New York Knicks: Should they want RJ Barrett over Ja Morant anyway?

Murray State Ja Morant (Photo by Stephen Furst/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
Murray State Ja Morant (Photo by Stephen Furst/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images) /

Following recent reports that the Grizzlies may no longer be locked into selecting Murray State point guard Ja Morant with the second overall pick in this year’s draft, should the New York Knicks be altering their big board?

It has long been accepted within league circles that the upcoming draft class possessed three elite-level prospects, and the fourth selection would mark a significant drop off in talent. The order of the draft’s “big three” was assumed to be Zion Williamson to the Pelicans, Morant to the Grizzlies, and RJ Barrett to the New York Knicks. Yet following a recent decision to undergo knee surgery, Morant may not be headed to Memphis after all.

The Knicks may not need to consider whom they favor between Morant and Barrett—the Grizzlies will likely select the point guard despite his recent procedure, and it is still not clear the Knicks will even hold onto their current pick. Yet in what previously appeared to be an obvious call for the Knicks front office assuming they hold on to their pick, do they now have to consider who they truly favor between the draft’s consolation prizes?

If the Grizzlies do not select Ja Morant with their draft pick, it appears likely they were concerned with his health and chose to take Barrett, who lacks injury history. This means the Knicks would be expected to take Morant despite Memphis’ hesitation, as his upside currently appears to justify taking him over any of the draft’s remaining prospects.

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As Barrett to the Knicks has seemed to be destined since the team failed to win the Zion sweepstakes, they likely have made him the primary focus of their scouting. There have been reports of the team considering a potential trade in which they would receive additional assets to move back in the draft order, yet it appears the rumors were simply the front office doing their due diligence. The Knicks keeping their pick likely means they are sold on Barrett, so if Memphis were to shake the current mock projections and take the Knicks target, the team would be forced to reevaluate their options.

While it may appear that the Knicks current pick put them in position to select whichever of Barrett or Morant that falls to them, Morant’s injury does complicate the situation. There is a lot to like about Barrett’s game, and Knicks scouts have likely salivated over his highlights for weeks now. If they truly prefer the Duke product, and it becomes clear as the draft approaches he will no longer be available at three, the Knicks must decide if they are truly willing to commit to the development of another young point guard.

Morant possesses physical tools and natural instinct that separate him from many of the floor generals the Knicks have recently invested in, yet Barrett is still a more intriguing prospect. With a lengthy wingspan and advanced scoring ability, the Duke forward would be an ideal fit within the Knicks young core. It has become clear the Knicks are all in on the upcoming free agent class, and Barrett would thrive playing beside Kevin Durant, who would be an excellent mentor on the floor.

Nothing is guaranteed in free agency, yet no matter Barrett’s fit with potential free agent acquisitions, his game would mesh well with sophomore forward Kevin Knox. Following a rookie season that showcased both elite potential, as well the struggles that should be expected with raw talent, Knox could benefit from having another young forward with similar aspirations on the roster. Barrett could challenge Knox to increase his aggressiveness offensively, as well as furthering his commitment on the defensive end. Knox in return could provide the incoming rookie with advice as to how to avoid the rookie wall as well as deal with the pressure of the New York media.

The Knicks should want Barrett, as he pushes the team closer to contention than all other non-Williamson options. If the Grizzlies select Barrett, the Knicks must resist the temptation that Morant’s availability would create a no-brainer decision. The Knicks have quite a history in their inability to find and develop elite starting point guards, and there are undoubtedly other teams who value the Murray State product highly. The Phoenix Suns and Chicago Bulls are two lottery teams that would be tripping over each other assembling their best trade offers in order to move into the top three and grab Morant.

RJ Barrett is almost guaranteed to don the orange and blue cap on draft night, yet if Morant’s recent procedure makes him the top available player at three, the Knicks would be better off trading their pick to a squad more desperate for a transformative point guard. A potential deal between the Knicks and the Suns, whom many speculate see Morant as the class’s top overall prospect could be mutually beneficial.

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The Knicks could deal their third overall pick to Phoenix in exchange for a package built around the sixth overall pick, future draft selections, and whichever of the Sun’s young wing players the Knicks prefer. While such an asset-heavy package may appear steep for a team trying to move up three spots, Morant’s game is captivating due to his flashy finishes and obvious marketability. The Knicks must shield their eyes from Morant’s allure and deal him to a team unable to do so. If Barrett is taken before Morant, neither player should be on the Knicks roster next season.