Schmeelk: What If The Knicks Don't Take RJ Barrett?

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The Knicks have a franchise-altering decision when it comes to how they use their pick in the draft on Thursday night. With Kevin Durant rupturing his Achilles, Anthony Davis being traded to the Lakers and other stars reported to be headed elsewhere, the third overall pick is the most valuable asset they have at their disposal (Mitchell Robinson is a close second) and could be their most consequential offseason addition. How they use it will go a long way to determining the future of the franchise.

The NBA is a league where you need star players to be successful. The Knicks have no one on their roster that anyone could project with any sort of confidence will become a high level primary offensive playmaker for a decent NBA team. With free agency and a potential trade looking like busts in acquiring such a player, the draft is all the Knicks have left. They need to get it right.

The world seems to be assuming that the Knicks are destined to select RJ Barrett third overall, working under the assumption Ja Morant is heading to Memphis. I wrote a detailed scouting report on Barrett here and I’ll circle back to him at the end of the story. Reports, including a recent one from Marc Berman of the New York Post, indicate the Knicks would be happy with whomever is left on the board when they select: Barrett or Morant.

The Knicks do, however, have other options. Ian Begley of SNY has reported that there are people in the organization that like both Duke’s Cam Reddish and Texas Tech’s Jarrett Culver.

Here is what else the Knicks can do with their third overall pick if they don’t draft and keep RJ Barrett:

1. Draft Someone Else 

This isn’t the blasphemy everyone else would make you think it is. Here are some other names the Knicks will think about.

Jarrett Culver: Culver’s college numbers, when compared to Barrett, aren’t much different.

Stat        RJ Barrett            Jarrett Culver

MIN       35.3                      32.5

PTS        22.6                      18.5

REB        7.6                        6.4

ASS        4.3                        3.7

STL         .9                           1.5

BLK        .4                           .6

TO          3.2                        3.3

FGA        18.5                      17.9

FTA        5.9                        5.5

FG%       45.4%                   46.1%

3PT%     30.8%                   30.4% (38% as a freshman)

FT%        66.5%                   70.7%

USG       32.2%                   32.2%

TS%    53.2%                 54.2%

DBPM    2.4                        5.8

Jarrett Culver against the Buffalo Bulls during the second round of the 2019 NCAA Tournament at BOK Center.Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Barrett is a better compiler of numbers and a more creative and prolific raw scorer, but Culver is slightly more efficient and a better defensive player. There isn’t as much separating these two players as many would have fans believe. Barrett is a year younger and has a better pedigree with his accomplishments for Canada’s FIBA program and his success in high school as his class’s consensus number one player. Culver was lightly recruited before landing with Texas Tech. Barrett was not measured at the combine but he is probably between an inch or two taller than Culver based on prior numbers.

Culver, like Barrett, was the primary playmaker for his team and was depended on to score one-on-one and from the pick and roll often, which is why their usage is identical. Culver’s Synergy numbers that depend on points per possession and measure efficiency are better than Barrett’s in several key areas:

Pick and Roll Ball Handler: 63rd percentile vs. 49th percentile

Pick and Rolls Including Passes: 67th percentile vs. 53rd percentile

Isolation: 77th percentile vs. 59th percentile

Isolation with passes: 83rd percentile vs. 73rd percentile

Spot up: 58th percentile vs. 49th percentile

Around Basket (non-post-ups) 66th percentile vs. 44th percentile

They are similar shooters (Culver cleaned up his motion a lot between his freshman and sophomore years even though his three point numbers dropped) and have similar athletic profiles (though Barrett’s body control gives him the edge), so the conversation ultimately comes down to a simple question: Do the Knicks believe with good confidence that Barrett can become an elite scorer that can carry a team? The James Harden comparisons are unfair to Barrett, but do the Knicks think he can realistically become a DeMar DeRozan type of player?

If they think that upside is real, then Barrett should be the pick. Otherwise, Culver’s defense and clearer path to being a helpful secondary player (alongside veteran stars added in free agency?) could tip the scales in his favor. Barrett is the player with the higher ceiling, but Culver may have the higher floor.

Darius Garland: As the days tick away towards the draft, there is more and more discussion about Darius Garland. Jonathan Givony of ESPN reported that the Knicks will have him in for a workout on Wednesday. Some people see his 54% FG and 47.8% 3PT in college at 6’2, 175 pounds and see a game changing scoring lead guard with elite shooting ability off the dribble. It is a highly valued skill in today’s NBA.
Others see a small sample size of only five college games (a knee injury suffered just two minutes into his fifth game cut his season short) against low level opponents from a player that’s a poor passer (2.6 assists vs. 3.0 turnovers per game) that would struggle as a point guard, and whose frame does not translate well to being a top defender. With his small college sample size, selecting him over Barrett or Culver would be extremely risky, but he might have the best perimeter scoring promise of anyone in the class. He is seen by many as having one of the highest scoring upsides in the entire draft and after Barrett, Morant and Williamson, he might be the only player left on the board with true star potential.

Darius GarlandUSA TODAY Images

2. Trade Down 

The obvious trade down target would be with the Atlanta Hawks, getting some combination of their 8th, 10th and 17th picks in return. However, a recent report indicated the Knicks would decline such a move. There’s a chance either Brandon Clarke, Garland or DeAndre Hunter could still be there at eight or ten, or the Knicks could look at someone like Cam Reddish, Coby White, Sekou Doumbouya, Romeo Langford, Kevin Porter Jr. or Nassir Little. A trade like this would make sense if the organization doesn’t think that Barrett or anyone else available at third overall has star potential. At this point, this scenario seems extremely unlikely.

The other little discussed trade down situation might come with a team just below them in the draft order. Trading down to five with the Cavaliers might be an option if Cleveland sweetens the pot enough with young players or a future pick. There are reports the Cavaliers are fond of RJ Barrett. The Pelicans are reported to be looking to trade down, but if they really wanted Barrett, the Knicks could try to extract an asset they received from the Lakers, and select Culver or Garland at four instead.

The New York Post’s Marc Berman wrote a story Tuesday that the Knicks would be open to trading Frank Ntilikina for a late first- or early second-round pick because of his $5 million salary next year. Unless the Knicks think the player they would draft is a better player than Ntilikina, trading him doesn’t make any sense. With it likely the Knicks will have more money than they can spend wisely (unless Leonard or Durant comes), moving someone for salary reasons would be silly at best, dumb at worst.

3. Trade The Pick For a Veteran

With Kevin Durant’s ruptured Achilles and the chances of the Knicks putting together a super-team of their own all but gone, trading the pick no longer makes much sense. The only way this scenario changes is if Kawhi Leonard comes to the Knicks, but this won’t be known until free agency begins on the last day of June. Until something like that happens, trading the pick in a package for (hypothetically) someone like Bradley Beal is not in the cards.

Despite reservations about parts of RJ Barrett’s game, he needs to be the pick for the Knicks at third overall. Culver may have a more complete, and perhaps even safer combination of skills, but Barrett’s pedigree and scoring knack provides a better chance he develops into someone that can lead a team offensively than Culver. Barrett’s track record is far thicker than Garland, and dating back to high school has always been considered a far superior prospect.

Despite his defensive issues at Duke, which were plentiful, especially off the ball, Barrett’s physical profile also leaves a legitimate possibility he could develop into a two-way player. The Knicks are in desperate need of complete players that can play at a high level on both ends of the floor, and they cannot pass on someone that can not only be a top scorer and initiator on offense, but also has the tools to play defense well.

You can follow me on Twitter here and please listen to my Knicks podcast The Bank Shot, where I’ve done two recent deep dives into the NBA Draft.
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