The New York Knicks have found the new face of their franchise, selecting RJ Barrett out of Duke with the No. 3 overall pick in Thursday’s NBA Draft at Barclays Center in Brooklyn.
Barrett’s selection became close to an eventuality when the Knicks missed out on the top overall slot in May’s NBA Draft Lottery. The New Orleans Pelicans, who leapfrogged to the top of the board last month, made Barrett’s college teammate Zion Williamson the no-brainer No. 1 pick. The Memphis Grizzlies, as expected since the lottery, chose Murray State guard Ja Morant with the second pick.
Media consensus had been that the Knicks would take whichever of Morant or Barrett that Memphis passed on, with recent speculation pointing to Vanderbilt freshman point guard Darius Garland as a potential surprise choice at No. 3. In the end, the top three players went off the board as anticipated.
Barrett, who turned 19 this week and is among the first NBA draft class featuring prospects born in the 21st century, was considered the top player in this group last year, before his Blue Devils teammate Williamson’s potential saw him ascend to the apex. It didn’t stop either from becoming consensus first-team All-Americans.
A 6-7, 202-pound freshman wing from Mississauga, Ontario, Barrett averaged 22.6 points, 7.6 rebounds and 4.3 assists for a Duke team that reached the Elite Eight of the NCAA Tournament. During a six-game stretch in which Williamson played only one minute due to a mild knee sprain, Barrett elevated his play with averages of 26.2 points, 8.2 rebounds and 5.2 assists, as well as three double-doubles. Barrett played every game and logged 10 games in which he did not take a break, including an overtime loss to Syracuse.
For once, the sizable contingent of historically prickly Knicks fans in Brooklyn for the event greeted their first-round pick, clad in a pink suit, with brief chants of "RJ" as he walked up to NBA commissioner Adam Silver for the ceremonial handshake. Barrett is the franchise’s first top-three selection since they won the Patrick Ewing sweepstakes of 1985. Ewing went on to play 15 of 17 Hall of Fame seasons in New York, becoming an 11-time All-Star and helping the Knicks reach the NBA Finals in 1994 and 1999.
Those championship round trips are the only such berths since the Knicks’ most recent NBA championship in 1973. If the team is to end its 46-year drought any time soon, Barrett could be a key piece to the championship puzzle.
Rumors this week indicated New Orleans, which reportedly will acquire the Los Angeles Lakers’ No. 4 pick as part of the blockbuster Anthony Davis trade, sought to move up to the Grizzlies’ pick in order to take Barrett and reunite the Duke teammates and friends, but that did not come to fruition. Earlier in the week, ESPN reported the Atlanta Hawks offered the Nos. 8 and 10 selections for the Knicks’ pick, but the franchise opted not to move down. In the end, Atlanta acquired the No. 4 pick and sent its Nos. 8, 17 and 35 picks to The Pelicans in a deal reported shortly before the draft began.