The Knicks made player development a central priority in the Leon Rose regime, and the strategy has already produced results in just one season. A central piece in New York’s rise from the ashes is guard RJ Barrett.
Selected third overall in the 2019 NBA Draft, Barrett had his share of struggles in his rookie season. Despite putting up prodigious counting stats, Barrett was left off the NBA’s All-Rookie team due to concerning efficiency numbers and the team’s lack of wins.
In his second season, Barrett displayed major growth. He boosted his shooting percentages on three-point attempts (40.2 percent), free-throws (74.6 percent) and shots around the rim. He also showcased an improved floor game, improving his assist to turnover ratio while making major strides on the defensive end. While there’s still more for the 21-year old to improve on, his sophomore campaign was encouraging.
Now that the Knicks have advanced from the rebuilding phase to the playoff contention phase, one avenue to improve the team will involve adding superstar-level talent in free agency or through a trade. The team has found its name tied to stars like Bradley Beal and Damian Lillard on the trade market.
Though neither player has expressed a yearning for divorce from their current situation, the Knicks have positioned themselves as a worthy trade partner with piles of cap space and all of their draft picks (including two picks headed their way from the Dallas Mavericks this year and likely in 2023.)
NBA teams are like vultures circling above the desert when a star player even hints at disappointment with their situation. Once Lillard and the Portland Trail Blazers lost to a depleted Denver Nuggets in the first round, it was only a matter of time. There have been talks about what it would take for the Knicks to acquire a star player like Lillard. Barrett has become a key piece of the team and his growth makes him an attractive trade chip in a deal for a big star of that stature.
In the most recent blockbuster deals for NBA stars, the Brooklyn Nets had to trade offensive whiz Caris LeVert, three future first-round picks, and four future pick swaps to acquire Harden from Houston. They also had to deal prized center Jarrett Allen to the Cleveland Cavaliers so they could add another future draft pick in the Rockets deal. Last summer, the Milwaukee Bucks traded Eric Bledsoe, George Hill, three future first-round draft picks and two pick swaps to acquire former All-Star guard Jrue Holiday.
Realistically, Lillard will require a major haul. SNY NBA Insider Ian Begley recently reported that five teams feel that the Knicks would be unable to acquire Lillard without dealing Barrett in a trade. As mentioned in the piece, the Knicks will have to trade additional young players like Obi Toppin, Immanuel Quickley and Mitchell Robinson, as well as several other draft picks.
Where does Barrett rank compared to some of the other young players around the league? Let’s take a look at what some other teams have in terms of assets to use in a trade for a superstar player.
Golden State Warriors: James Wiseman, Andrew Wiggins, seventh and 14th pick in the 2021 NBA draft
The Warriors have two first round picks in the draft lottery this year and can also offer first round picks in 2026 and 2028. With Klay Thompson returning from injury, they are capable of throwing their chips in to compete for another title run after two years out of the postseason.
Wiseman showed flashes in his rookie season, but the former second overall pick is coming off of knee surgery and it was concerning that the Warriors played better after his injury. A team acquiring him would have to give the center time to develop.
Philadelphia 76ers: Ben Simmons, Tyrese Maxey, Matisse Thybulle, 2021 first round pick, 2023 first round pick
Simmons had a rough ending to his season, as he struggled mightily in the playoffs with confidence. A change of scenery is recommended for the 6-foot-10 guard.
Despite his issues, Simmons is a three-time All-Star and a regular Defensive Player of the Year candidate. His damaged stock around the league would surely mean that the Sixers would have to add some picks in a trade. They own their own first round picks over the next four years.
Toronto Raptors: OG Anunoby, Kyle Lowry (sign-and-trade) and multiple first round picks
The Raptors own all of their future first rounders, making a trade very easy. Anunoby is one of the better two-way wings in the NBA. An elite defender, the 23-year old Anunoby also shot 39.8 percent from three on 261 attempts last season.
Lowry could be dealt to another team in a three-way trade if Portland is looking for salary cap fodder to make a trade feasible.
New Orleans Pelicans: Brandon Ingram, Jaxson Hayes, Kira Lewis, Nickeil Alexander-Walker, and multiple first round picks
The Pelicans have a premier superstar in Zion Williamson. Finding the right pieces to build around Williamson has been difficult. Former All-Star Ingram would be the centerpiece of any deal for a superstar like Lillard. The Pelicans also have a boatload of first round picks (including the 10th overall pick in the 2021 draft) acquired in previous deals involving Anthony Davis and Jrue Holiday.
Barrett has yet to reach the heights of Ingram or Simmons as a star, but it will likely take a few years before we really see if Barrett can approximate his potential. Still, he’s already shot up the list of the top young players around the league. Having the collection of younger players and multiple draft picks puts the Knicks in a great spot if a player like Lillard hits the market though.