It's been a rough stretch for the New York Knicks, who have gone six consecutive seasons without qualifying for the playoffs. Just last season, the team tied a franchise-low with just 17 wins - the fewest in the NBA on the year.
At the 2019 NBA Draft Lottery, New York won the third pick - its highest selection since taking Patrick Ewing first overall in 1985 - and used it to select Canadian standout RJ Barrett from Duke University.
Naturally, there are lofty expectations for the 19-year-old, who is expected to be at the forefront of this franchise looking to reverse its recent misfortune.
Still, he's a rookie, meaning expectations should be tempered. He's also not alone.
New York has assembled a unique blend of talent, having paired Barrett with five other players in Kevin Knox (19), Ignas Brazdeikis (20), Frank Ntilikina (21), Mitchell Robinson (21) and Dennis Smith Jr. (21) that will be 21-years-old or younger on opening night.
While the storied franchise might have missed out on the biggest free agents in the super-talented class of 2019, they added experience, talent and toughness in the likes of Julius Randle, Marcus Morris, Bobby Portis, Taj Gibson, Elfrid Payton, Wayne Ellington and Reggie Bullock.
Second-year head coach David Fizdale has already proven to be a players' coach, and his ability to resonate throughout the locker room will only smoothen things up for a team with a unique blend of young and established talent.
It's clear that New York stands to turn things around sooner rather than later, and it helps that Barrett displayed excellence in his one season at Duke (and flashes in Summer League) that bode well for his ability to mesh with the team's array of talent.
Now, the first thing that may stand out when looking at the way this Knicks roster has come together is the amount of ball-dominant scorers that could limit Barrett's opportunities on the offensive end.
Conversely, the attention each of these scorers commands from defences could end up providing more opportunity for Barrett, as teams cannot just key in on him defensively. Alongside two lottery picks in Zion Williamson and Cam Reddish at Duke last season, Barrett still managed to find his spots, scoring a school freshman record 860 points in his lone season.
While it's unlikely that Barrett will get the chance to take nearly as many shots as he did at Duke (18.5 attempts per game), it's safe to say many of those opportunities were a product of the attention commanded by Williamson.
They're different players, but there are some parallels in the styles of Barrett's new teammate Randle and his former teammate Williamson that could smooth over his transition with the Knicks.
This play that results in Randle setting up Payton shows that he is a willing passer once he commands the attention of the defence. Barrett has demonstrated the ability to attack closeouts in a similar manner.
This is a simple pass, but Randle hitting Jrue Holiday when he does permits another straight-line drive from the corner, a place that Barrett looked very comfortable attacking from in Summer League.
In addition to his established calling card of scoring, Barrett has proven to be a proficient playmaker, as pointed out by his Godfather, Steve Nash.
RJ Barrett (*yes, is my godson) is a next level playmaker at his age, 18, and size. Makes every read/pass. This is one skill that is easier in many respects due to the rules at the nba level but so damn valuable. Blown away at the reads and deliveries he made repetatively.- Steve Nash (@SteveNash) April 1, 2019
At Duke, Barrett averaged 4.3 assists per game, a mark that was second on the team and sixth among all players in the ACC. With even more talented players around him in the NBA, Barrett will continue to be able to create for others.
In Summer League, Barrett's playmaking ability was on full display in one game as he flirted with a triple-double by recording 21 points, 10 assists and eight rebounds.
Thanks to his rebounding and ball-handling ability, Barrett will have plenty of opportunities to lead the break in transition with a team full of young athletes capable of running the floor.
In these instances, there will be no shortage of highlights as Barrett's assist numbers are sure to benefit.
In half-court situations, Barrett has shown the ability to be patient in pick-and-roll situations. During the Blue Devils NCAA Tournament win over Virginia Tech, he was aggressively hedged and trapped after high ball screens on multiple possessions.
His response? Calmly escape, finding the open men for easy buckets.
This set up to Alex O'Connell was the first of Barrett's 11 assists in the tournament win and was just one of O'Connell's two made field goals.
Here, Barrett gets his fifth assist of the game midway through the first half as he finds Javin DeLaurier after an aggressive trap that pushes him near half-court. It may not be the ideal spot for a ball-handler to end up, but Barrett can grow from moments like these and has shown the ability to adjust on the fly.
While there will be much more switching in the league, the patience that the rookie has displayed illustrates an ability to read, react and evolve within different game situations as he experiences them.
Regardless of if the screener is Gibson, Morris, Portis, Randle or Robinson, Barrett will have a number of bigs who can either pop or roll after setting a ball screen with shooters like Brazdeikis, Bullock and Ellington spacing the floor and a number of athletes capable of cutting outside of the defence's sightline.
When given the opportunity, Barrett will step up to make plays for others this upcoming season.
Essentially, the Knicks were able to grab a young, wise player with superstar potential with the third overall pick in 2019. While Barrett cannot be expected to be the franchise saviour - especially in Year 1 - as he gains his footing and becomes familiar with the system and team around him, he'll come to prove that New York took exactly who it needed to in order to begin to usher in a new era of success.
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