Canada set an NBA record for most non-American players on opening-day rosters this season. There were 16 in all, as well as four more on two-way contracts, meaning they could split time between the NBA and its development league, the G League. Two more Canadians got called up during the year. In the coming weeks we’ll continue to take a look at how the brightest lights of this golden generation of Canuck hoopers fared in 2019-20.
Next up, New York Knicks rookie shooting guard RJ Barrett, of Mississauga, Ont.
RECAPPING THE SEASON
As the third pick overall in last June’s NBA draft, RJ Barrett had to know the expectations would be high.
Being drafted by the New York Knicks meant those expectations were inflated even more while at the same time having to — there’s no nice way of putting this — play for an organization that has proven incompetent and incapable for the better part of the last 20 years or so.
But the Maple Mamba, a nickname that hasn’t quite taken off, persevered and despite another rough Knicks season, just 21 wins in 66 games, Barrett got his NBA feet wet and did not disappoint.
Oh the folks in Gotham might be a little down on their shiny new toy who averaged just over 14 points and five rebounds and just under three assists a game, but as starved as that fan base has been for as long as they’ve been wanting, that’s almost understandable.
As a rookie Barrett, the son of former national team member and current Canadian senior men’s team GM Rowan Barrett, had 13 games of 20 or more points, including two in his first three games.
The five games he played in October and the six games he played in March before the season was suspended by the coronavirus pandemic were easily his best in terms of scoring.
Barrett’s rookie numbers stack up favourably against the best NBA talent Canada has ever produced. Only Andrew Wiggins, who won rookie of the year in 2015, when he averaged 16.9 points per game, had a better first season in the NBA as a Canadian.
Barrett started 55 of 56 games and missed 10 due to a variety of injuries.
He ranked third among all rookies in scoring behind Memphis and likely rookie of the year winner Ja Morant as well as Miami’s Kendrick Nunn. He was fourth in rebounding among rookies and seventh in assists.
He did all this playing on a team that had the fifth youngest roster in the NBA averaging just under 25 years of age and did so while playing for two different head coaches as David Fizdale was fired after just 22 games on the job and replaced by Mike Miller.
These weren’t ideal conditions for a 19-year-old but he somehow managed to soldier on through it.
In a perfect world, Barrett would have got his start somewhere else in the NBA … really anywhere else. But as the old saying goes what doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger and based on that we’re willing to bet Barrett, based on his enormous talent and a stable upbringing, will only get better as his NBA career continues.
Really, Barrett is the complete package and that will shine through regardless of who the Knicks put around him but the sooner stability arrives at Madison Square Garden, the sooner Barrett’s talents can be taken advantage of and a real team can be built for the mecca of all sporting venues.
Yes, James Dolan remains the monkey at the wheel of the clown car that is the Knicks for the time being, but even on that front there appears to be some hope. Dolan, at least appears to have taken a step back from his day-to-day interfering as he brought in respected player agent Leon Rose to oversee the operations getting rid of previous yes-man Steve Mills who was fired in February.
Now Dolan has given this stepping-back look before when he brought in Phil Jackson and that turned out to be an illusion. The hope is Rose has better luck convincing the wanna-be rock star Dolan to stick to his music interests.
The sooner that happens the sooner the Knicks can get better and the sooner we’ll get to appreciate just how good this young man can be.
THE BEST OF BARRETT
Mar 11 @ Atlanta W 136-131 OT 26 points, 9-14 shooting, 2-5 from distance, 5 rebounds 4 assists
In what would be Barrett’s final game of the year, he put up arguably his best overall performance, ending things on a high note.
Dec 17 vs. Atlanta W 143-120 27 points, 10-13 shooting, 2-3 from distance, 6 rebounds
Jan 12 vs. Miami W 124-121 23 points, 7-10 shooting, 1-3 from distance, 5 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 steals
Jan 5 @ LA Clippers L 135-132 24 points, 7-11 shooting, 1-2 from distance, 6 rebounds, 1 steal, 1 block
Nov. 12 @ Chicago L120-102 21 points, 8-16 shooting, 2-4 from distance, 6 rebounds, 9 assists
Mar 2 vs. Houston W 125-123 27 points, 10-18 shooting, 3-8 from distance, 5 rebounds, 5 assists
Oct 28 vs. Chicago W105-98 19 points, 7-15 shooting, 15 rebounds, 5 assists
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