By the time the 1976 NBA Draft came along, the Knicks were coming off their first playoff-less season in a decade. New York had made the NBA Finals three times and took home two championship trophies in recent years, but it was clear the organization was in the midst of moving in a different direction.
Like any transitioning franchise, the Knicks were in need of any kind of talent to smoothly move that process along. They selected Lonnie Shelton with the 25th overall selection, a bruising power forward who made a name for himself in three seasons at Oregon State University. He shot 56.4 percent from the field as a junior on his way to 17.8 points and 7.7 rebounds per game.
Shelton managed to perform admirably in two seasons in New York before being traded to the then-Seattle SuperSonics in October 1978. He put 13.3 points and 7.4 rebounds per game in less than 30 minutes of nightly action.
Because of his aggressive style of play that came from a physical brand of basketball, he also led the league in total fouls in consecutive seasons as a Knick, averaging a whopping 4.3 a game.
New York’s trade of Shelton was done to compensate the team for having signed free agent Marvin Webster, who would average a double-double in his first season, only to spiral downwards in the five years to follow.
It makes you wonder what would’ve happened had the Knicks kept Shelton, who would go on to make the NBA All-Star Game in 1981-82. They had done right in drafting him when maybe others wouldn’t have, yet they failed to truly recognize a talent that could have served them well in their rebuild.