with the selection of Porzingis with the fourth overall pick in the NBA Draft, a pick which has looked like a stroke of genius.

Frank Ntilikina is the 6-foot-5 teenager from France who many see going in the top ten of this year’s draft. Jackson has a history of getting the best out of international players as a coach, such as Toni Kukoc in Chicago and Pau Gasol in Los Angeles. As an executive, the majority of Jackson’s picks have been international players if Antetokounmpo is included. It would be within Jackson’s past tendencies to take a chance on the international scene. 

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2. Jackson Drafts Larger Players

Take a look beyond Porzingis and Hernangomez. Jerian Grant was listed at 6-foot-5. Cleanthony Early was 6-foot-8 and Antetokounmpo an inch shorter. These are not small draftees.

Thanasis Antetokounmpo and Jerian Grant both had in common a large wingspan as well. Even Cleathony Early, whose wingspan DraftExpress said measured at 6-foot-10 and three-quarters at the NBA Draft Combine, had an average wingspan for an NBA small forward.

This is a draft stocked with large point guards. But could Dennis Smith, a point guard from N.C. State, be overlooked due to his size? Smith is listed at 6-foot-3, an inch shorter than Malik Monk and De’Aaron Fox, and two inches shorter than the aforementioned Ntilikina.

An inch is not going to make or break Smith if other guards are off the board. However, for Jackson, size does appear to matter. Jackson has shown he likes bigger guards. This could be bad news for Smith if Jackson is deciding betweens Smith and guards like Monk, Fox, and Ntilikina. 

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3. Jackson Does Not Put an Emphasis on His Wings and Guard’s Ability to Shoot

Scouts were unimpressed with Jackson’s guard and forward picks to hit the three ball. Both Cleanthony Early and Jerian Grant shot 35 percent from three during their college careers. This is not a horrific percentage, but both Grant and Early shot under 32 percent during a season at their schools.

Thanasis Antetokounmpo also shot slightly under 31 percent from three during his one season in the D-League before being drafted by the Knicks.

None of these shooting percentages indicate any of these players would excel at the professional level at shooting threes, yet Jackson did not care.

New York Knicks

Scouts have similar concerns about Kentucky’s De’Aaron Fox. While scouts praise Fox’s ability to get to the rim, defensive prowess and transition game, Fox’s 25 percent three-point percentage is eye-opening, and not in a good way.

If the Knicks and Jackson are hell-bent on continuing to implement the triangle offense next season, they need a point guard who can shoot the three ball well. Despite Fox’s immense talent, he would not make sense in this system. Would Jackson care? If past draft history shows, he likely will not.

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