Mitchell Knicks Swap Makes Sense, But Not Without Barrett

Jul 13, 2022, 3:24 PM
Utah Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell drives against New York Knicks guard RJ Barrett (Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images)
(Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images)

SALT LAKE CITY – Could the Utah Jazz and Donovan Mitchell find a trade partner in the New York Knicks in a deal involving RJ Barrett?

On Tuesday ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported that the Jazz were willing to listen to trade offers for Mitchell, and rumors that the Knicks were an interested party weren’t far behind.

After all, it has seemed the Knicks have been in pursuit of Mitchell for several years.

Ever since the New York native broke onto the NBA scene the Knicks have hired several people with close ties to Mitchell. Those names include former Jazz executive Walt Perrin and longtime Mitchell confidant Johnnie Bryant to be their associate head coach.

Now, with Mitchell on the market, the Knicks can more aggressively commence their pursuit of the three-time All-Star, but it must start with a package centered around RJ Barrett.

Barrett is coming off a strong campaign with the Knicks in 2021-22 where he averaged 20.0 points, 5.8 rebounds, and 3.0 assists per game in 70 appearances.

The third-year guard has started all but one of his 198 career games in New York after the Knicks selected him with the second overall selection in the 2019 NBA draft, and has seen his scoring average increase in each of his three seasons so far in the league.

As a result of his improvement, the Knicks have “no interest” in moving Barrett according to Ian Begley of SNY in New York. But, could that change with a player of Mitchell’s caliber suddenly available via trade.

That may come down to how much the Knicks truly value Barrett, and how quickly they think he can be a top-tier player on a playoff-caliber team.

Barrett seemed to prove he had that potential in his sophomore season averaging 17.6 points per game while helping lead the Knicks to the fourth seed in the Eastern Conference Playoffs.

However, while Barrett’s numbers improved in his third season, the Knicks again became one of the NBA’s easiest punch lines dropping to the 11th seed in the East and missing the postseason play-in tournament entirely.

Also notable was Barrett’s dip in performance in his first trip to the playoffs in 2021. The guard saw his scoring average and efficiency drop across the board as the Knicks fell in five games to the Atlanta Hawks.

After giving veteran guard Jalen Brunson a massive four-year, $104 million shortly after free agency opened, how willing are the Knicks to wait and see if Barrett is capable of elevating his game to new heights.

And perhaps more importantly, how likely is it that he ever reaches Mitchell’s level.

While Mitchell’s stock may have taken a slight hit after the Jazz’s first-round exit to the Dallas Mavericks, there are very few flaws in the All-Star guard’s resume.

Over his five-year career in the NBA, Mitchell has never failed to lead the Jazz to the Western Conference Playoffs. During that stretch, the guard has never averaged fewer than 20.5 points per game, a half point better than Barrett’s career best.

And, his playoff performances have been even more spectacular.

While Mitchell averages an impressive 23.9 points per game for his career, that number skyrockets to 28.3 points per game in the postseason, the seventh-highest mark in NBA history.

The 25-year-old has more career postseason 30-point games (19) than the entire Knicks organization since the year 2000 (14), despite playing in eight fewer games.

While the Jazz traded Rudy Gobert to the Minnesota Timberwolves for four future first-round draft picks, a draft swap, and five serviceable NBA players, they didn’t get a young player in return that can be looked at as a potential building block of the future.

Though the Knicks have up to eight draft picks they could send the Jazz, and a collection of other young players including Obi Toppin, Immanuel Quickley, Quintin Grimes, and Miles McBride, none of them have shown a similar career trajectory to Barrett, even if he is no Donovan Mitchell.

If the Knicks truly covet Mitchell the way their previous moves have indicated, they should look to land the All-Star this summer. But, if the Jazz are willing to listen to the Knicks’ calls, no trade should be considered without RJ Barrett.

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Mitchell Knicks Swap Makes Sense, But Not Without Barrett