The New York Knicks have been one of the NBA’s most polarizing franchises over the past decade. While the team saw moderate success with Carmelo Anthony and Kristaps Porzingis on the roster, the team never put out a consistent winner.
One of the biggest blunders by the team was making Phil Jackson the president of basketball operations. Jackson oversaw the entire front office, including the scouting department, and had several misses in the first round.
None were bigger than selecting Frank Ntilikina over current Utah Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell. Today we will look at the 2017 NBA draft class and give the main reasons the Knicks regret passing on the budding star.
The 2017 draft saw the Knicks take Frank Ntilikina
Heading into June of the 2017 NBA draft period, the class was viewed as very top-heavy. Budding stars Jayson Tatum, Lonzo Ball, De’Aaron Fox, and Markelle Fultz were all expected to go in the top-5.
Frank Ntilikina wasn’t viewed as a top-10 pick, and when the Knicks selected him at No. 8 over other guards that were more well known from their time in the NCAA, there was a lot of outrage from the fans.
Some of the outrage went toward Phil Jackson, with reports swirling that he was not taking the draft process seriously in terms of traveling and scouting due to his hip ailments.
Some of the notable players the Knicks passed on included Dennis Smith Jr. (who came to New York in the Kristaps Porzingis trade), Mitchell, and Kyle Kuzma.
Rick Pitino tried to persuade the Knicks to take Donovan Mitchell
When speaking to the New York Post, former Louisville head coach Rick Pitino said this about the Knicks passing on Mitchell:
“I tried to get the Knicks to take him, and [they said], ‘Nah, they can’t take him at that number.’”
It is clear the Knicks were looking for a pure point guard and didn’t think Mitchell’s ball-handling was good enough to play the position. Mitchell might be an elite point guard, but he’s decreased his turnover percentage every year he’s been in the NBA while consistently scoring in double figures.
Donovan Mitchell’s rookie season
His first year in the league, Donovan Mitchell quickly became one of the game’s best volume scorers. He averaged more than 20 points per game while leading the Jazz to an upset over the Oklahoma City Thunder in the playoffs.
It was clear to fans all over the league that Mitchell’s star was only beginning to grow after he finished second in Rookie of the Year voting to Ben Simmons.
Frank Ntilikina’s rookie year with the Knicks
As a rookie, Ntilikina played in 78 games, but he started only nine of them. He averaged a little more than five points per game as the Knicks struggled to stay competitive in the Eastern Conference.
The Knicks were very thin at the point guard position, so it was a surprise to see him on the bench instead of the focal point of the offense at times. That probably speaks to his lack of seasoning in North America. Ntilikina didn’t play college ball in the United States.
Comparing Mitchell’s and Ntilikina’s careers
Donovan Mitchell has been better than advertised, as he has gone on to lead the Jazz to the playoffs in each of his first two seasons, while also averaging nearly 25 points per game this season with Mike Conley in the backcourt.
Frank Ntilikina has dealt with injuries since the beginning of his sophomore season and is currently averaging just over six points per game for New York. Considering the amount of talent that the 2017 NBA draft has produced in different environments across the league, it’s fair to label Ntilikina a draft bust. We believe the Knicks have a major regret in passing up on Mitchell for the guard out of France. We don’t think he would be the talent he is today in the New York environment, but he’d be an upgrade of Ntiliktnk.