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

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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.


Watch Dinwiddie get ejected for elbow to Poole’s face; Mavs still win behind Doncic 41 points


Dallas has gotten in trouble this season because of a lack of secondary shot creation behind Luka Doncic, so when Spencer Dinwiddie got ejected for an elbow to the face of Golden State’s Jordan Poole, it seemed like the Mavericks might be in danger of falling to the Warriors.

Doncic had other plans — and a 41-point triple-double.

The ejection happened early in the fourth quarter, when Dinwiddie drove the lane on Poole and, bringing the ball up, elbowed Poole in the face.

That was reviewed by the referees who ruled it a Flagrant 2. The league has cracked down on blows to the face and head — intentional or not — the past couple of seasons.

Dinwiddie being out just meant more Luka — and that was bad news for the Warriors.

Despite Doncic and his triple-double, the Warriors had a couple of chances in the final seconds. First, Stephen Curry got called for a travel.

The Warriors argued that call but got nowhere with the referees. But they got one more chance on a Klay Thompson 3 to tie, but it was just not their night.

The Mavericks got the 116-113 win. Tim Hardaway Jr. pitched in 25 points, including five 3-pointers for Dallas. Curry led the Warriors with 32.

Timberwolves’ Karl-Anthony Towns out 4-6 weeks with calf strain

Minnesota Timberwolves v Washington Wizards
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It’s not good news, but it looked like it could have been much worse.

Timberwolves big man Karl-Anthony Towns is out for weeks with a right calf strain, the team announced Tuesday following an MRI exam. Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN reports it is likely 4-6 weeks.

The injury occurred midway through the third quarter Monday when Towns started to run back upcourt and went to the ground without contact, grabbing his knee and calf. It looked scary — Achilles scary — and he had to be helped off the court.

Towns has averaged 21.4 points and 8.5 rebounds a game, and while his numbers are down this season — just 32.8% on 3-pointers — the team has struggled at times without him, particularly lineups with Rudy Gobert and Anthony Edwards together, an -11.8 net rating (in non-garbage time minutes, via Cleaning the Glass).

Kevin Durant on chasing MVP: ‘Not really, I’ve been there, done that’

Orlando Magic v Brooklyn Nets
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Kevin Durant carried the Nets to another win Monday night, scoring 45 points on 19-of-24 shooting, plus seven rebounds and five assists.

If you’re having an MVP conversation a quarter of the way into the NBA season, Durant has to be part of it: 30 points per game on 54.8% shooting (and a ridiculous 65.9 true shooting percentage), 6.6 rebounds and 5.5 assists a game, plus playing solid defense and being the anchor of the Nets. After his 45-point outing to get Brooklyn a win over Orlando, Durant was asked about MVP chants and the chase for the award and was clearly not interested.

Durant has MVP numbers, but so do Stephen Curry, Luka Doncic, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Jayson Tatum and others. If Durant is going to move to the front of the conversation, the first thing that has to happen is Brooklyn has to win a lot more games — 11-11 is not going to cut it when Tatum’s Celtics and Antetokounmpo’s Bucks have the two best records in the NBA. Winning games and finishing on a top-three team in the conference matters to some voters (and traditionally is one measure of an MVP).

Watch Herb Jones inbound off Pokusevski’s back, seal win for Pelicans

Oklahoma City Thunder v New Orleans Pelicans
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With 2.3 seconds left in the game and the Thunder down 2, they needed to steal the inbounds pass from New Orleans to have a real chance. That’s why when Aleksej Pokusevski walked on the court it looked like he was going to guard the inbounder, Herbert Jones.

Instead, Pokusevski turned his back to Jones, putting himself in position to step in front of anyone cutting to the ball to catch the inbounds. Except, Jones made the clever play to seal the game.

Pokusevski fouled Jones, who sank both free throws and sealed the 105-101 Pelicans win.

The Pelicans got 23-8-8 from Zion Williamson and picked up a win without CJ McCollum or Brandon Ingram in the lineup. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander continued his dominant start to the season and scored 31.