RJ Barrett

Zion Williamson out 6-8 weeks after surgery to repair torn right lateral meniscus

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Much like his absence did at Summer League, this news sucks some of the air out the excitement around the start of the NBA season.

Zion Williamson, who tore it up for New Orleans in the preseason, also tore up his right lateral meniscus and had surgery on Monday to repair it, the team announced.

The smart money is on it being closer to the eight weeks because the Pelicans are going to abundantly cautious the future of the franchise. The Pelicans had originally said Williamson had a sore knee, then said he would be out weeks but avoided serious knee issues. This could be worse but is serious enough to require surgery.

This preseason, Williamson instantly took advantage of the greater spacing in the NBA game (Duke was not loaded with great shooters last season) and found lanes to attack and dominate. Williamson scored 55 points on 71 percent shooting across two preseason games, and defenses just were not sure how to stop him.

His loss is a setback to a Pelicans team that has playoff aspirations, despite its youth.

There are still young players with a lot to prove in New Orleans — Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram — and some solid veterans in Jrue Holiday and J.J. Redick. But the Pelicans will just not be the same — or as much fun.

This opens up the Rookie of the Year race, at least a little bit. NBC’s own Dan Feldman and I discussed this very topic on our predictions podcast: How many games does Zion need to play, and be dominant in, to win ROY? Probably around 50 (remember Joel Embiid could not pull it off with a dominant 31 games and Malcolm Brogdon won that year). If Zion is out the full two months, meaning a return just before Christmas, then he would miss about 30 games. Putting him on the bubble for the award. Other players such as Ja Morant in Memphis, RJ Barrett in New York, or maybe even Tyler Herro in Miami or Rui Hachimura in Washington can jump into the conversation.

That conversation is just a little less entertaining without Williamson.

Rookie of the Year predictions: Can anyone beat out Zion Williamson?

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With the start of the NBA season just more than a week away — it’s predictions time. We’ll be covering most of the postseason awards between now and the opening tip of the NBA season.

As a disclaimer, we get it: making NBA preseason awards predictions is like nailing Jell-O to a tree. We’ll be wrong. But it’s fun, so the NBA staff here at NBC is making our picks. Today…

ROOKIE OF THE YEAR

Kurt Helin Zion Williamson (New Orleans Pelicans). This is the obvious pick, but it’s also the only logical one. The guy scored 55 points on 71 percent shooting across two preseason games already, and defenses aren’t sure how to stop him. Williamson is an incredibly gifted athlete who will put together a lengthy highlight reel of dunks this season (with Lonzo Ball throwing him some insane alley-oops), but he can do much more than that and will show it as the season wears on. Plus, he has a strong team around him, which makes him even more of a lock for this award. What will be interesting is to see who else is on the ballot at the end of the season (voters have to rank three guys). Ja Morant is going to have the ball in his hands and plenty of opportunities in Memphis. RJ Barrett will get touches in New York. Will Tyler Herro‘s impressive play this preseason carry over. Can Coby White in Chicago or Rui Hachimura in Washington force their way into the conversation? The race for second may be far more interesting than who wins.

Dan Feldman: Zion Williamson (New Orleans Pelicans).  Unlike most preseason award picks, I’m not just taking Williamson as the single most likely winner. I’ll take him over the field. He enters the race with the most hype, and he has the talent to back it up. He’s far more than just a dunker. At Duke, he showed he could translate his athleticism to production. That should continue with the Pelicans

Dane Delgado: Zion Williamson (New Orleans Pelicans). Anyone picking against Zion Williamson must be hoping for some kind of catastrophic injury to befall the New Orleans Pelicans star. And he is already a star, by the way. Preseason statistics aside, Williamson is an electrifying player who will have the kind of narrative and media coverage necessary to make a successful and relatively easy Rookie of the Year campaign happen in 2020. He may not be a shooter just yet, but Williamson will buck the trend in NBA stars having to have a 3-point shot to garner serious attention. It’s already here, and there’s nothing Ja Morant or RJ Barrett can do about it. New Orleans won’t have to make the playoffs in order for Williamson to win the ROY, and if they’re a postseason entrant there’s no chance for anyone else.

RJ Barrett at point guard? Knicks are experimenting

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Opening night, Dennis Smith Jr. is expected to be the starting point guard for the New York Knicks (although veterans Elfrid Payton and Frank Ntilikina are officially still in the mix).

However, why not let rookie RJ Barrett run the point at times? The Knicks want to put the ball in the wing shot creator’s hands’ anyway, so why not just call him the point guard at times? Knicks’ coach David Fizdale is experimenting with that a little, he told Ian Begley of SNY.tv.

“I’ve thrown him at that position a couple times already,” David Fizdale said Tuesday. “He played some of that in college. I think it adds another layer to how dynamic he can be. Especially having somebody that big that can switch things do some different things defensively. So yeah, I’ll sprinkle that in…

“He’s really poised. He looks comfortable,” Fizdale said. “The kid likes having the ball in his hands. He’s unselfish. He finds people. He understands – he knows our plays from that position. I feel very comfortable if I have to throw him there.”

This is what training camp and preseason games are for, just try some things. That should carry over into the start of the regular season.

