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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 SNY.tv  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.

 

Shaq donates a year’s rent to a paralyzed Atlanta boy

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ATLANTA (AP) — Basketball Hall of Famer Shaquille O’Neal has donated a year’s rent in a new home to an Atlanta woman whose 12-year-old son was paralyzed in a shooting at a football game.

O’Neal tells WXIA-TV  that Isaiah Payton’s family had been living in a one-bedroom apartment that wasn’t accessible for people with disabilities.

“It’s just sad. It could have been any one of us,” Shaq told the Atlanta station. “It could have been my son. It could’ve been your cousin. She was living in a one-bedroom apartment with her two boys, so we found her a house in a nice area.”

Now they have a home in a good neighborhood. He says he’s helping furnish the home and will pay its rent for the next year.

Isaiah was shot through the spine in August after a football scrimmage between two high schools. Sixteen-year-old Damean Spear also was wounded and treated for minor injuries. Isaiah’s mother, Allison Woods, has said relearning how to care for Isaiah meant she had to leave her job, adding financial stress to her emotional turmoil.

Jazz reportedly extend contract of coach Quin Snyder, locking him down well into future

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Quin Snyder has evolved into one of the best coaches in the NBA (and my pick to win Coach of the Year this season). He’s built a development program and system in Utah that has turned Rudy Gobert into a two-time Defensive Player of the Year, Donovan Mitchell into the face of a franchise, and Joe Ingles into a guy other teams covet. His players like and respect Snyder, and he has worked well with the front office of Dennis Lindsey and Justin Zanik.

So the Jazz are locking him up with a contract extension beyond the two seasons remaining on his deal. Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN broke the news.

Utah Jazz coach Quin Snyder has agreed to a long-term contract extension, league sources tell ESPN. Snyder had two years left on his deal, and a new contract extends multiple years beyond that term, sources said.

After upgrading the team’s talent base over the summer, locking Snyder into an extension had been a top organizational priority.

Jazz fans should be ecstatic about this.

Snyder has built a system team in Utah, one that moves the ball beautifully on offense, and that has been tough to defend in the regular season, with the Jazz winning 50 games last season. Utah has made it to the second round of the playoffs the past two seasons, but when the level of play made that leap a lot of the system gets taken away by good defenses, and the Utah offense became Donovan Mitchell against the world. It didn’t work, Mitchell (still just 22) wasn’t fully ready and there was not enough shooting around him.

This past summer, the Jazz added Mike Conley at point guard and Bojan Bogdanovic on the wing, two excellent shooters who also can create off the dribble. Expectations are high in Utah.

Whatever happens, Snyder is their coach now for a long time.

Giannis Antetokounmpo says he learned from Kawhi Leonard: “He was calm”

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Milwaukee was up 2-0 in last season’s Eastern Conference Finals on Toronto, having won those games by an average of 15 points. Giannis Antetokounmpo had scored 54 points, pulled down 31 rebounds, dished out 11 assists, and was looking every bit the MVP.

Then the games shifted to Toronto, Kawhi Leonard took over — including guarding Antetokounmpo more — and the Raptors rattled off four straight wins to take the series on their way to the NBA title. The Greek Freak still averaged 20.4 points a night in those final four games, but the buckets were much harder to come by.

Milwaukee returns this season as the Eastern Conference favorites and legit title contenders, in part because of what they learned from that loss. Antetokounmpo told Vincent Goodwill of Yahoo Sports he learned a lot directly from Leonard in that series.

“I learned a lot from him,” Antetokounmpo said. “He knocked down free throws. He was calm. When double-teams came, he was swinging the ball but getting it right back. He was aggressive. He was calm but he was on a mission.”

Leonard is the living embodiment of the old John Wooden axiom “be quick, don’t hurry.” He’s not rushed, he’s rarely forced into shots he doesn’t want to take or plays he doesn’t want to make.  That’s true of all champions on some level. LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, Tim Duncan all bring an inner calm.

If Antetokounmpo brings that to his game, the Bucks are one big step closer to a title.

Domantas Sabonis on trade rumors: ‘I know exactly how the Pacers feel about me now’

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The Indiana Pacers have started to explore the trade market for Domantas Sabonis. There are logical reasons for this: Sabonis is good (he was second in Sixth Man of the Year voting last season), yet he and the Pacers are nowhere near agreement on a contract extension, and the Pacers already paid big money for Myles Turner to be their center, how much do they want to pay Sabonis, too?

That’s sound logic if you’re in the Pacers’ front office.

If you’re Sabonis, it can feel like a slap in the face to a guy who put in a lot of sweat and passion for the franchise. That’s what Sabonis sounded like in this quote, via Scott Agnes of The Athletic.

The Pacers are not talking about the report, which started with the well connected and reliable Sam Amick at The Athletic.

Pacers’ brass needs to talk about this with Sabonis (and likely already have, behind closed doors). If the Pacers trade him, it’s likely not until after Dec. 15 at the earliest (when most players signed this summer can be included in a deal) and probably closer to the February trade deadline. That’s a lot of season to play out, and Sabonis remains a vital part of the Indiana rotation.

There is likely to be a lot of interest in Sabonis on the market. However, because he’s a center (a position teams are careful not to overspend on in today’s market) and in the last year of his rookie deal — meaning he becomes a restricted free agent next summer and gets more expensive — teams are not going to overpay for him. Right now the Pacers are asking for too much and interested teams are lowballing their offers. The sides will meet in the middle.

That middle could shift if Sabonis has a rough start to the season. Both sides need him to play well and feel comfortable, whatever is going on with the business side of his contract.