This is the start of a new series here on Empire Sports Media, where I’ll look at sixteen potential New York Knicks draftees, both in the first and second rounds, ahead of the 2019 NBA Draft on June 20th. I’ll start with the favorite, Duke’s RJ Barrett.
RJ Barrett already has a special place in Knicks fans’ hearts. The six-foot-seven, 202-pound forward who excelled in Durham this past season has been tweeted about and discussed more than anyone else by the Knicks fan base since it was revealed that New York would select third in the draft.
Barrett is a polarizing player; a guy who attacks the rim with reckless abandon and has shown flashes of high-level playmaking, rebounding, and defense, but who also had a shooting line of .454/.308/.665 and overall played poorly on defense. There are questions about nearly every part of his game, and yet, he remains in the “elite-but-not-Zion” tier of the draft class along with Murray State’s Ja Morant (who is going to be picked second by Memphis).
On the surface, it seems hard to criticize a player who averaged 23.6 points, 7.6 rebounds, and 4.3 assists per game at the highest level of college basketball. However, it is impossible to project whether or not Barrett’s game will translate. He was a menace in the open court, and often powered his way through traffic to the rim. This may not work in the NBA, where defenses are much bigger, faster, and smarter than in college.
The aforementioned shooting percentages are also a major concern. If Barrett was shooting with below-average efficiency at the amateur level, he may struggle to adapt at the professional level, where the three-point arc is further back and the defenses are significantly more stout.
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There are two things that contribute to Barrett’s poor percentages. First, it’s his lack of a go-to move. Barrett has no one move that is his fallback when strength does not prevail, and he often tries to simply force up a shot. Far too often Barrett will just shoot to shoot, particularly late in the shot clock and late in games.
Second, while Barrett is a very good athlete, he lacks the explosiveness in tight spaces that makes his teammate Zion Williamson so good. When the defense collapses around him, Barrett is unable to explode, and thus forces shots up that have no chance.
Barrett is an absolute terror in transition and utilizes moves like spins and euro-steps to get to the rim. This is a skill that will translate immediately, as the NBA is predicated much more on transition basketball. He’s strong and powerful, and won’t hesitate to dunk all over a defender. When R.J. gets a full head of steam, good luck.
He has also shown a ton of promise as a passer, ball-handler, and rebounder. Barrett will make one or two extremely impressive reads or passes each game, and he could be a fantastic drive-and-kick guy at the next level.
As a ball-handler, it is easy to see him being a secondary playmaker in the NBA, primarily in the pick and roll, where he could either toss up a lob or put his head down and get back to the rim. This is because his handle is very solid. He won’t necessarily break ankles, but he’s above average in this department, and could easily handle point guard duty for New York.
Barrett is very strong, and this is evident by his rebounding. He skies for defensive rebounds, and once he gets his hands on the ball, it’s his. Barrett projects as a likely triple-double guy, and he compares favorably to Russell Westbrook in that he snags rebounds and then likes to go coast to coast.
Barrett has won at every level, going back to high school, where he lead Montverde Academy (FL.) to a National Championship, as well as Duke to an ACC Title. He’s a player who will do whatever it takes to win, sometimes to a fault. I love his toughness and competitive fire.
Finally, and it can’t be ignored, Barrett WANTS to play for the Knicks and he loves the city of New York.
Overall, RJ Barrett is the guy I want the Knicks to take with the third pick. He could easily be a star at the next level, and at worst, he’ll add value as a bench scorer. Though Barrett is a flawed player, he’s also the best option in a weak draft.