The Knicks didn’t draft Barrett No. 3 to have him work off-the-ball most of the time, he was drafted to be a difference maker on offense. Call him a point guard, a wing, whatever, just get the ball in his hands and let him work.

Through two preseason games — so take a lot of salt with this — he has averaged 16 points a game, shot 36.4 percent from three, and averaged seven rebounds a game.

This season, as a rookie, having all that offensive responsibility will mean some hard lessons to go with his successes — we saw him struggle at Summer League, and that is only going to continue against better defenders in the NBA. There’s a steep learning curve. Barrett has the skills and mindset to grow from all that.

And he’d make a pretty good point guard in certain lineups.

Knicks try to sell they built the team they wanted in free agency

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GREENBURGH, N.Y. — Free agency was only a few hours old when the New York Knicks acknowledged their fans’ disappointment.

Three months later, the Knicks have changed their tune.

Not only was free agency a success, they said at media day to tip-off training camp, but fans are going to forget about who the Knicks didn’t get because they’re going to love who they did.

“These are guys that our fans are going to like, the toughness that they bring every day when they come to the court to play for the Knicks,” team President Steve Mills said Monday.

The Knicks signed seven new players in free agency, adding Julius Randle, Bobby Portis, Taj Gibson, Marcus Morris, Elfrid Payton, Wayne Ellington and Reggie Bullock. But by that time, Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving had already committed to Brooklyn in the early hours of free agency, and Mills released a statement that night saying he understood that fans could be disappointed but that the team remained confident in its plans.

And though the Knicks had enough money to afford two top free agents, Mills said the team they ended up assembling was exactly the type of roster the front office targeted all along.

“So we’re excited about the group of guys that we have,” Mills said. “Obviously based on the timeline and how we signed those guys it was clear they were on our radar and they were part of what we thought the future of the Knicks could be and what it should look like.”

It’s certainly good enough, combined with No. 3 draft pick RJ Barrett, to improve on what was an NBA-low 17 wins last season. The physicality in the frontcourt and the shooting just about everywhere should exceed anything the 2018-19 Knicks could offer.

“I can tell you this: First and foremost, it’s not going to be like last year,” said Morris, who said the Knicks have a lot of “dogs” on the roster who won’t back down from competition.

The Knicks seem content to view themselves as a hard-working group of underdogs who together can overcome a lack of individual talent.

“The fact that none of them has been heralded as superstars, they understand that they’re going to need each other to win games,” coach David Fizdale said.

Other things of note from Knicks media day:

OWNER ON BOARD

Madison Square Garden chairman James Dolan predicted the Knicks were going to have a successful summer during a radio interview last season, which seemed to hint that the Knicks believed they would get some of the top talent that was available. But Mills said Dolan was aware of what the Knicks were planning and satisfied with the results.

“Jim knew we were going to have a successful free agency period and we feel like we did that,” Mills said. “He was on board with what we were doing.”

GETTING THE POINT

The Knicks’ most interesting roster situation in training camp could be at point guard, where Payton will compete with former lottery picks Dennis Smith Jr. and Frank Ntilikina. Smith came from Dallas last season in the trade for Kristaps Porzingis, and Ntilikina hopes to jump-start what’s been a largely disappointing Knicks career after playing well for France when it beat the U.S. at the Basketball World Cup.

“I think it’s going to be a great battle,” Fizdale said. “I think they’re all going to push each other. I think they’re going to compete their butts off.”

INJURY UPDATES

The Knicks said Bullock is making progress from a cervical disk herniation and will be re-evaluated in early November. They added that swingman Damyean Dotson likely won’t play in the preseason because of a right shoulder injury but could be ready for the start of the season.

ROOKIE’S ROLE

Barrett was the Knicks’ highest draft pick since taking Hall of Famer Patrick Ewing with the No. 1 selection in 1985, but he won’t walk right into a starting spot. Fizdale said the swingman from Duke will be treated like Kevin Knox, last season’s first-round pick who had to earn his minutes.

“It’ll be the same but probably tougher on RJ because I think, again, this team is more talented,” Fizdale said. “I think we have more guys that he has to fight with to get those minutes, but I think the kid is up for it.”

Evan Fournier says that Frank Ntilikina just ‘needs a real opportunity’

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New York Knicks fans haven’t had a lot to cheer for recently. The team traded away Kristaps Porzingis, who is thought to be the franchise cornerstone. Now they move forward with a young core, RJ Barrett, and tons of cap space.

So what does that mean for players who have been around in the Big Apple like Frank Ntilikina?

Based on how Ntilikina played in the 2019 FIBA World Cup for France this year, things might be looking up.

Ntilikina’s statistics weren’t eye-popping, but he was seen as a very solid player in a backcourt that helped propel France to the bronze medal in China.

To that end, fellow countrymen Evan Fournier thinks that all Ntilikina needs is a chance to shine.

Via Twitter:

Ntilikina’s season last year was marred by injuries, and he played in just 43 games. Still, he has the physical tools to be a useful NBA player, and he’s just 21 years old. With the surprisingly low-pressure situation in New York, it’s possible that extended time playing in the World Cup could help aid what Ntilikina is able to produce next season for the Knicks.