Walsh was the chief executive of the Indiana Pacers. Danny Granger was a smooth-scoring swingman for New Mexico. He was projected as a top-10 pick, way beyond the Pacers’ reach.
“I had no hope that Granger would be there,” said Walsh, who became the president of the in 2008. “I mean, none.”
But the draft got weird around the 11th pick, when the Orlando Magic took Fran Vázquez of Spain, and got weirder when the Los Angeles Clippers selected Yaroslav Korolev of Russia next. Then the Charlotte Bobcats chose sentiment over talent, taking North Carolina’s Sean May.
Names kept coming off the board — Rashad McCants to Minnesota, Antoine Wright to the Nets, Joey Graham to Toronto — but Granger remained.
“I was shocked when he got to us,” Walsh said.
Granger became a Pacer and an All-Star and has outperformed all but 4 of the 16 players taken ahead of him, proving once more that the draft is rarely predictable, or even logical.
That is an axiom worth remembering as Walsh heads into Thursday’s draft with the 17th selection, to make what will probably be the last pick of his storied career.
Walsh, 70, is stepping down as the Knicks’ president at the end of the month, ending a 25-year run as a team executive in Indianapolis and in New York. He will slide into semiretirement as a consultant for the Knicks in the near term, with no intent to return to a prominent role.
Walsh’s legacy at Madison Square Garden is secure. He restored sanity and respectability, cleared the books, signed Amar’e Stoudemire and collected the assets that helped the Knicks acquire Carmelo Anthony. They now boast two of the brightest stars in the game.
So the choice Walsh makes Thursday will not define his tenure, though it could enhance it. Expectations from the 17th pick are generally low, and it usually takes a few years to judge a draft intelligently.
If this is in fact his last draft, Walsh said he would feel no added pressure and no sense of sentimentality.
“You guys always talk like this,” Walsh said gruffly, chuckling, “like it’s going to be a big star put next to my name or something.”
He added, “This draft is as exciting to me as the first draft and all the drafts in between.”
It may be as challenging as any of them, with an extraordinarily weak pool of prospects and no predictability beyond the top 10, or perhaps even the top five. As one personnel director put it, the players available at 11 may be no better than those available at 18.
The Knicks’ rotation is full of holes — center, shooting guard, backup point guard and throughout the bench. They need shooters, defenders and rebounders. They will probably have to wait for free agency, whenever it begins, to fill those needs.
The two best shooters in the draft, Jimmer Fredette and Klay Thompson, are expected to be taken in the top 15. Chris Singleton, who may be the best perimeter defender, will probably not fall to the Knicks either. Nor are there likely to be any skilled big men on the board at 17.
The Knicks are keeping an eye on shooting guards Marshon Brooks of Providence and Alec Burks of Colorado, one of whom could fall to them. They are among the many teams intrigued by Bismack Biyombo, an 18-year-old center from Congo, who has drawn frequent (and probably premature) comparisons to Ben Wallace. They could find rebounding help from Kenneth Faried, a 6-foot-8 power forward from Morehead State who offsets his lack of height with a 7-foot wingspan.
Trading up is unlikely. The Knicks have just two young players who might entice another team — Landry Fields and Toney Douglas — both of whom might be better than anyone available with, say, the 10th pick. Given the Knicks’ crippling lack of depth, they cannot afford to give up, effectively, two players (the 17th pick and Douglas or Fields) for one middling prospect in a bad draft class.
For those reasons, Walsh said, “I wouldn’t say we’ve been really active” in trying to move up.
Walsh’s draft record in New York has been mixed. His first pick, Danilo Gallinari (sixth in 2008), has shown great skill and promise and was the key piece in the Anthony deal. Douglas (29th in 2009 in a trade with the Los Angeles Lakers) and Fields (39th in 2010) were fantastic late pickups. Walsh missed in 2009, when he took Jordan Hill with the eighth pick.
But the draft is an inexact science, and every veteran general manager has his share of hits and misses. Walsh is comfortable with his track record and the Knicks’ future.
“The first step has been taken, and I’m glad I was part of that,” Walsh said, “and I want to finish that off with a good draft and hopefully we can improve upon our team for next year.”