On paper, the Knicks are off to another rough start. They’ve compiled a losing record over ten games, lost Kevin Knox to injury, and it’s unclear whether or not they’ve alienated double-double machine and social media genius Enes Kanter.
It looks grim to anyone who hasn’t actually seen the team play. But the 2018-19 season has already brought its share of terrific surprises: the team plays a disciplined brand of basketball, they refuse to quit against powerhouses like Golden State, Boston and Milwaukee, Tim Hardaway is balling the fuck out, so is Allonzo Trier, who seems possessed by the ghost of John Starks, David Fizdale turned out to be the most gifable coach in the NBA next to Utah’s Quin Snyder and so much more.
One of these surprises is unheralded sophomore Damyean Dotson.
The swingman became an afterthought for Knicks fans after a disastrous Summer League in July. Today, he’s our starting small forward, barely one year after being drafted 44th overall in the NBA draft. He’s playing more minute than arguably any second rounder of his class, including Jordan Bell who was a key member of the Golden State Warriors during their last title run. He’s evolving into a better NBA player than the highly touted, such as Kansas State’s Wesley Iwundu (33rd), Cal’s Ivan Rabb (35th) and even first rounders such as North Carolina’s Tony Bradley (29th), Syracuse’s Tyler Lydon (24th) and Creighton’s Justin Patton (16th) who’s already halfway out of the league.
Have the Knicks just gotten lucky or is there a science to picking great second rounds picks?
Let’s retrace the path that lead Dotson to being drafted so low to help us understand how players like him end up making NBA GMs look like geniuses. And before we start: yes, I’ve considered discussing Mitchell Robinson’s case in this article, but chose against it. It was widely believed he would be drafted in the first round, last June. The word around the league was that he had a promise from the Lakers with the 25th pick, but they decided to go with Michigan’ Moritz Wagner instead. Their loss, right? Today, I wouldn’t swap Robinson for Wagner with a gun to my head.
So, I want to talk about Dotson because he came out of nowhere. And by that, I mean, literally nowhere.
How the NBA Draft Works
There are only two rounds to the NBA draft and both are radically different.
The first round is, of course, dedicated to top prospects, but it’s also more about player development. That’s why so many freshmen are selected and seniors who light it up in the NCAA tournament barely have a chance to shake commissioner SIlver’s hand on the podium. It’s not about what a player can do now, but what he’ll be able to do in three to five years. Some players are good right away. Jayson Tatum and Donovan Mitchell came out of the gates balling like they were Kobe Bryant and Dwyane Wade. Sometimes it takes a couple of years. Oklahoma City’s Steven Adams has blossomed into a solid defensive presence over the years, but in his lone year in Pittsburgh, he reminded me a whole lot of NBA fiascos like Daniel Orton or Omer Asik.
Sometimes it takes time. Sometimes it never happens, too. Ask Anthony Bennett about that. The first round of the NBA draft is equal science and art.
But that’s not how the second round works.
There are four types of players drafted in the second round: the old and/or unathletic player who’s actually good at basketball (Chandler Parsons, Draymond Green), the European player who’s going to remain in Europe for a couple of years and not count against the salary cap (our very own Louis Labeyrie), the talented player with a spotty resume (DeAndre Jordan), and the player everyone forgot about (Kyle O’Quinn).
Damyean Dotson is a combination of three of these. That’s how he slipped so far in the draft and why it was a stroke of genius from the Knicks’ old regime to pick him up. Say what you want about Phil Jackson and his cronies, but they almost always hit their draft picks.
How Dotson slipped (and almost went undrafted)
Dotson was drafted out of the University of Houston, but he had originally enrolled with the much more prestigious program of Oregon University. He played two uneventful years for the Ducks before getting dismissed because of a sordid sexual assault case. Feel free to think what you want, but Dotson was eventually acquitted because of testimonies that contradicted the victim’s version of events. He was judged by his peers and ruled innocent.
But because of that incident, Dotson, more or less, fell from the face of the Earth. He moved back to his native Texas, enrolled at a Houston community college and stopped playing basketball. It would’ve been the end of the line for most players in that predicament. Not for Dotson, for whom the fire still burned bright from within.
He enrolled at the less prestigious program of the University of Houston and went out there again for two more seasons, completing his college eligibility. During his senior season, he average 17 points and 6 rebounds, earning him a spot in the Porstmouth Invitational Tournament for college seniors where he was named MVP and invited to the NBA draft combine.
At that time, it was unclear whether or not he was going to be drafted. He was old, big without being strong for his position, and while he was athletic, it was unclear what he could offer that teams couldn’t find elsewhere on a player with less baggage.
What everybody else missed
Damyean Dotson was one of these pre-draft process risers that nobody even knows in March, but everybody has in their mock draft come June. Bleacher Report’s Jonathan Wasserman had him 51st. Nbadraft.net had him 46th. Mike Schmitz’s from Draft Express had him pegged as a potential sleeper, which he eventually became.
The first skill that set him apart was shot making. He was a rare second rounder who is quick and athletic enough to create his own shot:
He also showed the versatility to make shots in different scenarios:
Even more interestingly, Dotson showed the capacity for defense we all love him for today.
He projected to be a role player who could create offense on the second unit and perhaps show the ability to guard multiple positions. Teams draft players like this in the mid-to-late first round for reasons like these today. But the non-basketball related baggage Dotson carried along and his unheralded come back with University of Houston made him drop from NBA scouts’ radar altogether. But in the workmanlike fashion we know of him today, Dotson fought his way back through the Portsmouth Invitation, the NBA Draft combine and in team workouts.
Hitting your second round draft pick is all about checking simple boxes and letting go of details:
Could Damyean Dotson play basketball? He was already terrific at it.
Did he fit what the team was doing? Given that he was drafted by Phil Jackson, big guards are what the triangle offense is about. Aggressive two-way play is what David Fizdale is about, so either way he was a natural.
Were his college problems indicative of a bad work ethic/problematic character? Absolutely not.
The Knicks got Damyean Dotson because they didn’t overthink their pick. They liked what they saw and they went for it. But most important, he was given opportunities to show what he could do, even more so under David Fizdale than Jeff Hornacek, but he was given the chance to show what he could do and his work ethic never wavered when he couldn’t.
Truth is, we are lucky he fell on our lap, and he becomes yet another late draft find for the Knicks.