David Fizdale was adamant about RJ Barrett’s playing time, but the New York Knicks coach doesn’t seem to understand the value of one minute over the other.
One of the lone bright spots in an otherwise dreadful 1-6 start, RJ Barrett has made New York Knicks fans forget about his former Duke teammate with averages of 18.3 points, 6.1 rebounds and 3.3 assists per game.
His defensive instincts seem well improved, as does his 3-point shot. Barrett’s rapid growth should have him firmly in the Rookie of the Year discussion, but Knicks faithful can’t help but wonder if their star rookie has the physical makeup to get to that point given the excess amount of minutes he’s playing.
Barrett’s 37.1 minutes per game rank first among rookies by a wide margin and fifth overall in the NBA. If the season ended today — a bit of a crazy statement in November — it would place him eighth among rookies this century.
His head coach doesn’t seem to mind. In fact, David Fizdale is the one milking Barrett for all he can to start the new season and has since the preseason — Barrett ranked first in preseason minutes per game.
“We got to get off this load-management crap,’’ a surly Fizdale said via the New York Post. “Latrell Sprewell averaged 42 minutes for a season. This kid is 19. Drop it already.’’
The surface of Fizdale’s logic is ironclad. Barrett isn’t even 20 and hasn’t even played a month of NBA ball. The more minutes he plays now, the faster he learns the game and becomes the best version of himself when the Knicks need him to be.
Conversely, not all minutes of an NBA game are created equal. The last five minutes of the first quarter don’t teach the same lessons as the fourth and those amid a defeat that grew as high as 32 not as much as a one-possession game.
The rookie wall has claimed victims of even the brightest of future superstars at one point or another in their inaugural year and Barrett won’t be any different.
Fizdale’s insistence on Barrett’s minutes load will guarantee that the wall comes much quicker than the average rookie. When that happens, Barrett won’t have the gas necessary to cross the finish line of the regular season, much less a game in March.
This isn’t to say Fizdale should bubble wrap his young 2-guard only to trot him out in games of the most value, but there is a time and place for a 40-minute outing and a blowout loss with a halftime deficit of 20 isn’t it.
The NBA season has long been considered a marathon that requires constant maintenance to make it to the end. Barrett is only 19 and certainly has an abundance of energy to spare, but he played only 38 games during his lone season at Duke and has never experienced the rigors of NBA travel.
Barrett only has so much energy to work with as a teenager to further his rookie progress before burning out, and it shouldn’t be wasted on a game that’s already been decided.
The sooner Fizdale comes to that realization, the quicker he can tweak an antiquated style of thinking that better serves New York’s future closer to the present.