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Should Knicks fans be worried about R.J. Barrett? (Answer: No, it’s Summer League)

Phoenix Suns v New York Knicks

LAS VEGAS, NEVADA - JULY 07: RJ Barrett #8 of the New York Knicks brings the ball up the court against the Phoenix Suns during the 2019 NBA Summer League at the Thomas & Mack Center on July 7, 2019 in Las Vegas, Nevada. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

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LAS VEGAS — Just a little more than one year ago, Trae Young made his Summer League debut in Salt Lake City — and it was ugly. Young missed his first 10 shots, including going 0-of-7 from three with a couple of airballs. He finished the game 4-of-20 overall and 1-of-11 from three. His second game was not a whole lot better.

By the end of Summer League, he was finding a groove. Young stumbled a little again at the start of the NBA season as he adjusted to the length and speed of the game at that level, but by the end of the season he was pushing hard for Rookie of the Year honors.

Which is an object lesson for Knicks fans: R.J. Barrett has struggled in Las Vegas, but don’t read too much into it. This is Summer League, a new environment for players, one where coaches want to put their best players in different and uncomfortable situations to see how they react, and where things are far more like scrambling pickup game than an NBA contest.

No doubt Barrett put up some eye-popping bad numbers in his first couple of games, shooting 7-of-33 overall and having 10 turnovers to two assists.

On Tuesday night things were a little better, he was 6-of-14 with six assists (about half those buckets came at the end of a blowout game). He scored five of those six baskets on plays where he could muscle his way to the rim, something he did a lot at Duke. However, he also got his shot rejected driving the lane once and missed others on drives, he’s going to have to get stronger (as is true of most rookies). His jump shot is still fairly flat and not finding its way down, except for a late three off the dribble (his first made three in Vegas), but again saying a rookie needs to work on his shooting is true of almost everyone entering the league.

Don’t just take my word for it about giving players time,
Ian Begley of spoke to some scouts about Barrett through two games and they were not about to freak out.

“Of course the Knicks would like to see him come out and dominate in these games against guys who won’t be in the NBA. That’s what you’d expect from the No. 3 pick. But there’s no reason to sound any alarms,” one veteran scout said Monday. “He’s 19 and this is what Summer League - and his rookie season, really - is for. It’s about development and getting comfortable on an NBA floor.”

“He hasn’t looked explosive off the dribble... But he wasn’t overly fast at Duke. He did well in bullying opponents with his size and strength at that level. Can that translate well to the NBA? Or will he need to make adjustments? That’s another reason to not get overly excited about two Summer League games. He’s going to gain strength and can get faster over time.”

Rookies often struggle in Summer League and it’s no reflection of the player they will be. Let’s see where he is in a year — players who got regular NBA run the season before should be the best players on the floor at Summer League games the next season. Barrett may well be one of those guys next year, and a lesson for whatever fan base is freaking out about their rookie’s play.