It's been 44 years since the New York Knicks last won an NBA championship, and if you add them all up, the Knicks have only won two titles in their 71-year existence. That's not exactly pre-2016 Chicago Cubs-level inability to win a pro league title, but a look back at the Knicks' long history will show you how often they've been at the bottom, or close to the bottom of the NBA standings. Just like they've been for many parts of the 21st century.
While the Knicks have drafted the likes of Willis Reed, Patrick Ewing, and most recently, Kristaps Porzingis, they've also made some colossal mistakes in the draft, selecting fodder instead of future stars, and sometimes ultimately setting themselves back instead of moving forward. Wonder how Mike Sweetney ranks among the list of Knicks draft blunders? Or how about guys like Frederic Weis, or if you want to go further back, Larry Demic and Eugene Short?
There’s a reason why this list is called “15 Draft Mistakes” and not “15 Draft Busts.” We’ve also got to include those times the Knicks traded future draft picks away in midseason, and ended up paying dearly for it. But this list will still be heavy on the draft busts, as we now look back on the New York Knicks' 15 biggest draft-related blunders in the team's seven decade-plus history.
15 MICHAEL WRIGHT AND ERIC CHENOWITH (#38 AND #42, 2001)
In 2001, the New York Knicks had two selections in the draft, but alas, neither of them were first-rounders — 38th overall pick Michael Wright from the University of Arizona and 42nd pick Eric Chenowith from Kansas. Wright's 6'8"-240 frame had "three-four tweener" written all over it, while Chenowith was a 7'2" giant who averaged less than 10 points a game as a senior.
Given that the Knicks had two second-rounders in 2001 and neither of them played in the NBA, we've got to seriously question what they saw in these two prospects, even if one shouldn't expect second-rounders to blossom into superstars. On a sad note, Wright was only 35 years old when he was found dead in his SUV in 2015, apparently murdered by his roommate and an accomplice.
14 GIVING AWAY THEIR 2014 AND 2016 FIRST-ROUNDERS IN THE MELO DEAL
Remember that time in the 2010-11 season, when the New York Knicks bundled several players and picks, including their 2014 and 2016 first-rounders, in the multi-team blockbuster deal that brought Carmelo Anthony home to the Big Apple? That was a massive trade, mind you, and it was supposed to take the Knicks to the next level.
Undoubtedly, Melo has continued to play at a high level for the Knicks, though as you probably know, he wants out of New York, and may be playing elsewhere after the 2016-17 trade deadline. And the Knicks surely could have used some first-rounders in 2014 and 2016, as they finished a miserable 17-65 in 2014-15 and are on track to miss the playoffs this season. Had they kept the #12 pick in 2014, the Knicks could have had Dario Saric (the actual 12th pick), Zach LaVine, or TJ Warren, to name a few. And had they kept this season’s #7 pick, their options would have included actual 7th pick Jamal Murray, Marquesse Chriss, or even the erstwhile-disappointing Jakob Poeltl, who would have filled a need at center.
13 MACIEJ LAMPE (#30, 2003)
Ahead of the 2003 draft, scouts were drooling over Polish big man Maciej Lampe. While he was only 18 years old and a benchwarmer for Real Madrid in Spain, the likes of Chad Ford were crazy about the youngster’s uncanny shooting ability for someone almost seven feet tall. But Ford, who’s gained a lot of infamy for how the players he’d hype up ultimately turned into busts, was actually conservative when he had Lampe pegged as the potential 17th pick — some had him potentially cracking the top five.
In any case, it was a big shocker when Lampe fell to #30 overall and went to the Knicks, and many were still expecting him to be the next big Euro star. He was a big Euro alright, but no star – he never played for the Knicks, only suiting up when he was traded to Phoenix midway through the 2003-04 season. His career numbers? 3.4 points and 2.2 rebounds per game in three seasons, which are, to be fair, better than those of Nikoloz Tskitishvili.
12 JORDAN HILL (#8, 2009)
One may contest Jordan Hill's inclusion in this list, being that he's had a long and fairly productive NBA career, and is valued for his ability to haul down rebounds. But you'd expect more from someone who was selected with the eighth overall pick in the 2009 draft. At that time, the Knicks needed a point guard, and Brandon Jennings, Jrue Holiday, Ty Lawson, and Jeff Teague were all available. (They did end up signing Chris Duhon, who was decent as a starting point guard.)
It did take some time for Hill's career to gain momentum, but he certainly didn't do it with the New York Knicks — he was traded midway through his rookie year to the Houston Rockets. And even if he did put up some nice numbers recently with the Los Angeles Lakers, it's safe to say that he's probably peaked as a guy who makes a good role player at the four, but would never attain stardom befitting of his draft status.
