With the Knicks now comfortably nestled into the third pick of the draft and visions of Zion Williamson snuffed out completely, the focus over the last couple of days has switched to who the Knicks will take when their time comes on draft night: Ja Morant or RJ Barrett?
A lot of that obviously hinges on what No. 2 Memphis decides to do, and some clarification might already be surfacing from the scuttlebutt at the draft combine (per ESPN’s Jonathan Givony):
The Memphis Grizzlies have told interested parties in Chicago, where the NBA draft combine is underway, that they intend to select Murray State guard Ja Morant with the No. 2 pick next month, provided the New Orleans Pelicans take Duke’s Zion Williamson first overall, sources told ESPN.
The Grizzlies were awarded the second pick in Tuesday’s draft lottery, moving up from the eighth slot thanks to the luck of the bouncing pingpong balls.
Sources said members of the Grizzlies front office and ownership group already have let their intentions be known.
This tracks with the general direction Memphis has been going in over the last year — they drafted their big man of the future, Jaren Jackson Jr., in last year’s draft and sent their big man of the present, Marc Gasol, up north to go play for a title contender with the Raptors. Even dating back to Memphis’ Gasol trade at the deadline, the Grizz were apparently looking to deal incumbent point guard Mike Conley too, but just couldn’t come to terms on compensation. Taking Morant at the second pick would signal that they’re ready to move on from Conley as well.
That would leave the Knicks with Barrett, the third player in what many people are calling a three-player draft. I’ll fully admit that I was a Barrett skeptic when Zion was still a real option, but without that constant comparison in my brain now, I’m talking myself into the former No. 1 player in the country out of high school.
Maybe-future-Knick Barrett took some time to sit down with The Athletic’s Shams Chanaria at the draft combine, and he’s certainly saying all the right things:
Sit-down with Duke’s @RjBarrett6: Basketball motivations, touching a basketball for first time in France, improving his shot, Zion and Cam. “Zion taught me how to have more fun. His passion is unmatched. Cam taught me how to be smooth.” pic.twitter.com/JhZGqawHDY— Shams Charania (@ShamsCharania) May 16, 2019
Speaking of saying all the right things... the Knicks’ front office has currently said none of the things, right or wrong, since the draft lottery on Tuesday.
Knicks GM Scott Perry declines to speak with the media after meeting today with @RjBarrett6— Adam Zagoria (@AdamZagoria) May 16, 2019
Every other lottery team spoke to media last night. It’s not a good look to blow off your writers who traveled here and are a conduit to the fans who seek info on your team.— Adam Zagoria (@AdamZagoria) May 16, 2019
It’s also not mutually exclusive to meet with players and also the media. https://t.co/KgwU6zgsvQ
CORRECTION: Spy clarifies that this took place last night around 6p, not this morning. Slight miscommunication. (Sometimes spies leave out a key word.) https://t.co/ytyS4TKqwy— Howard Beck (@HowardBeck) May 16, 2019
So, what does all that mean? Well, (shameless plug) I spoke with Marc Berman of the New York Post on Locked On Knicks today, and he seemed to think maybe Knicks brass is being withholding right now because they’re working on a trade for that third pick, and don’t want to talk up Morant and Barrett only to ship the pick off.
“In the lobby of the Hilton it’s just this big convention, and it’s so accessible to be able to chat with other scouts and executives, so yeah, there’s a lot of chatter,” Berman said.
Perry-Mills chatting with New Orleans GM David Griffin in Hilton lobby. pic.twitter.com/pSApWjSjkW— Marc Berman (@NYPost_Berman) May 16, 2019
“In and out of the hotel [Perry and Mills] said they can’t talk [to the media], and were not even willing to chit-chat. They were in a big, big hurry... My sense on why they’re not talking to us right now is, they don’t want to build up this third pick because they may trade it. They don’t want to start talking about RJ Barrett in the media when he could be part of an AD package.”
Just some more brain food during what’s (still! Even without Zion) a very exciting offseason for the Knicks. Hopefully we’ll get some more clarity about the Knicks’ plans soon. In the meantime, if they keep the pick, it seems like RJ Barrett might be “the guy.”