Knicks can’t go wrong with future All-Stars Ja Morant or RJ Barret
The Knicks may get themselves a potential All-Star on Thursday just by waiting for Memphis to select.
According to Ryan Blake, draft consultant to the NBA, the Knicks can’t go wrong with the third pick in the draft at Barclays Center. At No. 2, Memphis will take either Murray State point guard Ja Morant — as many believe — or Duke swingman RJ Barrett, and the Knicks will be in good shape.
Blake called it “a tough one’’ to choose between the two college studs, but added, “If I was starting a team from scratch, I’d give a little edge to Ja. He has a little bit more proven weaponry.’’
However, Blake is also in love with Barrett.
“I think he’s going to be a future All-Star,’’ Blake said. “We look at where we were a year ago — 99 percent of the decision-makers said RJ will definitely be the No. 1 pick. Both guys are high-guarantee types — from background, exposure, personality, ability.”
In Morant, Blake said he is floored by the progress he made from his freshman to sophomore year — the hard work he put in last summer. Remembering the lightly recruited Morant from his South Carolina high-school days, Blake called him “a scrawny and not yet top athlete. He had to work hard at it.’’
Blake said Morant opened eyes at his mid-major Kentucky school his freshman year, then he took a giant step as a sophomore.
“I don’t like to compare him to Damian Lillard [of Weber State], but they both have a professional approach to the game,’’ Blake said. “That’s what resonated the most. Mid-major doesn’t mean anything anymore. It’s the professional approach and confidence he has now. He lost confidence when he wasn’t getting any offers [out of high school] but he worked his tail off. He’s got a fire inside of him, the chip on his shoulder. I love that.’’
Morant underwent knee-cartilage surgery last month and, as a result, was unable to work out for either the Knicks or Memphis.
After the operation, ESPN reported Memphis moved from “locked in’’ on Morant to “softening.’’
Blake doesn’t see the surgery as a deal-breaker. Morant’s talents are too vast. His statistics were sensational — 24.5 points, 10.0 assists, 49.9 percent shooting and 36-percent from 3-point range.
“This year he put it all together,’’ Blake said. “Check, check, check. He actually plays at such a faster pace but it comes to him so slow. He sees three plays ahead of him and plays both ends of the floor. He can be a go-to guy, score inside or read defenses and has that knowledge of managing a game.
“He has a Chris Paul, pass-first point-guard ability but he also has ability to take over the game like Kyrie [Irving].”
Defense is not Morant’s strong suit, but Blake believes it’s no reason to pass.
“Defense is energy activeness assertion,’’ Blake said. “He had two steals a game, rebounding was high (5.7 per), he has deflections. I’m not really worried.”
Nor is Blake, son of scouting legend Marty Blake, overly concerned about any of the faults of the southpaw Barrett. His 3-point shooting percentage was only 30.8 percent, but Blake feels what’s not hailed enough is Barrett’s potential as a playmaker.
“He has exceptional size and length for an NBA wing and he’s very good as a primary playmaker and creator,’’ Blake said. “With his quickness, he can score from all spots on the floor, gets in the paint with strength, scores on the move, he can hit the long ball even though his outside shot surprised me. Why wasn’t it going in?’’
That is the mystery about Barrett’s season and perhaps why Zion Williamson soared above him as top pick.
“There’s nothing technically wrong with it,’’ Blake said. “It was shot selection. I guess he felt he’s seen them go in the past in high school, but I don’t think he’s losing his confidence. It’s spread out a more in the NBA. With better shot selection, he’s going to see those percentages go up. And he’ll start out as third, maybe fourth option, although on the Knicks he may have the green light.’’
Blake admits the Canadian lefty has some issues, including a weak right hand with occasional effort lapses on defense.
“He has time to fix that and has the athleticism,’’ Blake said. “All these athletes come in with concerns, including LeBron James. I’m not comparing him to LeBron but it’s not something where it’s enough to not consider him at [No.] 2 or let him get to [No.] 4. He plays both ends of the floor because he wants to win and he’s unselfish.”
Barrett has too much going for him to consider moving off the pick at No. 3, Blake said.
“He has versatility and makes other players better,’’ Blake said. “He’s a facilitator. He can be a primary guard. He can be 6-7 LeBron bringing the ball down the court and play point guard, small forward or two-guard. He’s not just looking for himself. And that’s the Duke environment. He’s going to be a good teammate.”
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