11 SLAVKO VRANES (#39, 2003)
Slavko "No Relation to Former NBA Draft Bust Danny" Vranes is one of three players 7'2" or above in this list, and he is definitely the tallest, at 7'5". Unlike fellow 2003 second-round European Maciej Lampe, there were no such expectations of NBA stardom for the gangling Serbian, but one had to question the wisdom of the Knicks taking a second-round flyer on Vranes when they cut him a day before Christmas in 2003. Yeah, we get that he's tall, but could he play?
Apparently, he just wasn't very skilled, and he just couldn't adjust to the NBA style of play. Vranes did get to play in the NBA, but it was for all of three minutes in one game, as the Portland Trail Blazers signed him to a ten-day deal soon after he was cut by the Knicks.
10 EUGENE SHORT (#9, 1975)
TheSportster recently had a list of NBA players who played in the shadow of their siblings. As Eugene Short was a Knicks first-rounder over four decades ago, we understand why he didn't make that list, but he did have a much shorter (no pun intended) and much less successful pro career than his younger brother Purvis, who was a regular 20-ppg scorer for the Golden State Warriors in the 1980s.
Like Purvis Short, Eugene was a big scorer for Jackson State in the 1970s, where he averaged close to 27 points and 10 rebounds a game. But unlike his little brother, he wasn't able to grasp the NBA style of basketball and adjust to its level of competition, and lasted just 27 games for the Knicks before getting traded to Seattle, where he played another seven games before wrapping up his NBA career.
9 MISSING OUT ON A CHANCE TO DRAFT SCOTTIE PIPPEN IN 1987
In November 1986, the Knicks, needing a bit more help in the backcourt, traded their 1987 first-rounder and a 1990 second-rounder to the Seattle SuperSonics for journeyman Gerald Henderson (the dad of the current NBA player of the same name) and the Sonics' 1987 first-rounder. It was a classic example of getting immediate help and worrying about the future later.
In the end, the Knicks sucked big-time in 1986-87, and looked to be worse for the deal when they ended up with the 18th pick in the 1987 draft, despite finishing 24-58. The good news? They used that pick to select Mark Jackson, and he went on to have a long, successful NBA career, including several standout years with the Knicks. The bad news? They missed out on the 5th pick, which they could have used to draft a NAIA standout whom scouts were raving about, some kid named Scottie Pippen. Or, if they wanted a point guard, Kevin Johnson would have made a nice choice.
Just think how different the NBA would have been had Pippen ended up with the Knicks, and not the Bulls, who snagged him from the Sonics in a draft-day trade.
8 ALMOST EVERY FIRST-ROUNDER FROM THE 1960s
The New York Knicks had tons of draft busts in the 1960s, back when the team was a perennial NBA doormat. So why not combine all of them in one entry?
First, there’s Darrall Imhoff (#3, 1960), who’s notorious for being one of the centers who guarded Wilt Chamberlain during his 100-point game. Ironically, he made his name on defense and rebounding, but career averages of 7.2 points and 7.6 rebounds hint at a generally disappointing NBA run. Illness derailed super scorer Tom Stith’s (#2, 1961) career, same with being too short (6’5”) to play small forward. Paul Hogue (#2, 1962) was a college teammate of Oscar Robertson’s who had good size for the time (6’9”-240) and an underwhelming pro game. Art Heyman (#1, 1963) started out well, but the high-scoring ex-Dookie’s hot temper and poor work ethic caused his game to taper off soon after.
But wait, there’s more! Jim Barnes (#1, 1964) played decently as a Knicks rookie, but failed to succeed elsewhere when Willis Reed made him superfluous. Dave Stallworth (#3, 1965) was a career backup, and Bill Hosket (#10, 1968) and John Warren (#11, 1969) were career benchwarmers. Only Bill Bradley (territorial, 1965), Cazzie Russell (#1, 1966), and Walt Frazier (#5, 1967) were worth it for the Knicks, and we're sort-of pushing it with Russell, who had a good, but not great career after being compared to Oscar Robertson in college.
7 FRANK WILLIAMS (#25, 2002)
Before Deron Williams began his own decorated career in Illinois, the Fighting Illini's starting point guard was the unrelated Frank Williams, a big star in the college ranks who had the makings of at least a decent backup with a fairly long career. And while he was originally selected by the Denver Nuggets in the 2002 draft, the Knicks acquired him in a draft-day trade that also included Antonio McDyess, with the Nuggets getting Marcus Camby, Nene, and an ancient Mark Jackson.
Trading Jackson away was a sign that the Knicks had big plans for Williams in the future. Those plans were on the brink of realization in his second year, but Stephon Marbury's midseason acquisition in 2003-04 turned the youngster back into an afterthought. He was done after just three NBA seasons, which also included a forgettable nine-game stint with the Bulls where he showed to training camp out of shape.
