Knicks Triumph in the Draft — Almost

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Not Stephen Curry: Jordan Hill. Photo: Getty Images

In grand NBA Draft tradition, the Knicks’ first-round pick last night, Arizona power forward Jordan Hill, was booed by the fans at Madison Square Garden. It’s never the draft pick’s fault when this happens — Renaldo Balkman’s sole crime was having a funny name — but it really wasn’t Hill’s fault: His offense was not being Stephen Curry.

The Knicks were so close last night to grabbing Curry that when the NBA commissioner strode to the podium to announce that the Golden State Warriors had selected Curry one spot before the Knicks’ pick, even he sounded disappointed. The Knicks could have had a charismatic, electric talent who desperately wanted to come here … and the Golden State Warriors ruined it. (It’s particularly galling that there are rumors that the Warriors picked Curry only so they could later trade him, along with others, to Phoenix for Amare Stoudemire.) You couldn’t blame fans for booing Jordan Hill, but he shouldn’t take it personally.

It’s a shame, too, because Hill’s a solid player, a thin, quick six foot ten forward who’s more lithe than muscular — theoretically, an ideal fit in coach Mike D’Antoni’s system. (D’Antoni, in a bit of dubious hyperbole, said the Knicks had Hill ranked as the second-best player in the draft.) He won’t be a star, but he won’t be Renaldo Balkman either. He’d make an ideal running mate with a whip-fast point guard and a powerful ball-handling small forward … you know, someone like LeBron James. (Ahem.) Hill also makes it likely that the Knicks will value David Lee less — he is a similar, if thicker and less offensively skilled, player. And the Knicks utilized one of their few advantages at the end of the first round, essentially buying the Lakers’ pick at 29, bringing in Florida State’s Toney Douglas, a defense-minded point guard. Oh, and they finalized the Quentin Richardson for Darko Milicic trade, so, you know, get out there and buy those jerseys.

The Knicks didn’t do much to change their franchise. They made some smart, harmless picks … but there was no Curry, and, specifically, no Ricky Rubio, the Spanish guard selected by the Minnesota Timberwolves with the fifth pick. (As ESPN’s Bill Simmons pointed out last night, Rubio will become the first NBA player born in the nineties. Yikes.) Rubio is arguably one of the true game-changers in the draft, the type of guy you can build a franchise with … or, of course, destroy it with if he turns out to be a flop.

And hey, there’s hope! Bizarrely, the Timberwolves drafted Syracuse’s Jonny Flynn, another point guard, right after Rubio, and Rubio’s father has already implied that his son might rather go back to Spain for a year or two than play for the team. Unless they trade him to a team of Rubio’s choosing … and one of those teams is the Knicks. This is a little bratty of Rubio, but his petulance could be the Knicks’ blessing. It might be the only chance for them to get the impact player from this draft they needed, and were so, so close to.