A few weeks ago I tried to talk you (and myself) into the possibility of Hoodie Melo saving the New York Knicks 2017-18 season, and while I’m not ready to abandon that (not even close, haters), I am not so naive as to avoid exploring other possible avenues.
We know the most recent era of Knicks hoops lead by the corpse of Phil Jackson and owner James Dolan and…and his fucking kazoos… has yielded 80 wins over three seasons, but there have been a few bright spots. Namely my son, the unicorn, the Lativian gangbanger, Kristaps Porzingis:
The trend of all the positives gracing Madison Square Garden over the last handful of years is that they hail from across the pond – the Euro Boys are doing everything they can despite the odds, team ownership, and coaching staff to make the New York Knickerbockers watchable.
After Kristaps’ arrival came Willy Hernangomez in 2015 when he was traded to the Knicks on draft night for two second round picks and cash considerations, now undoubtedly considered a steal. Once Willy arrived stateside he averaged 16 and 9 per 36 minutes and gathered All-Rookie First Team honors.
The Knicks would add to their European contingency when they signed Mindaugus Kuzminskas aka Lil Kuzi Vert in July of 2016 to help bolster their bench. Kuz added some much needed energy for the second unit averaging 20.9/6.2/3.4 per 100 possessions.
And then against the odds and classic New York draft night stupidity (aka ideology), the Knicks passed on Dennis Smith Jr. and Malik Monk to secure the services of French international, Frank Ntilikina:
And now headed into the new campaign in just about a month with a disgruntled Melo and a win over/under set at 30.5 (good for 6th worst) it’s time to turn the page. I’m one of the few Melo apologists left (he’s treated like he’s Rudy Gay for Christ’s sake) it’s time to say goodbye and let the (Euro) boys play.
Letting Kristaps, Willy, and Frank eat up serious minutes and build a rapport will pay dividends in the season to come even if it contributes to losses in the immediate future. And you know what I’ll do with all those productive L’s? Eat ’em up! Nom, nom, nom.
Because at the end of the rainbow (tumultuous season) is a prize in the form of 4 potentially franchise changing talents.
Marvin Baggley III (Duke), DeAndre Ayton (Arizona), Michael Porter Jr. (Missouri) and…
The Slovenian Serpent, the self-proclaimed Don, your favorite player’s favorite player (sorry, Michael Beasley), Luka Don?i?.
We’re past the era of European players being drafted based on word of mouth and the fact they’re not from the United States alone. The days of Andrea Bargnani, Darko Milicic, and my personal favorite, Nikoloz Tskitishvili (who the Nuggets never even saw play live!), are over.
The rest of the world is catching up to America in terms of quality of play and oh, I don’t know, NBA teams are actually sending scouts to Europe now.
In April 2015 Don?i? made his first team debut for Real Madrid when he was barely old enough to drive and became the youngest player to ever suit up for one of Europe’s premier clubs. The same team that was/is home to Rudy Fernandez, Nikola Mirotic, Arvydas Sabonis, and Serge Ibaka at one point or another.
Since his debut, now only 18 years old, he has been named Euroleague Rising Star, Spanish League Best Young Player, won the Spanish King’s Cup (twice), the Spanish League (also twice), the FIBA International Cup and most recently his Slovenian team took home the gold medal at Eurobasket 2017 in Turkey.
The 6’8 winger was fourth in the tournament in rebounds (8.1 rpg) and became the youngest player named to the All-Tournament Team since 1983 (Aryvdas Sabonis) and averaged 14.1/8.1 with 3.6 steals for the eventual champions.
Don?i? differs from the typical Euro prospect in that he’s not playing for a team or in a league notorious for bringing along youth. Madrid has a roster that features NBA-caliber talent and when he was on the floor Luka got to run the show.
Here is how Don?i? stacks up against the most recent highly-touted draft eligible Euros via Jonathan Tjarks and The Ringer:
Don’t let the 19.9 mpg fool you, European coaches are notorious for playing much deeper rotations than we’re accustomed to seeing and Luka’s per-40 numbers were 15.7/9.0/8.5/1.7, which is why he’s being touted as the best European prospect since Pau Gasol.
“I’ve been tracking him for years,” a statistical analyst for an NBA team told me [Tjarks]. “My model has him as the second-best player in the world outside of the NBA. If I was running a team at the top of the draft, I’d be doing everything in my power to get him.”
And that is exactly what the New York Knicks should do. He doesn’t possess the athleticism or measurables that leap off the page at you and with a ceiling of Larry Bird and a floor of a small Hedo Turkoglu (*shudders*) it’s easy to be skeptical.
But, come next June, Don?i? will be five years removed from signing his first professional contract and will have multiple productive years in the world’s second best league under his belt.
An intelligent player with tremendous body control and awareness to turn one step on a defender into finishing at the rim and with the tools to be a both spot up and off the dribble 3 point threat (33.3% in 80 combined games) put him in the position to be a top selection.
As far the Knicks are concerned, his ability to inhabit a point forward role and the passing chops to manipulate help defenders to free up teammates would make invaluable. The thought of pairing him with the uber-athletic Frank Ntilkina would be a match made in heaven.
Frank has the ability to guard multiple positions and serve as a future lockdown defender if he keeps his head down, which would allow Don?i?, a notably weaker defender, do what he does best – play the angles and create chaos due to the freedom of guarding weaker offensive players.
Then you combine the guard skillsets of the two alongside Kristaps Porzingis and all of a sudden your mouth starts to water just a bit.
The Knicks of recent memory may have left much to be desired and the notion of Madison Square Garden and New York City as the “Mecca of basketball” may have become more of a punchline than an honor – but the Knicks are 52-60 losses and a few lucky bounces of the ping pong balls away from having the most exciting core outside of Oakland, California.
Join your hands with mine fellow Knicks fans and pray, there’s a hope for a better life and it’s just one plane ticket from Spain and a bit of luck away.
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