After four seasons without a playoff appearance, Knicks fans in 2017 were beginning to grow restless. While that drought continues to this date, there was still optimism back then that the team could quickly return to its winning ways. New York had a young superstar in Kristaps Porzingis, and after having zero draft picks in 2016, the opportunity was there for the Knicks to hit big in the lottery, draft a second future star, and organically build a contender.
Winning the lottery would not be easy, as New York was seventh in the lottery standings with a 5.3% chance at getting the first overall pick. But fans dreamed big, and there was a clear prize at the top of the draft. While Markelle Fultz didn't win a ton during his lone year at Washington, the tantalizing prospect had it all: the ability to get to the rim, superb shooting, a knack for creating for his teammates, and defensive potential. The point guard was the full package and the perfect compliment to Porzingis.
Even if the Knicks didn't steal the top pick, there were plenty of options to find their point guard of the future. De'Aaron from Kentucky was lightning fast. N.C. State's Dennis Smith Jr. had top tier athleticism. Frank Ntilikina brought all-defense potential from France. And there was a kid named Donovan Mitchell, who, while not a true point guard, was slowly moving up draft boards after a solid-yet-unspectacular college career at Louisville. Similarly to the upcoming NBA Draft, there were plenty of point guards, and no matter what happened, the Knicks would get someone good.
That being said, the prayer of Fultz was what Knicks fans had in mind. He was a true can't-miss player that didn't have any weaknesses. Fultz was one of those young players where you watched the tape and thought, "Yep, this guy is a game-changer," similarly to Ben Simmons the year before.
The events that transpired from lottery night and beyond became a whirlwind for Knicks fans. New York did win the lottery, but in the form of the rival Brooklyn Nets. However, the Nets had already traded that pick to the rival Boston Celtics. Finally, Boston wound up swapping the selection with the rival Philadelphia 76ers. No matter what universe you lived in, Fultz was winding up on an opponent within the Knicks' division. To make matters worse, the Knicks dropped from 7th to 8th, getting bad luck in the lottery. While it was a disappointment for fans and Fox was off the table, Ntilikina, Smith Jr., and Mitchell were all possibilities. The beloved Frenchman was eventually the pick.
Fast forward a few years, and the way these players' careers have played out so far has been rather unpredictable (aside from Fox). Fultz has yet to prove he can be a starting point guard on a contender, and the guy the Celtics got in his place, Jayson Tatum, is already a top-20 player. If the Knicks were in Philly's shoes, it would have been a disaster. Mitchell has been an All Star, and people love to chastise the Knicks for passing on him. Smith Jr. eventually got sent to New York in exchange for Porzingis, a trade that has been terrible for the Knicks. Ntilkina, the actual pick from this lottery, has been fine. His offense is nearly non-existent, but there have been flashes. His defense is top-notch. His inconsistent minutes and health have made it hard for Ntilikina to develop. Yet fans are enamored with the French Prince.
The 2017 lottery has a big year coming up for the Knicks. Ntilikina and Smith Jr. could both prove to be key pieces in the team's future or they could flop and find themselves elsewhere the following season. If the latter happens, perhaps the 2017 lottery isn't so memorable. But rest assured that no matter what happens, Knicks fans will never forget Frank Ntilikina.