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Knicks expect to select most talented player available in draft

This Newsday composite image shows Murray State's Ja

This Newsday composite image shows Murray State's Ja Morant, left, and Duke's RJ Barrett. Credit: AP / Jessica Hill; AP / Sean Rayford

The Knicks put Patrick Ewing on the stage at the NBA Draft Lottery last month, hoping that the presence of the player they had landed in 1985 with the top pick in the draft would provide a bit of luck for the franchise .

While it didn’t work out and Zion Williamson, the prize of the draft, is bound for New Orleans with the top pick, the Knicks still ended up with the No. 3 pick — the highest spot in the draft they have selected since taking Ewing. And for a team that was the worst in the NBA last season and facing a series of obstacles in their rebuild, they are intent on using that pick to take the next step.

The Knicks have engaged in trade talks with a number of teams and reportedly turned down an offer to send the No. 3 pick to the Hawks for the eighth and 10th picks. As Thursday’s NBA Draft approaches, the team so far is set on holding onto the No. 3 pick and using it to select a player they believe will be part of some future success. Whether it is RJ Barrett, the player most often slotted into the No. 3 pick, or Ja Morant if the Grizzlies pass on him at No. 2, the Knicks believe they will land a star in this spot.

And while they have different games and play different positions, the Knicks need help in so many spots that they will pick the best available player rather than consider the position that the player plays.

“Obviously, we always want to increase the talent base,” Knicks general manager Scott Perry said in a phone call after the season ended. “But I think what we want to do, we want to add more veteran type players that have won basketball games, who are versatile performers, that hopefully can bring a presence on the defensive end, guys who can make shots beyond the three-point arc, and veterans who have seen a lot, who can help the young core that we have in the building already continue to grow and develop.

“I saw that take place after the trade, when we brought in a guy like DeAndre [Jordan], who became a special mentor, but not only with Mitchell Robinson — that’s well documented, how Mitchell played from the point that DeAndre had arrived — but the entire locker room. A lot of young players gravitated to a guy like that. He was willing to mentor them, share his experiences. He brought a lot of respect in the locker room. When you can add people like that to a young group, I think that helps them grow and develop that much more.”

The Knicks were already the youngest team in the league and many of the players with experience are now free agents, including Jordan and Lance Thomas, who is the longest-tenured member of the team. If they select Barrett they would get a player who was the top prospect coming out of high school and succeeded at a high level last year at Duke. But he also is just 19 years old and with one year of college.

“We have a group of young guys,” Knicks president Steve Mills said on the call. “But we want to develop them into understanding how to win games. We need to provide players to help them do that.”

The most likely scenario for the Knicks is that they select either Barrett or Morant, whomever the Grizzlies pass on. But the team will work out Vanderbilt point guard Darius Garland Wednesday. Garland was the highest-rated point guard at the start of the season but played just nine games because of a knee injury.

New York Sports