Knicks opens NBA season in Memphis: RJ Barrett takes on Ja Morant

RJ Barrett, Ja Morant, Knicks
Feb 2, 2022; New York, New York, USA; Memphis Grizzlies guard Ja Morant (12) controls the ball against New York Knicks guard RJ Barrett (9) during the fourth quarter at Madison Square Garden. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

The New York Knicks are reportedly opening next season on the road in Memphis.

Forget about Jalen Brunson for a moment.

All eyes will be on RJ Barrett, who hasn’t signed a contract extension yet. His matchup against the newly-minted max player Ja Morant could potentially overshadow Brunson’s debut with the Knicks.

Barrett was left behind this summer as he watched his draft classmates Morant, Zion Williamson and Darius Garland sign rookie max extension deals with their respective teams.

Morant signed a five-year contract extension worth $193 million, the largest deal in the Grizzlies franchise history.

“The Knicks are not expected to come to any conclusion in conversations on Barrett’s extension this far in advance of the October deadline, sources said.”

Jake Fischer, Bleacher Report

The Knicks have until the opening night to sign Barrett, who is also seeking a max contract worth around $185 million for five years. They could also wait until the next offseason when Barrett becomes a restricted free agent and match any offer like what the Phoenix Suns did with DeAndre Ayton. But it comes with the risk of alienating their best young player, who has steadily improved throughout his first three seasons in the league.

While Barrett is less spectacular than the flashy Morant, the bull-strong Williamson and the backcourt savvy Garland, he was the Knicks’ best player in the second half of last season. After the All-Star break, Barrett averaged 24.2 points, 6.2 rebounds and 3.8 assists per game with a top-20 usage rate.

His inefficiency and poor advanced stats have been hurting Barrett’s stock.

Last season, as he shifted from popping out corner threes to attacking the rim more often, his 41.7 percent conversion rate at the rim ranked last among 54 players who took at least 250 shots around the rim. But he did this with an ill-fitted Knicks roster that had one of the worst spacings and finishing ability in the league last season.

Barrett’s trainer, Drew Hanlen, is bullish about his 22-year-old client’s rise next season.

With or without a new contract, the NBA opening night presents an opportunity for Barrett to prove his true worth.

Follow this writer on Twitter: @alderalmo