The Knicks never had a chance to draft Luka Doncic, but the teams who did missed on a star.
Luka Doncic just competed his first playoff series where he was absolutely spectacular in a losing effort. Somehow finding a way to exceed expectations despite playing short-handed and on a sore ankle against the Clippers, one of the favorites to win the championship.
Don’t worry, they can’t. But he is indirectly responsible for one of the main source of Knicks trolling this season.
Before we get into that I would like to ask the question that no one seems to be asking: Why doesn’t the mainstream NBA media criticize the three teams that passed on him in the draft? Phoenix, Sacramento and Atlanta had the top 3 picks in the 2018 draft and each team chose to select other players.
Imagine if the Knicks were one of those three teams? ESPN would be on DEFCON 1 ready to bury them after every spectacular play Luka makes. So, If the mainstream media won’t mention it, I will.
For Knicks fans it’s a form of therapy, misery loves company. It’s nice to know there are other franchises that make incompetent moves.
What was Phoenix thinking?
Everyone thought that it was a lock that the Phoenix was going to take Luka Doncic with the 1st overall pick in the 2018 draft. They needed someone to run the point. They also had just hired Igor Kokoskov, who was Luka’s coach on the Slovenian national team. What other reason would there have been to hire the man if the Suns were not going to draft Luka? Needless to say, the highly respected Kokoskov only lasted one season with the Suns.
Imagine pairing Luka Doncic with Devin Booker? The Phoenix Suns would have been one of the most exciting teams in the NBA. Instead they drafted Deandre Ayton, a center. While he is a good player, he plays a position that has been marginalized. He would need to be an overwhelmingly dominant post player that can stretch the floor to be considered a franchise player.
To make matters worse, Ayton was suspended for 25 games for failing a drug test. Another failed drug test will result in an even longer suspension. Instead of landing the brightest young star in the NBA, they are stuck with an at-risk player. Imagine if the Knicks had passed on Luka for Ayton?
Sacramento checkmated themselves
You would think a franchise led by executives that are former NBA players of European descent would have jumped at the chance to draft Luka. Instead they went with Marvin Bagley, a big man they felt was a better fit with De’Aaron Fox. While no one could predict that Bagley was going to be so injury prone, it was clear that even if he stayed healthy, his ceiling was nowhere near Luka’s.
Sacramento, at the very least, should have secured Luka’s rights and traded down like Atlanta did. But what they really should have done was try to find a way to get Fox and Luka to play together. If they could have figured that out, the Kings would right now be one of the best teams in the West.
Atlanta was short-sighted
The last franchise that needs to be criticized is the Hawks. They did get an exciting player in Trae Young and secured a future 1st round pick as compensation for trading back to the 5th spot. While Trae Young is a force on offense, on defense he is a huge liability. He will score 30 points, but he will also give up 30 or more points to the opposing guard.
Let’s be real, Atlanta chose the player they thought would sell more tickets, they chose sizzle over substance. Atlanta would be a playoff team this season if they had kept Luka over Trae.
The Broken Unicorn
The Dallas Mavericks and Kristaps Porzingis (KP) have avoided a ton of media scrutiny this season because of Luka Doncic. As we have seen in these playoffs, Luka has shielded KP and the Mavericks from criticism because they are a playoff team that took the Clippers to 6 games.
But let’s analyze the trade Dallas made for KP without the benefit of the Luka effect.
Dallas traded a young player they didn’t need anymore in Dennis Smith Jr., two 1st round picks and also agreed to take back $30MM in bad contracts. That was the price they were willing to pay for the right to max out an injury-prone big man that was still recovering from a torn ACL. Mark Cuban didn’t think twice, gave KP $158MM over 5 years. I know Dallas was desperate to get a star to pair with Luka. I also know they are not a free agent destination. But it’s still a risky trade.
This is were the Luka effect comes into play. Luka is so great that he made the game easier for Tim Hardaway Jr, who was also included in the deal. In fact, THJ played so well this season that he actually looked like he might be worth this contract, which is no easy feat.
Luka has also made KP look better by setting him up for easy baskets at the rim and wide open shots from beyond the arc. The reality is that there are only two players in the NBA that could have made that trade look good for the Mavericks: it’s Luka and LeBron James.
Luka carried the Mavericks to the playoffs despite having KP miss almost 25% of the regular games. He also managed to win a playoff game against the Clippers without him. Luka had an all-time great playoff performance in Game 4 which he punctuated with a gaming winning 3-pointer from 27 feet. No one could stop talking about his performance, and he was so great that he drew attention away from the team’s huge concern with KP’s health.
After rehabbing for 18 months, then being on maintenance program and having additional time to rest due to the pandemic, he still missed half the playoff games with another knee injury that might require surgery.
Imagine if the Knicks would have committed $158MM over 5 years to a player with such durability questions? No doubt KP would have generated clicks for the Knicks, just not the ones the wanted.