When the NBA Draft Lottery revealed the Knicks would get the No. 3 pick in the draft, there was a sense of disappointment combined with a sense of relief.
The disappointment was obvious: that the pain of a season that ended with the worst record in the league did not result in getting the top prize in the draft: the electrifying Zion Williamson. There was also a belief that winning the lottery, which the Knicks have not done since 1985, would signify a change of fortune for a franchise that has endured a lot of misfortune over the last six years.
But slipping to third overall in the draft was hardly the worst-case scenario when you consider the Knicks could have dropped to as low as fifth. Also consider the other teams in the bottom five in the league – the Cavaliers, Suns, Bulls and Hawks – each took significant falls and none landed in the top 4. And in a draft that many experts consider to be shallow in star-potential and laden with supporting role-type talent, this is a significant development.
So the Knicks go into Thursday night’s draft lacking the excitement of adding Zion as the first piece of a highly-anticipated offseason, but they do expect to come away with one of the best players in the draft. If the pick is RJ Barrett, Williamson’s teammate at Duke, some believe they still could wind up with the next best thing, if not more.
“I personally think RJ Barrett is the second-best player, which bodes well for the Knicks,” ESPN NBA Draft analyst Jonathan Givony told me during his appearance on the MSG 150 last week. Givony later added, “He might be the best player in the draft, honestly.”
Barrett, a 6-8 lefty, spent a few days at the MSG Training Center recently as the Knicks put a lot of time into getting to know their potential pick, who would be their highest selection since they won the lottery with Patrick Ewing in 1985. The Knicks love Barrett’s potential as a player who can fill multiple positions with an NBA-ready body that is only going to get bigger and stronger as he matures.
He has a pedigree that also suggests he has a solid support system to make himself into a great player. His father, Rowan, played for St. John’s and had a solid career as a pro overseas. His mother, Kesha, was a national-class sprinter at St. John’s and has Brooklyn roots and his aunt was also a track star who represented Jamaica in the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona. Now add to all of this the fact that Steve Nash, the two-time NBA MVP, is his godfather.
RJ just turned 19, which means he’ll be a teenager throughout his first NBA season. Central Florida coach Johnny Dawkins, who helped Coach K recruit Barrett, told us on the MSG 150 that Barrett actually should be entering his freshman year of college. “He re-classed up and went to college,” Dawkins said. “He was an 11th grader going to be a 12th grader this past season. If you can imagine that and possibly start projecting what he can be down the road, he has a huge, huge upside.”
With that in mind, you can’t expect anything close to a finished product, much like what the Knicks experienced with Kevin Knox (who, by the way, won’t turn 20 until August). Barrett has a lot of tools to suggest he could have an all-star career, with an ability to get to the rim, draw fouls and also make plays for teammates. He also has the frame and athleticism to be a solid defender.
The issue? His shot-making ability, especially from three-point range. Barrett shot 30.8% from three this season at Duke, which was a notoriously poor perimeter shooting team. His 66.5% shooting from the free throw line is an even bigger concern, because that points to a problem with mechanics and approach.
Correctable? That’s what the Knicks must figure out.
There are other options to consider at No. 3 and the Knicks have done some due diligence on a couple of them.
The first is Murray State point guard Ja Morant. Though it is highly unlikely that the Memphis Grizzlies will pass on Morant at No. 2, the Knicks still invited Morant in for a meeting and Morant — despite the prevailing belief he will be taking pictures with NBA commissioner Adam Silver when the Knicks are on the clock – willingly accepted.
Morant leaped up the NBA Draft board this winter as a sophomore with a dazzling style that made many draw parallels to Russell Westbrook. Morant is explosive, shifty and possesses a sweet jumper. Any questions about him doing it against mid-major competition were answered when he put up a triple-double in a huge upset win over Markus Howard and Marquette in the first round of the NCAA tournament.
Another name to watch is also a player who opened eyes during an NCAA tournament run: Jarrett Culver. The 6-7 guard from Texas Tech went all the way to the national championship game. Culver has NBA size and a work-ethic that has turned him from an off-the-radar high school recruit into a top 5 pick in the NBA Draft.
Culver appears like he could be the type of player who can have an impact on both ends of the court, as his competitiveness shows on the defensive end, as well. There are some concerns with his shooting form and questions about his ability to be a front line scorer in the NBA, but there are a lot of intangibles about his game and personality to love.
The Knicks also met with another Duke star, Cam Reddish, which was curious, since he isn’t projected to be a top 5 pick. But Reddish is the biggest enigma in the draft and has scouting departments for every team in the top 10 worried.
Why? Simply put, he just LOOKS like he should be a can’t –miss star. Reddish is 6-8 and has a 7-1 wingspan. He has a beautiful shooting form and yet when you see he shot just 33% from three, you wonder why?
Then you see he shot 39.4% from two-point range and you wonder…HOW?
Reddish has all the tools and there is some thought into the fact that maybe he was just a bad fit at Duke, with Williamson and Barrett dominating the basketball. This is why you bring him in, talk to him and watch him with your own eyes before you dismiss him as an option.
The Knicks have a second-round pick in this draft and it’s at No. 55. There has been talk that they are actively looking to trade up in the second round, which is something to watch.
While it will be tough to match the success of last year’s diamond-in-the-rough second-round find in Mitchell Robinson, you may see the Knicks aim for a project – such as 7-7 center Tacko Fall (Central Florida) – or go for older college players who could provide good depth to the roster.
Some older college players to watch include: Dylan Windler, 22 (Belmont), arguably the best shooter in the draft and in the NBA, everyone needs shooting; Ty Jerome, 21 (Virginia), an Iona Prep product who is has playmaking skills and a good shooter; Eric Paschall, 22 (Villanova), a 6’8” “glue-guy” type who can do anything the team needs, including defense. He grew up just a few miles from the Knicks practice facility; Aubrey Dawkins, 24 (Central Florida), has an NBA body and game at the off-guard position; Ethan Happ, 23 (Wisconsin), good size (6-10) and terrific overall skills, especially as a defender in the paint, but the knock on him has been a lack of range (0 for 5 from three this season and 1 for 11 as a junior).
The Knicks, like all teams, will sign players after the draft to fill out a roster for the NBA Summer League, which begins July 5 in Las Vegas. It is expected that Knox, Robinson and Allonzo Trier will be among the participants on what could be a fun team to watch this summer.
Make sure to tune into MSG Network on draft night, this Thursday, June 20, for coverage of the Knicks selections and all NBA news that comes out of the night.