Ron Baker has heard reports of president Phil Jackson’s intentions to select a guard/wing in Thursday’s NBA draft. The Knicks’ blond rookie revelation hopes it turns into a prospect with a nose for defense.
“Obviously I think our defense was not very good last year,’’ Baker told The Post in a phone interview this week. “We gave up a lot of points, especially in transition. I think that would be a start for us, getting guys who can defend. That’s what my motto’s been. I felt we had plenty of scorers on our team when healthy. Defense is probably where we should lean on as a team.”
Baker, the 6-4 combo guard out of Wichita State, has ingratiated himself within the Knicks organization with his frisky defensive play, earning one of the few plaudits Jackson handed out at his season-ending press conference in mid-April.
“It’s on-ball defense,’’ Jackson said. “You saw Ronny Baker get up there and get into people’s bodies, get over people and get in front of guys and it’s not going to happen every time but he changed how we played, it’s just as simple as that, getting someone who’s willing to fight and fight into bodies and over screens.”
Indeed, Baker, a staple of the rotation from late February on, heard similar positive words from Jackson and GM Steve Mills in his exit meeting.
“It was something I was proud of,” Baker said.
But the Knicks executives also stressed his 3-point shooting (26.7 percent) and vocal oncourt leadership must improve.
That might not happen at the Knicks’ summer league in Orlando, with games starting July 1. The Knicks want him to play. Baker is on the fence. It’s strictly business.
Undrafted last year (the Knicks didn’t have a pick), Baker signed to the rookie minimum of $541,000 after making the team out of training camp.
However, it was a one-year deal, and Baker becomes a restricted free agent July 1 and may draw outside interests. The Knicks can match any offer, but would have to use cap space if it’s beyond another minimum pact.
After the draft, four teams called Baker’s agent interested in signing him for summer league/training camp: Oklahoma City, which almost drafted him and is located an hour from his hometown of Scott City, Kansas, the Nets, the Cavaliers and the Bulls. There’s keen mutual interest in re-signing but money has to be a factor.
Baker, 24, said he’s unclear if he’ll visit other clubs and stressed his agents are in charge.
“It’s kind of up in the air,’’ Baker said of summer league. “I’m not sure how the (free-agent) process works. I think I played a lot of quality minutes. I feel like the Knicks and other organizations know what I bring. Not that I’m shying away from summer league. Free agency is obviously a very important part of an athlete’s career. The decision not to play might be better than to actually play sometimes.’’
That is why Baker is one of a small handful of Knicks at their Tarrytown training facility since Memorial Day. Baker is doing three-hour workouts in the mornings before the pre-draft candidates — some of whom he’s played against — come in.
“Seems we’re bringing in a lot of four-year guys,’’ Baker said.
Baker was one of those four-year collegians — one factor in why Knicks coach Jeff Hornacek bonded with him, with their similar backgrounds. Hornacek, the former Jazz shooting coach, is now drilling Baker on his shooting technique, showing him footage on the iPad regarding his guide hand becoming steadier.
“Nothing complex,’’ Baker said. “Working on my shot, trying to be more efficient from 3-point land. Trying to simplify things as for my fundamentals when I shoot the ball.’’
Last June, Baker was amid 13 pre-draft workouts, spanning 31 days. With an eye on purchasing a second-rounder, Knicks executives interviewed Baker at the Chicago combine, then brought him in for an early-June workout. It was definitely unique.
“Theirs was more attention to detail,’’ Baker recalled. “We did touch base on the triangle. There were four guys in the group, so it was footwork, entries into the triangle, different cuts. We did that 10 minutes, got shots up but the rest of the time was playing 1-on-1.
“They just wanted to see how well you competed. During these workouts, it’s important to play hard and compete. Our scouts Clarence (Gaines Jr.) and Kristian (Petesic), they see you play quite a bit. They know what you can do before you get to the workout. You go in there and it’s how you interact and how you compete is pretty much the top priority.’’
The Knicks have three picks Thursday — 8, 44 and 58. Several prospects have commented that the triangle is a big part of the Knicks workout. Baker believes if he’s back, a better-executed triangle will result in better defense. The Knicks ranked 23rd in defense (allowing 108 ppg) last season.
“It’s definitely something you have to fully understand and commit to,’’ Baker said. “You’re not going to be a great triangle team overnight. It takes a lot of time to learn the offense. This is partly my fault — not getting guys into position on offense to run the triangle. Taking early shots in the possession, you don’t make teams guard you. So they got all their energy and willpower on their offensive end.’’