New York Knicks: RJ Barrett faces uphill climb as rookie

New York Knicks (Photo by Michelle Farsi/NBAE via Getty Images)
New York Knicks (Photo by Michelle Farsi/NBAE via Getty Images) /

New York Knicks head coach David Fizdale said he will not go as easy on RJ Barrett as Kevin Knox, the team’s previous first-round pick, providing potential consequence or greatness as a result.

Playing the youth was a balancing act for the New York Knicks in 2018-19. Some players received more time than others, including some that stuck to the bench for part of the season. The rookies received their fair shake, though, as Kevin Knox and Mitchell Robinson were allowed to play through highs and frequent lows.

The same might not apply to the No. 3 overall pick, RJ Barrett.

Per the New York Post, some Knicks thought Knox, who struggled mightily, at times, at both ends of the floor, was not held accountable enough as a rookie. Head coach David Fizdale is ready to change that narrative with the 2019 first-round pick:

"Fizdale said he’ll “probably be tougher on RJ. I think this team is more talented, I think we have more guys he has to fight with to get those minutes. But I think the kid is up for it. I think he’s the kind of competitor that embraces it.’’"

Barrett, of course, said he wants Fizdale to be tougher on him, which the second-year head coach already proved capable of in 2018-19.

While not a rookie last season, Frank Ntilikina faced a difficult road in establishing himself in front of Fizdale, who benched the Frenchman for four games in two stints, before a groin injury consumed the second half of the year.

Ntilikina had room to maneuver at first, with opening the season as the starter and playing through Fizdale’s lineup changes. Once on-court adversity hit, the 6-foot-6 athlete moved to a reserve role, which seemed fine given his struggles, until it became not playing due to coach’s decision, including on Christmas Day.

Fizdale reinserted Ntilikina into the rotation, but three of those six games were for fewer than 20 minutes. It’s obviously unknown if this would have continued without the groin injury, but he shot just 30.4 percent before going down.

The team’s talent, though, made it difficult, at times, to see why Fizdale clamped on the 2017 lottery pick. They sputtered by Thanksgiving, as well.

While it would be a surprise to see that happen to Barrett, it does not seem that he has a long leash like Knox or the unnamed Robinson. Current team talent factors, as Fizdale can mix and match versatile players for his lineups, especially if they are playing superior to the Duke product.

If the New York Knicks are struggling mightily, as seen throughout 2018-19, then it becomes why Barrett does not have a bigger role for his own development, in a lost year. That case could have been made if Knox stayed on the bench for most of the season, but he had a grasp of the starting lineup from December and on.

This all tempers expectations of Barrett potentially opening the season as a starter, as well. The Knicks, if they view him as a shooting guard, can use Wayne Ellington instead. If Damyean Dotson returns healthy, he can retake his spot. An alternative is using a two point-guard set, with a combination of Ntilikina, Dennis Smith Jr. and Elfrid Payton in place.

Next. 25 greatest players in NYK history. dark

Barrett faces an uphill battle to take a significant role immediately and stick with it. Shooting 34 percent, as seen in the summer league, only deters his chances at impressing Fizdale. Still 19-years-old, however, necessary developmental time plays a role, and taking a backseat not only lets him watch the veterans, but feel more prepared for a bigger NBA contribution later.