6 KENNY WALKER (#5, 1986)
Kenny Walker is remembered for two things in his NBA career — his apt nickname of "Sky," being that he was quite the dunker and did end up winning the 1989 Slam Dunk Contest, and his Kid n' Play-influenced hairdo. No, Nerlens Noel, you were not the first Kentucky alum-turned NBA player to rock the high-top fade.
Unfortunately, dunking was just about the only NBA-level skill Walker brought to the table as the fifth overall pick of the sorry 1986 NBA draft. He was a dominating forward in the NCAA, but simply didn't have the shooting stroke or offensive diversity to excel in the NBA as a three, or the size and strength to make it as a four. Walker was off to Europe after five subpar seasons with the Knicks, and returned home in 1993 to continue where he left off, warming the bench for the Washington Bullets.
5 TOM RIKER (#8, 1972)
Tom Riker was one of many New York schoolboys whom legendary coach Frank McGuire took to the south, and was a first-team All-American as the South Carolina Gamecocks' starting center in 1971-72. With Willis Reed and Jerry Lucas both in the twilight of their legendary careers, the Knicks thought it would be a good idea to bring the 6'10" Riker back home and draft him eighth overall in 1972.
It wasn't a good idea after all, as Riker played only 14 games as a rookie, stuck in the third string behind Reed and John Gianelli, with Lucas splitting time at the four and five. It was more of the same in his second pro season, and in his third, the Knicks promoted journeyman-caliber Gianelli to the starting job following Reed and Lucas' retirements. Riker was done after that, but at least he can say he played with the Knicks when they won their last NBA championship.
4 LARRY DEMIC (#9, 1979)
Larry Demic may have been the proto-Jordan Hill. Great college numbers approximating 20-10, with possible 15-10 potential in the pros, also a power forward prospect from the University of Arizona. But unlike Hill, who slightly shed his draft bust status rather late in his still-ongoing career, Demic never got a chance to redeem himself after flopping with the Knicks. He did, in all fairness, have a decent start to his rookie year, only to lose playing time as the Knicks tried — and failed — to make a run for the playoffs.
Instead of progressing, Demic regressed as his three-year NBA career continued, as the Knicks preferred his harder-working fellow 1979 first-rounder Sly Williams at the four, despite his being a natural three. By 1981-82, the Knicks had Maurice Lucas, and Demic was history by season's end, moving on to the CBA and the international circuit.
3 DONTAE' JONES (#21, 1996)
Not to be confused with Dahntay Jones, who came along much later, this other Jones whose first name is also an alternate spelling of "Dante" was one of three forwards drafted in the mid-late first round by the New York Knicks in 1996. He also was the least successful of the three, and the only one never to play a minute of basketball for the Knicks. One year after missing the entire 1996-97 season with an injury, Jones was traded to the Boston Celtics in October 1997.
Despite entering the NBA with glowing scouting reports and big-time scoring potential, Dontae' Jones was a flop, a head case who lasted just one unremarkable season with the Celtics. And while he was quite a big deal out of Mississippi State back then, he's so obscure these days that you're likely to get a good number of "Dahntay Jones" results if you Google his name and try to research his past accomplishments.
2 MICHAEL SWEETNEY (#8, 2003)
A 6'8"-275 power forward out of Georgetown, Michael Sweetney didn't take long to live up to his last name. And he probably liked more than just sweets — he probably liked his pizza and burgers too, as weight problems plagued him from his very first season in the NBA. All too often, Sweetney's weight was an issue for the NBA teams he played for, and he was traded by the Knicks to the Bulls after just two seasons. Suffice to say he didn't do much better.
On the positive side, Sweetney could score from inside, and he did his part hauling down the boards. But his tweenerish height and NFL lineman-esque girth, and in relation to the latter, his poor conditioning and stamina, made it hard for him to get even more than 20 minutes a game in the NBA. Since his last NBA game in 2007, he's played in several countries, and is currently playing for a team in the Uruguayan leagues.
1 FREDERIC WEIS (#15, 1999)
The New York Knicks were looking for someone to replace the aging Patrick Ewing in the 1999 draft, so with the 15th overall pick, they went for the biggest guy available — 7'2" French center Frederic Weis. That caused quite an uproar among Knicks fans, as hometown boy Ron Artest was still available, and had, in fact, gotten selected right after Weis, going to the Chicago Bulls. Why gamble on this giant-sized European project when you've got a tried-and-tested two-way guy in the future Metta World Peace? The answer was simple — he had height, and lots of it.
One year later, Team USA was playing France in the 2000 Olympic basketball finals, and in a moment that will forever live in infamy, at least for big Fred, Vince Carter completely posterized Weis in what is now known as "le dunk de la mort," or "the dunk of death." If there was anyone in the NBA taking him seriously then, they stopped doing so, and Weis never played in an NBA game, despite having the towering height so many teams crave for.