What load management? Rookie RJ Barrett logging heavy minutes in New York

New York Knicks coach David Fizdale has a lot of faith in guard RJ Barrett. The amount of floor time the prized rookie has logged so far in his first NBA season is proof of that.

Barrett, a 19-year-old from Mississauga, Ont., is averaging 37.1 minutes a game, fourth among all players heading into Tuesday's contests. On Sunday, he played a gruelling 40 minutes 44 seconds in the Knicks' 113-92 loss to the host Sacramento Kings. A good chunk of those minutes came in the fourth quarter, with the game out of reach for the Knicks.

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At a post-game press conference, a reporter had the temerity to ask Fizdale why Barrett was toiling on the floor during the dying minutes of a game where the result was assured. The Knicks coach did not appreciate the line of questioning.

"He's got the day off tomorrow," Fizdale snapped.

"We've got to get off this load management crap," he continued after a long pause. "Latrell Sprewell averaged 42 minutes for a season. This kid is 19 years old. Drop it already."

The load management concept Fizdale mentioned refers to the recent trend of giving players time off — usually entire games — to manage their workload through a tough 82-game season so they are prepared for the condensed grind of the post-season.

However, whether giving Barrett a deserved rest for the fourth quarter of Sunday's game would have qualified as load management is debatable. Allowing star players a breather late in games that have already been decided has been standard procedure for some time.

While there are certainly times when coaches need to lean on their best players a little more than normal, it's arguable that an early-season blowout between two struggling teams doesn't quite rate. Especially seeing as the Knicks were coming off a hard-fought 104-102 loss in Boston on Friday, a game in which Barrett played over 39 minutes.

Barrett had 22 points, four rebounds, three assists, a steal and a block in the loss to the Kings, another good line for the star rookie. But his fourth-quarter numbers suggest he might have been better suited with some rest. He hit just one of four shots and had a turnover after coming in with 9:06 remaining in the quarter.

Still, for a Knicks team (1-6) desperate for any reason to be excited, the third-overall pick in this year's draft has so far delivered. Barrett is averaging 18,3 points, 6.3 rebounds and 3.3 assists per game while playing big minutes, and his three-point mark of 35.7 per cent — slightly above the league average — is a pleasant surprise.

"I think he's been fantastic for a rookie. Having a lot of responsibility put on him, I think he's taken it in stride and doing a great job with it," Fizdale said.

Barrett doesn't seem to have a problem with his heavy workload, shrugging when reporters asked him about it following Sunday's game.

"I'm 19," he said with a laugh. "I'm good."

DREAM COME TRUE — Canadian cousins Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Nickeil Alexander-Walker met in an NBA regular-season game for the first time Saturday, and Gilgeous-Alexander proudly tweeted a picture of their jersey swap after the game. "We used to pray for times like this," Gilgeous-Alexander posted, "and of course (Alexander-Walker) had to show off his tats. Love you kid."

Gilgeous-Alexander, born in Toronto and raised in Hamilton, came out on top on the scoresheet. He scored 23 points and added eight rebounds as his Oklahoma City Thunder beat Alexander-Walker's New Orleans Pelicans 115-104. But as the older cousin noted, Alexander-Walker had the better ink game. The rookie from Toronto showed off an impressive chest-covering tattoo centred by a large crucifix.

THOMPSON GUN — The Cleveland Cavaliers have been leaning on Tristan Thompson to provide more offence early this season, and so far the big man from Brampton, Ont., has obliged. While it's only a six-game sample size, the centre-forward has been averaging 16.5 points while firing 13.7 field-goal attempts per game so far in this campaign. That's well up from his career averages of 9.2 points and 7.1 attempts. He's also getting it done on the glass, averaging four offensive rebounds per game.

MAN IN THE MIDDLE — Dallas Mavericks starting centre Dwight Powell is starting to round into form after missing the first three games of the season with a left hamstring strain. The Mavs eased him back into the lineup in his return Tuesday in a win over Denver, as he finished with four points in 13:34 of action. He improved his output to 14 points in a 119-110 overtime loss to the Los Angeles Lakers on Friday, though he missed a free-throw that could have put the Mavs up by four with time running out in regulation.

Powell should be to be a key contributor to the Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis-led Mavericks this season. Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle is a fan of the Toronto-born Stanford grad, who signed a three-year, US$33-million contract with the team in July.

CHECKING IN — New York's Ignas Brazdeikis made his NBA debut in Sunday's loss to the Kings. The Lithuanian-born forward from Oakville, Ont., had four points and an assist in 4:11 of playing time. ... Centre Khem Birch is in line for significant playing time with the Orlando Magic, who are easing second-year player Mo Bamba back into action as he recovers from a stress fracture in his left leg. The Montrealer played 22 minutes in the Magic's game Friday against Milwaukee, and he is expected to split back-to-back games with Bamba for the foreseeable future. ... Minnesota forward Andrew Wiggins tried to fill the void created by star Karl-Anthony Towns' two-game suspension with mixed results. The Vaughan, Ont., player had 21 points, five rebounds and six assists in a 131-109 road win over Washington. He followed with a 25-point and two-block performance in a 134-106 loss to visiting Milwaukee.

KEEP AN EYE ON — Barrett and the Knicks host Thompson and the Cavaliers on Sunday. Thompson, a fourth-overall pick in 2011, was named to the NBA all-rookie second team in his first season. Barrett, a fellow star from the Region of Peel, looks like a good bet to earn a spot on an all-rookie squad in his inaugural campaign.

CanaDunks, a weekly notebook on Canadians in the NBA, is published every Tuesday.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 5, 2019.

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