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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.

 

Watch Trae Young drop 31 at Drew League, lose to Montrezl Harrell who has 46

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The Drew League in Los Angeles is one of the premiere — for my money the best — summer pro-am basketball league in America. There is some serious talent getting run on that court.

But drop in NBA talent and it’s another level.

That’s what happened Saturday in Los Angeles. Atlanta’s Trae Young showed up, went head-to-head with the reigning Drew League MVP Frank “Nitty” Session (who has embarrassed guys like Denzel Valentine in Drew games), and dropped 31.

But Young’s team lost because Clippers’ stud  Montrezl Harrell dropped 46.

You can see the highlights above thanks to BallisLife.

 

Manny Pacquiao says he has thought about buying part of NBA team when he retires

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At age 40, Manny Pacquiao is not retiring. Even if you and some boxing pundits think he should. Tonight (Saturday) he fights Keith Thurman at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas and is expected to pull down about a cool $26 million for his trouble. If you’re getting paid like that, why retire exactly? He has said he wants to fight another five years or so.

After that, he’d like to buy part of an NBA team.

That’s what he told TMZ in a pre-fight interview.

He said he has thought about buying a piece of an NBA team after he retires. Pacquiao, a basketball nut who uses the sport as part of his training, owns an entire semi-pro league — the Maharlika Pilipinas Basketball League — in the Philippines (one of the most basketball-crazy nations on earth). Pacquiao said he thinks his experience with that league would help him as an NBA owner, that some of the skills will translate, which is likely true. Pacquiao said it’s about finding the right opportunity.

Forbes estimates that Pacquiao will have earned, after Saturday’s fight, more than $500 million in his career. Various websites estimate his net worth in the $200 million range. He’s got the money to jump in as a part owner.

In an NBA that loves personalities and characters — and one always trying to gain more traction in Asian markets — don’t be shocked if this happens someday.

Once Pacquiao retires.

C.J.McCollum, Eric Gordon both withdraw from USA Basketball for World Cup

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First Anthony Davis. Then James Harden.

Now add C.J. McCollum and Eric Gordon to the list, as reported by Shams Charania of The Athletic and Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports.

Don’t be surprised if a couple of new players are added to the USA roster for training camp.

The loss of those four stars strips the Team USA of some international experience. As pointed out by John Schuhmann of NBA.com, now only four members invited to USA camp have played in the World Cup or Olympics: Harrison Barnes, Andre Drummond, Kevin Love, and Kyle Lowry — and Lowry just had thumb surgery and is questionable for the playing in China.

USA Basketball can still roll out this starting five:

Damian Lillard
Bradley Beal
Khris Middleton
Tobias Harris
Andre Drummond

Then off the bench have Kemba Walker, Donovan Mitchell, Kyle Lowry, Jayson Tatum, P.J. Tucker, Kevin Love, Brook Lopez.

That’s still enough talent, coached by Gregg Popovich, to win the World Cup. The USA remains the heavy favorites for a reason.

USA Basketball is scheduled to begin its pre-World Cup camp in Las Vegas Aug. 5, with an intrasquad exhibition game at the T-Mobile Arena on Aug. 9. Then the team heads to Southern California for more training followed by an exhibition against Spain on Aug. 16 at the Honda Center in Anaheim, Calif. Then the team heads overseas for the World Cup, which begins in China on Aug. 31.

James Harden reiterates it was ‘false talk’ he and Chris Paul were at odds

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The Houston Rockets — not in an anonymous way, but in a “we are putting our names on this, quote me” kind of way — have pushed back hard on the narrative that there was tension between Chris Paul and James Harden that led to the Rockets trading CP3 for Russell Westbrook this offseason. Rockets GM Daryl Morey has denied it, team leader P.J. Tucker called it fake news, and Paul himself has pushed back.

Harden has done that again, speaking at his camp on Saturday.

The counter-argument to this: Chris Paul is in Oklahoma City right now.

People will believe what they want to believe, but the Rockets guys have all gone on the record about this. Nothing leaked and anonymous.

From the Rockets’ perspective, they made a trade for Westbrook that is a roster upgrade. Houston has a dynamic duo that can compete with the Los Angeles teams and the other contenders around the league, and whatever questions fans and the media may have about the ultimate fit of Harden and Westbrook the talent level is not in question.

Do the Rockets make that trade if everything is great between Harden and Paul? Probably, if they saw CP3 as in decline and Westbrook as a talent upgrade (which they did). The Rockets can be a cold, business-like organization in terms of their pursuit of a title.

We will see next season if that calculation paid off. Whether or not Harden and CP3 got along.