A few nights ago, the New York Knicks were able to clinch the worst record in the NBA, and therefore the best odds in the NBA draft lottery on May 14, with a current record of 16-64 with two games left to play.
That’s good! The Knicks are usually bad when trying to tank- even worse than they are when trying to win- and it feels like every year that they’re in a position like this they win three of the last five meaningless games in April and fall a couple of spots in the lottery-odds standings.
Most of us are going to think of this as the Knicks having the best chance to land Zion Williamson (or Ja Morant or RJ Barrett). It’s tempting for us to be doing that, sure. Zion- by all accounts- is one of the most special players to enter the NBA draft in the last 15 years or so. Of course, as Knicks fans, we want to see him rocking the orange and blue, and it’s technically true that they have the best odds at him now, but that’s not really the way we should be looking at this.
Instead, we have to be looking at this from the back end: having the worst record in the NBA means that the furthest that the Knicks can drop is now the fifth pick, rather than 6, 7, 8, etc.
If you haven’t learned by now that since the turn of the millennium you should always expect the very worst thing that can possibly happen to the Knicks to happen to the Knicks, I’m not sure what to tell you. They’ve long been a cursed franchise, and we should always expect disaster. Now, though, that just makes sense, mathematically. Take a gander at the pick odds, via Tankathon.
The new lottery odds (because of course the year the Knicks tank appropriately is the year that the lottery odds have changed) dictate that the three worst teams have an equal chance at the first, second, third, or fourth picks in the lottery. Also, now it is the first four picks that are up for lottery selection rather than the top three. This makes things more interesting, but it also makes it so the worst team has minimal discernable advantage over the rest of the pack and the furthest a team can now drop is four slots, rather than three.
Even if the odds of the Knicks landing the fifth pick were just five percent I would fully believe that that will happen, but look at those odds! It is essentially a coin flip whether they land in the top 4 vs. the fifth pick. It makes it more interesting and we’ll find out in a few years if this switch was good for the NBA, but I hate that the first year of it is this year.
Under normal circumstances I would still expect disaster here, but now the odds of disaster are so large that expecting anything but that is setting yourself up for disappointment. Expect the fifth pick, and if anything else comes up then we can finally think of it as a bonus. Come the day of the lottery, of course, I will abandon this rationality and be disappointed with anything besides no. 1, if not the top three.
This is why clinching that worst record in the NBA, though, is so important. The Knicks were able to mitigate the disaster scenario by guaranteeing themselves a top-five selection in the draft. If there were any chance of the worst possibility being not 5, not 6, not 7….
Well then that’s what I’d have no choice but to expect simply due to the way the Knicks have performed the entire time I’ve been old enough to notice. Fortunately, they’ve finally mitigated risk. Now we wait.