R.J. Barrett
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Zion Williamson is the NBA Draft goal, but the New York Knicks should also give his teammate R.J. Barrett a fair look.

Mark it down, folks, because the New York Knicks are in full tank mode.

Kristaps Porzingis is out along with Tim Hardaway Jr. and Courtney Lee’s hefty salaries. Dennis Smith Jr. and DeAndre Jordan are in. Now, we prepare for the NBA Draft lottery and our inevitable Top 3 pick.

That means to tell the manufacturers to get a head start on making Zion Williamson jerseys, right?


If there are any fans looking for an article waxing poetic about Williamson’s inevitable New York arrival, this is not the place. Keep in mind, I already wrote a piece outlining my concerns with him, namely his lack of both height and a mid-range game.

Rather, let’s shift focus to Williamson’s Duke Blue Devils teammate R.J. Barrett. He too is generating a lot of pre-draft buzz. NBADraft.net has him going No. 3 to the Cleveland Cavaliers in its latest mock draft, but the Knicks too should have a look at him ahead of June 20.

Sure, Zion is the preferred pick, but don’t sleep on Barrett. Believe it or not, he may actually be the better fit in New York.

Playing the lottery

Ah, the NBA Draft Lottery, the Black Friday to the actual NBA Draft’s Christmas Day! Think about it. On Black Friday, people research the best deals and sales at various places and then buy at a discount fancy toys or gadgets to give out on Christmas. Similarly, the draft lottery gives teams in it an idea of what top college or international players they can get on the cheap so that fans may cheer or boo accordingly at the actual draft.

And where do the Knicks fit in all this? Well, they’re going to be making a lottery pick for the third year in a row and fourth time in five years. Not only that, but New York currently owns the NBA’s worst record at 10-43. That means they’ll automatically land the first overall pick, right?

Not so fast. Per new rules agreed upon before last season, the three worst teams in the NBA now all share the same chances of landing the first pick. Similarly, the team with the NBA’s worst record can fall no lower than fifth in the draft order. This means the Knicks, Phoenix Suns, and Cleveland Cavaliers all have a 14 percent chance of picking first in June.

Thus, though the idea of picking Zion Williamson first is by no means farfetched, it is far from guaranteed and management should scout R.J. Barrett just as much.

A perfect New York fit

Now, let’s talk about how the Knicks’ needs following the Kristaps Porzingis trade. In a nutshell, every area could use some help. That said, assuming the team lands the first pick and uses it on Zion Williamson, he’ll play power forward. If Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving come to New York soon after, the point guard and likely small forward spots are covered.

But what if the Knicks have the second pick instead of the first? Barring a major surprise from Phoenix or Cleveland, chances are they won’t land Williamson. Well, it just so happens New York has a need at shooting guard with Tim Hardaway Jr. joining KP in Dallas. That void can be filled by, you guessed it, R.J. Barrett.

And Barrett, like his teammate, is no slouch. He is a former five-star recruit and McDonald’s All-American. He’s got great build for his position at 6-foot-7, 202 pounds and is averaging 23 points per game for Duke. Barrett has also shot 45 percent from the field compared to just 31.4 percent from long range, but that’s not a problem. He only averages 6.2 attempts from three-point land compared to 18.9 field goal attempts per game.

Barrett has also shown prowess as a rebounder, posting 7.2 boards per game. Do you know another shooting guard who can score lots of points and also rebound? Why none other than reigning MVP James Harden!

Granted, Barrett is still just 18 years old and has a lot to work on before he’s in Harden territory. However, that he is more than just some college star who scores lots of points is a good thing. Even better, he can create offense in multiple ways and not just via dunks and three-pointers, a la Williamson.

Final thoughts

All in all, the Knicks will not be worse off with R.J. Barrett if, for one reason or another, they miss out on Zion Williamson. Neither prospect is better than the other since they’re two completely different types of players.

That said, here’s a question for all New York Knicks fans. Even if the team lands the first overall pick and drafts Barrett over Williamson, does that mean Perry failed the draft? Absolutely not. He’s a smart man and won’t make that decision hastily. Think of it as the front office having a movie night and opting to watch Good Will Hunting over Avengers: Age of Ultron. Both movies are great and have their merits, but to put them side by side and try to argue one as better than the other is ridiculous. It all comes down to a combination of personal preference and which is a better fit for the group.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is why the Knicks need to keep R.J. Barrett in the back of their minds. There is still a lot of time between now and the NBA Draft Combine in May. Who’s to say Perry won’t prefer Barrett over Williamson, or vice versa, or another player over both?

The point is with Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, and more hitting free agency in July, both Williamson and Barrett are great selling points. Regardless of who the Knicks pick, their odds of landing top free agents would already increase.

If that pick is used on R.J. Barrett, the Knicks could certainly do worse.

Josh Benjamin has been a staff writer at ESNY since 2018. He has had opinions about everything, especially the Yankees and Knicks. He co-hosts the “Bleacher Creatures” podcast and is always looking for new pieces of sports history to uncover, usually with a Yankee Tavern chicken parm sub in hand.