The 2017 NBA Draft was supposed to feature one of the classes we had seen in quite a few years at that time. Markelle Fultz was considered a can’t-miss. Lonzo Ball was being compared to Jason Kidd. Josh Jackson was viewed as a versatile athletic freak.
Fast forward nearly two years later, and most of the top-10 picks have not really worked out.
Jayson Tatum (No. 3 overall) has been great in Boston, De’Aaron Fox (No. 5) looks really good in Sacramento and Lauri Markkanen (No. 6) has flashed an incredibly polished offensive games in Chicago, but outside of those three, there has been a whole lot of disappointment.
Among those disappointments are guards Frank Ntilikina and Dennis Smith Jr., both of whom are currently members of the New York Knicks. Back then, though, Ntilikina went eighth overall to New York and Smith went right behind him to Dallas.
And who went four picks after Smith? None other than Utah Jazz stud Donovan Mitchell.
While it’s too early to completely give up on Ntilikina or Smith, it does seem safe to say that both the Knicks and the Mavericks are going to regret passing up on Mitchell forever.
Now, to be fair, Mitchell wasn’t on a lot of teams’ radars at the time, so the fact that he fell to No. 13 did not come as much of a surprise. But man; that stings.
Imagine the Knicks with Mitchell right now? Perhaps if they drafted Mitchell, Kristaps Porzingis would not have demanded a trade. Or, even if Porzingis did ultimately get dealt, New York would still represent a more attractive free-agent destination due to Mitchell.
To take it a step further, the Knicks would then potentially have a trump card in the Anthony Davis sweepstakes, as they would be able to offer Mitchell plus a top draft pick.
No matter which direction you take it, New York taking Ntilikina over Mitchell hurts. A lot.
As for the Mavericks? You can make the argument that, had they taken Donovan Mitchell, they wouldn’t have been in a position to nab Luka Doncic in a draft night trade with the Atlanta Hawks last June, but maybe they still would have been? Who knows.
What we do know is that Dallas bypassed an elite scoring talent to take a point guard with knee issues. That also hurts. A lot.
The funny thing is, at that time, the Knicks weren’t criticized for not taking Mitchell. Instead, they were ripped by some for rolling with Ntilikina over Smith. Obviously, that point is moot now, as New York has both guards on its team, and neither of them look all that good.
Then you have Donovan Mitchell, who is averaging 23.5 points per game in his second season. Is his efficiency questionable? Sure, but the fact that he is averaging nearly 24 points a night at the age of 22 and will likely get better is enough to make Steve Mills and Co. want to create a time machine so they can somehow convince former Knicks executive Phil Jackson to take Mitchell over Ntilikina.
To be fair to the Knicks and the Mavericks, we can literally do this in every draft.
How about all of those teams that passed up on Giannis Antetokounmpo in 2013? Or Kawhi Leonard in 2011?
But for a New York franchise that has been desperate for top-level talent for the better part of 20 years and for a Dallas squad that could potentially have a trio of Doncic, Porzingis and Mitchell, it smarts more than it usually would.
Obviously, rewriting history is never definitive, because if you go back and change one event, everything that occurs afterward gets altered, as well. But sometimes, it is so obvious that you would be better off had you done this one thing different that everything that followed would have followed suit and been better, too.
That seems to be the case with the Knicks and the Mavs when it comes to Mitchell, particularly with New York.
Every franchise misses out on stars in the draft. It happens. But when you are toiling in the basement for so long and miss out on a golden opportunity like the Knicks did two summers ago, it stands out more.
Would New York be a contender with Mitchell right now? Of course not, but it would certainly be in a much better position moving forward. Dallas? Again, it’s all about the potential of having Doncic, Porzingis and Donovan Mitchell together for the long haul.
We can belabor this point forever, but it doesn’t change the fact that the Jazz ended up with a future star and the Knicks and Mavericks got, well, not future stars.
That’s why Utah is going to the playoffs and New York and Dallas aren’t.