It’s official what the New York Knicks have at their disposal this offseason: the No. 3 pick in the NBA Draft and $73 million in cap space. It projects to be an exuberant and franchise-altering offseason, but the tag team of president Steve Mills and general manager Scott Perry has to act accordingly and not make any panic decisions.
Here is a three-step plan for the Knicks to follow.
Step One: Draft R.J. Barrett
When the Knicks are on the clock with the No. 3 pick, Barrett will likely be available, and the Duke wing would give head coach David Fizdale and friends a two-way player with the skill set to be a superstar.
In his freshman season, Barrett averaged 22.6 points, 7.6 rebounds, and 4.3 assists per game. He was a vital source of offense and an irreplaceable player in the Blue Devils rotation. Barrett excels on both ends of the floor. Offensively, he plays in isolation, attacks the rim, absorbs contact and finishes, and can run the fastbreak.
Meanwhile, he’s just as lethal defensively. He’s a great on-ball defender, athletic, and versatile in that he can defend both guards and big forwards.
The Knicks need someone who can be relied on to carry the scoring load, but also a player who can take on other team’s best scorer; Barrett fits that criteria. Plus, the Knicks have the likes of Kevin Knox (who they selected with the No. 8 pick in last season’s draft), Mitchell Robinson, Dennis Smith Jr., Damyean Dotson, and Allonzo Trier in place, so adding Barrett would deepen and further weaponize their versatile young core. One could argue Barrett would be better than all the aforementioned players. And having those younglings alongside a superstar — or two — would make them even more dangerous.
Don’t forget that despite Zion Williamson’s captivating freshman season, Barrett went into the 2018-19 college basketball season as the top prospect in the nation; Williamson’s mesh of a skill set between an old school big man and athletic point guard stole the show. Meanwhile, Barrett lived up to the hype and stepped up when the big man was out due to a knee injury, which gave Barrett the opportunity to showcase his ability to be a bonafide go-to scorer — and he seized the opportunity.
Step Two: Sign Kevin Durant
There isn’t a hotter rumor in the NBA right now than Durant leaving the Bay Area for the Big Apple. Regardless of whether it’s the best fit from a basketball standpoint, Durant’s arrival in Madison Square Garden would propel the Knicks from the NBA’s cellar to an Eastern Conference threat.
We can debate all day about his decision to join a Golden State Warriors team that was fresh off an NBA-best 73-win season, but if you’re the Knicks, what do you care? Durant is the second best player in the NBA and arguably the best offensive player in the NBA.
He’s unguardable in isolation, has a lethal midrange game, is a superb defender (which doesn’t get enough attention), and a future Hall of Famer. By the way, is averaging 25-plus points per game in each of the last 11 seasons and winning a Most Valuable Player Award good?
Durant also isn’t a ball hog. Sure, he’s an alpha-dog scorer, but when a shot isn’t there, or someone else has a better look, he’ll share the sugar; he doesn’t force shots. Durant also averaged a career-high 5.9 assists per game this season, and with Barrett (potentially), Knox, and Robinson cutting inside, Durant can find the open man if he gets double-teamed. Now, having Durant, Barrett, and Knox on the floor would give the Knicks a tall starting five, but late in games Fizdale could sub out Robinson — who, for the moment, is their starting center — and bring in Smith, Trier, or Dotson to balance out their athleticism and add more scoring for crunch time.
The Knicks need a facelift, and Durant wants to write a new chapter in his career. While he can’t eliminate the past, he can better the future. If he wins with the Knicks, who haven’t won an NBA championship since the 1972-73 season and missed the playoffs in each of the last six seasons, Durant could be remembered as the greatest athlete in the history of New York sports.
Step Three: Sign Kemba Walker
The Knicks haven’t been able to groom, or find a long-term point guard since the turn of the century. This offseason gives them the chance to end that drought, and Walker perfectly fits the bill.
This season was Walker’s finest work. He was a starter in the NBA All-Star Game, averaged a career-high 25.6 points per game, and continued to instill the notion that he’s a star point guard. He’s one of the best scorers in the association, finds the open man, and reeks of good vibes. He attacks the rack, draws fouls, and has been the leader of the Charlotte Hornets his entire career. Elite scoring and good vibes is everything the Knicks have been deprived of in recent memory.
Walker is also a local kid. He grew up in Bronx, NY and attended the University of Connecticut for three years. Walker has shown what he is capable of as the focal point of an offense, but no one has seen him as a number two scorer. Alongside Durant, Walker should be even more electric. Teams wouldn’t be fortifying their efforts towards shutting him down, instead focusing on Durant. That would allow Walker to flourish and catch defenses off guard, giving the Knicks one of the most unstoppable offenses in the sport.
While there were some ups and downs, Durant was able to coexist and thrive alongside star point guards such as Russell Westbrook and Stephen Curry; it wouldn’t be an issue with Walker. Plus, a duo of Durant and Walker could matchup with any team in the NBA considering how the Warriors duo of Durant and Stephen Curry would be theoretically terminated. Giving the two players max contracts would pay immediate dividends.
A starting five of Walker, Barrett, Knox, Durant, and Robinson would put the Knicks in contention. And having the likes of Smith, Trier, Dotson, and other reserves they add in free agency, would only deepen Fizdale’s rotation.