Scott Perry, RJ Barrett
ESNY Graphic, AP Photo

The New York Knicks greatest NBA Draft weapon is not selecting RJ Barrett at No. 3, but rather trading down and collecting assets.

Justin Birnbaum

The third overall pick in the 2019 NBA Draft is worth more as a trade asset than any selection the New York Knicks could make, which is why their top priority should be to trade back in the lottery.

After a dismal season posting an NBA worst record of 17-65, the new changes implemented to the NBA Draft Lottery cost the Knicks the chance to draft Duke’s budding superstar, Zion Williamson. But drafting third also means missing out on the next best alternative, Murray State guard Ja Morant. Instead, if the Knicks hold onto their pick, they are almost certain to select Duke forward RJ Barrett.

But is settling for the third-ranked prospect, according to ESPN, in a draft filled with two generational talents, really the best course of action?

The answer is no.

Moving back in the lottery offers the Knicks a chance to stockpile assets, a strategy that allowed the Houston Rockets and Boston Celtics to progressively improve into championship contenders in the last few years. With the rumored arrival of Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving, the 2019-20 Knicks could be poised to compete for a championship.

Having more flexibility to acquire peripheral pieces to their potentially star-studded core will only benefit their pursuit. While the drop-off after Williamson and Morant is significant, this year’s deep draft class indicates a breadth of talent outside of Barrett and affords the Knicks the opportunity to pick up an extra draft pick and add an impactful player to next season’s cause.

Entering this past season, Barrett highlighted a star-studded recruiting class for Duke featuring three of the top-five high school prospects. Despite coming in as the top prospect in the nation, Barrett quickly became the Robin to Williamson’s Batman and his star power faded over the course of the season.

Even with all of his offensive upside, Barrett’s single season at Duke revealed his flaws. According to The Ringer’s NBA Draft Guide, compiled by Kevin O’Connor, Danny Chau and Jonathan Tjarks, Barrett lacks offensive playmaking ability on and off-the-ball, lacks natural touch at the rim, struggles from both the three-point and free-throw lines (despite good mechanics) and under-utilizes his off-hand.

Their evaluation also questions Barrett’s commitment defensively, saying, “He’s a ball watcher off-ball who routinely misses defensive rotations; on-ball, he often falls out of his stance possibly due to a lack of interest, awareness, or energy.”

The Knicks cannot afford to draft another deficient defender after Kevin Knox, the ninth overall pick in 2018, proved to be abhorrent defensively. According to NBA.com, Knox’ 114.7 defensive rating (a player’s efficiency at preventing the other team from scoring) left him ranked 131st in the NBA in 2018-19 among players averaging at least 25 minutes per game and 60 games played.

New York Knicks

Fortunately for New York, the lottery is littered with players with the potential to add value defensively. Virginia forward De’Andre Hunter can guard multiple positions and negate a team’s pick-and-roll. Texas center Jaxson Hayes has the potential to provide elite rim protection. Gonzaga big man Brandon Clarke draws comparisons to Toronto’s Pascal Siakam with great shot-blocking skills and an ability to switch onto wings and guards.

Oregon center Bol Bol can inherently protect the rim with his great length. North Carolina forward Nassir Little may be the most intriguing of the group, showing prowess guarding big men, wings and guards. With the exception of Hunter, who is projected fourth overall, all of these players will likely be selected in 10th or later according to The Ringer.

But trading back in the lottery can be more than adding assets or hedging against a draft night mishap. There are always undervalued players to be found outside of the top picks. The Milwaukee Bucks drafted superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo 15th overall in 2013.

The Golden State Warriors assembled their championship core of Stephen Curry (2009), Klay Thompson (2011) and Draymond Green (2012) with the seventh, 11th and 35th picks, respectively. Successfully mine the draft for talent and the rewards can be infinite.

Putting his deficiencies aside, Barrett is still an elite offensive prospect from a top-tier college program. With plus athleticism, solid rebounding skills, reliable ball handling skills and a nasty Euro-step, Barrett’s game should translate to the NBA on some level.

But fresh off a horrible season with the possibility of two franchise-changing superstars on the way, the New York Knicks are better off trading their pick and getting better defensively.

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