2024 NBA Draft: Zach Edey and Lakers draft pick Dalton Knecht entering league with plenty to prove

NEW YORK — The intersection of Atlantic and Flatbush in Brooklyn has been where big NBA dreams come to die, but it takes a break one day in June. And from some of the first-round selections in the 2024 NBA Draft, it’s the home of some well-placed resentment.

If this draft turns out to be one of those historic ones, it won’t be because it was preordained. This is the draft nestled in between the Victor Wembanyama draft and the tankathon that could happen next season, setting up the Cooper Flagg-Ace Bailey extravaganza next June.

So it’s hard to capture the night without seeing the lack of sizzle in the air, with so many teams trading to set themselves up for next year rather than this one.

Zaccharie Risacher and Alex Sarr appeared more likely to wind up as mind-bending Jeopardy! answers rather than top-tier French talents following in Wembanyama’s giant footsteps — it just didn’t seem like they cared much about the draft lacking quality or excitement, probably stemming from their foreign roots.

Reed Sheppard had the aww shucks look, going third to the Houston Rockets, but he wouldn’t have thought of himself going higher in any draft, it seems. He took advantage of the terrain around him, and his shooting will give him ample chances to play on a Rockets team that’s better than its draft standing.

But that wasn’t the case with everyone, not about the quality of the draft but their individual straits.

Dalton Knecht at the 2024 NBA Draft held at the Barclays Center on June 26, 2024 in New York City. (Photo by Steve Eichner/WWD via Getty Images)
Dalton Knecht at least appears ready for Hollywood. (Photo by Steve Eichner/WWD via Getty Images)

Imagine dropping in a draft that many believe is one of the worst in memory. Dalton Knecht was slated to go top 10, maybe as high as sixth, but fell to 17th with the Los Angeles Lakers.

There’s an excitement that came when Knecht heard about new Lakers coach JJ Redick drawing up plays to get him shots out of timeouts as soon as Redick knew Knecht would be his first draft pick, and certainly validation when considering LeBron James was singing his praises during the regular season, randomly bringing up a game Knecht played when Tennessee went against Purdue.

“I remember that clip. I woke up and rolled out of bed and I thought it was fake because tons of people were texting me. I was just like, 'There's no way,'” Knecht said. “When I watched that video, it just brought a smile to my face, and also my parents. They called me right away and told me about it. It's going to be special and it's going to be fun just to be sharing the court with both of them, AD and LeBron. LeBron is one of the greatest. So it's going to be real special.”

But being overlooked can sting in even a good draft, and it’s a tried-and-true emotion he and his draft mates will rely on heading to Summer League and beyond.

“I'd say my 'why' is I feel like I've been underrated my whole entire life ever since I was coming out of high school,” Knecht said. “I've always had a chip on my shoulder, and to this day I'll always have that chip on my shoulder to go out there and prove people wrong.”

He went from JUCO to the Big Sky to the SEC, and now he heads to the biggest pond in the NBA and believes he’s proven himself every step of the way.

"Every single time I touch a basketball or walk into a gym, I always feel like I've got something to prove,” he said.

In Los Angeles, there’s more pressure than there is opportunity. And that’s no happy place for a rookie. Zach Edey will likely have the opportunity in Memphis, even if everyone was surprised about the increasing scuttle he would go higher than the projections from months ago.

Edey didn’t bother to show up, declining a green-room invitation from the NBA. Perhaps he was doing friends and family a favor by not putting a human eclipse on the draft floor by shadowing everyone around his 7-foot-4 frame.

But there seems to be a clear pathway to him starting for a ready-made team in Memphis, if he indeed lives up to the top-10 billing. Ja Morant will be back, healthy and, presumably, out of trouble.

Jaren Jackson and Desmond Bane are still young and well-thought of around the league, with many believing this past year was a blip — an ugly one that won’t happen again if the principle parts are available.

The Minnesota Timberwolves have taken their place as the future darlings of the West, along with the riding Oklahoma City Thunder. If Edey turns out to be more than a turnstile on defense, if he can reasonably hold down the middle while Brandon Clarke gets back to full strength after his Achilles injury — he played six games to close out the season — the Grizzlies could have something.

But that’s a big if. It’s hard to say the Grizzlies drafted the best player available, or if they went for need. He played on the biggest stage recently, with Purdue making it to the national title game against Connecticut, and when the player he went head up against that day, Donovan Clingan, went two spots ahead of him, nobody blinked.

But there was an audible gasp when the Grizzlies took him, and wherever he was, he heard it.

The doubts are based in fact with plenty of evidence. Can he speed up when Morant is on a one-man fast break and needs someone to be the trail man and ready to finish?

Can he make up for those moments when Jackson gambles on defense and leaves the rim wide open? He won’t have the time or space to plod and operate at his leisure, and surely the Grizzlies know that.

Surely the Lakers know Knecht has a little edge to his game and expected to go to a place where he could make mistakes and have opportunities to play with the ball because his development would be objective No. 1 on the preseason board.

Expecting game-changers in a good draft is a bit ambitious, but doing so in a draft littered with question marks seems completely out of the question.

Tell that to Knecht, though.

“I would just say playing with a chip on my shoulder,” he said. “It doesn't matter where I'm at. It's always going to be there, having that chip on my shoulder, feeling like I've been underrated for my whole life. It's something I'm going to carry with me the rest of my career.”

He won’t be alone in carrying it, if Night 1 of this draft is any indication.