After a disappointing 10-24 record in the 2019 season, the New York Liberty received the number one pick for the WNBA draft, its first in team history. On April 17, with the number one pick, the Liberty selected University of Oregan guard and NCAA standout Sabrina Ionescu, who was considered the best collegiate prospect in the draft.
Over the course of her collegiate career, Ionescu became the first player in NCAA history to score more than 2,000 career points as well as more than 1,000 career rebounds and assists. Ionescu also holds the NCAA all-time record with 26 career triple-doubles and has won two John R. Wooden Awards, which are given to the most outstanding men’s and women’s collegiate basketball players. In addition to her on-court accolades, Ionescu brings her “mamba mentality” work ethic and an excitement in “having a platform and a voice” with a team that has not made the playoffs since 2017.
Not satisfied with having the first and 13th picks in the draft, the Liberty traded the 31-year-old all-star Tina Charles to the Washington Mystics in a three-team trade that netted the Liberty the 12th pick in WNBA draft from Washington and the ninth and 15th picks from the Dallas Wings. Trading Charles signaled that the Liberty was ready to embrace the youth movement and prioritize homegrown talent, something their NBA counterpart, the New York Knicks, has yet to do.
Since drafting Hall of Famer Patrick Ewing with the number one draft pick of the 1985 NBA draft, the New York Knicks have yet to draft a homegrown player that has led the team to anything promising. Under Ewing, the Knicks reached the NBA playoffs for 13 consecutive seasons, even reaching the NBA Finals in 1994 and 1999.
Recently, the New York Knicks have not succeeded in drafting NBA quality players. In 2009, the Knicks drafted Jordan Hill with the eighth pick, who only lasted half a season before getting traded. In 2017, the Knicks drafted Frank Ntilikina, who has a career scoring average of only six points per game. In 2018, the Knicks drafted Kevin Knox II, who has a career scoring average of 6.4 points per game.
When drafting the 7-foot-3 Latvian forward, Kristaps Porzingis, with the number four pick in the 2015 NBA Draft, despite the initial reactions, the Knicks had finally drafted a prospect with the potential to lead them to the playoffs. In just his second season, Porzingis averaged 18.1 points per game on 35.7% shooting from the three-point line. This efficiency from long-distance is rare for a big man — so rare that Porzingis received the nickname “The Unicorn.” However, in the 2017-2018 season, Porzingis tore his ACL and due to contract disputes and the Knicks’s desire to clear cap space for the star-studded 2019 NBA Free Agency Class, Porzingis was traded to the Dallas Mavericks.
The Knicks’s far-fetched plan to use the number one pick to draft NCAA superstar Zion Williamson and sign NBA All-Stars Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving failed miserably. Despite having one of the best odds for having the number one draft pick in the 2019 NBA Draft, the Knicks fell to the third pick, missing their opportunity to draft Williamson, who went number one overall to the New Orleans Pelicans. Instead of signing Durant and Irving, who decided to sign with the Brooklyn Nets, the Knicks signed a plethora of power forwards to complement their young core. Now, with an oddly constructed rotation, unlike the Liberty, the Knicks lack direction; their off-season moves indicate their desire to make the playoffs, but their talent and record indicates the necessity to rebuild.
Although Ionescu’s long-awaited debut will be delayed due to the outbreak of the coronavirus, it is clear that the New York Liberty is rebuilding the right way, and it is time for the New York Knicks to follow suit.
A version of this article appeared in the Monday, April 20, 2020 e-print edition. Email Arvind Sriram at [email protected]