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Photo Credit: Charles Wenzelberg (NY Post)
The NBA Draft has finally passed, and the Knicks front office, for once, didn’t disappoint the fans with their draft selections. With the third pick, the Knicks selected RJ Barrett from Duke — who probably received the loudest ovation of any draft pick throughout Knicks history. Also with the 47th pick, the Knicks selected Ignas Brazdeikis from Michigan.
On paper, most would agree the New York Knicks had a very good draft — by typical Knicks standards, this is an accomplishment. First, the Knicks drafted a player whose floor is a quality starter in Barrett. New York is in desperate need of game-changing talent, and Barrett has the potential to be a perennial All-Star. Lastly, the Knicks drafted Brazdeikis, whose IQ on offense should fit in well in today’s positionless NBA basketball. Both players should make an immediate impact, but how would they fit on a Knicks roster littered with young talent.
With Barrett, the Knicks have a two-guard who’s most effective with the ball in his hands. At the moment, the Knicks have a couple of guards who share that similar trait. Allonzo Trier is the isolation-king, which is why his nickname is Iso-Zo and Dennis Smith Jr., who has shown to become a more efficient player when paired with another ball-dominant guard.
Since Smith is the starter at point guard, the main focus will be the possible Barrett and Smith pairing in the backcourt.
In Smith’s first season in Dallas, with the ball mainly in his hands, he averaged 15.2 points and 5.2 assists per game on 39.5% shooting. When Luka Doncic arrived the following season, Smith’s stats dropped. His point production fell off from 15.2 to 12.9 and his assists dropped from 5.2 to 4.3 per game. He became more efficient, shooting 44% from the field, but he couldn’t maintain his production from his rookie season. Once he got traded to New York, the ball was in his hands more, and his production increased as a result. With the Knicks, he averaged 14.7 points and 5.4 assists per game, but his efficiency dropped, shooting only 41.3% from the field.
Now Barrett doesn’t have the playmaking skills of Doncic, but there’s a chance both Barrett and Smith can feed off of each other — especially on the fast break. Both players strive when the red light turns green, and everyone is off to the races off a defensive rebound or turnover. Possibly, the Knicks could run teams ragged with Barrett and Smith pushing the ball at will. The main issue with a Barrett-Smith backcourt will be in the half-court offense. Neither player excels in the half-court, and if the Knicks don’t surround both with good shooters, the space to operate will be limited.
At Duke, Barrett didn’t have great shooters around him. As a result, opposing teams often clogged the lane, making it difficult for Barrett to score in the half-court. Poor decision making led Barrett to drive the ball into traffic and force shots or take threes, which isn’t a strength of his game at the moment. His teammate, number one pick Zion Williamson also had similar difficulties. The only difference was Williamson has the supernatural athletic ability to make something out of nothing, while Barrett’s athletic ability has some limitations.
Like Barrett, Smith also struggles with shot selection and will force bad shots in the half-court offense as well. For a Barrett-Smith backcourt to thrive, both players will have to make smarter decisions with the basketball in the half-court and become better jump shooters. Until that happens, the Knicks game plan should be to run teams into the ground at will.
Defensively, Barrett and Smith aren’t great, but they’re adequate. Inserting 3-and-D players into the lineup, like Damyean Dotson, will help cover their mistakes, but ultimately both players have to become better defenders to improve the team defense as a whole.
It also helps that the Knicks have a man-child named Mitchell Robinson that will swat shots from Madison Square Garden to the Hudson River.
Figuring out the Barrett-Smith conundrum is the hard part, but figuring out how Brazdeikis will fit into the Knicks offense is much easier. Brazdeikis is a crafty forward who can shoot the three and move well off the ball. He’s an high-IQ offensive player who can find different ways to score the rock. For a team who struggles to score in the half-court, Brazdeikis is the type of player that can open up scoring opportunities with his movement. The Knicks are in desperate need of that kind of player, and Brazdeikis fits the mold perfectly.
His athleticism leaves a lot to be desired, and defensively, he’ll be a liability, but he plays with passion. His energy will be welcome in a Knicks team that needs all the help it can get.
The 2019-2020 season will be an interesting one for the Knicks. Hopefully, Barrett and Brazdeikis will be building blocks to help the orange and blue skies rise again.