For the No. 3 overall selection in the 2019 NBA Draft, the start to his NBA career could’ve gone better. Through two games in the NBA Summer League, New York Knicks shooting guard RJ Barrett has averaged nine points and seven assists per game while shooting a miserable 21% from the field. Through two games, Barrett has more turnovers (10) than field goals (7) made.
As bad as he’s been, it’s time to take a step back and take in the words of Aaron Rodgers: R-E-L-A-X.
First off, it’s important to note that Barrett has not played in a competitive basketball game in over three months. With inevitable rust combined with the nerves that come with playing in your first professional action (summer league or not), it’s no surprise that Barrett has struggled. He is trying to get accustomed to playing with an entirely new team and league while competing with many players who have already had a taste of NBA action.
When dissecting the issues of Barrett so far, one thing remains clear. He’s trying to force too much with the ball in his hands, rather than let the game come to him. In his two games thus far, Barrett has looked completely uncomfortable on the court. He has often tried to force his shot and look to score rather than trying to get into a rhythm with the offense. This is especially evident in his assists statistics. At Duke, Barrett averaged upwards of four assists per game to go along with his strong scoring and rebounding statistics. Through two games in the NBA Summer League, Barrett has averaged just one assist per game. Rather than trying to pass and fit into the offense, Barrett has tried too hard to get to the basket and put up the scoring numbers he’s been accustomed to.
Barrett needs to start focusing on getting accustomed to the offense rather than putting up those scoring numbers. In two games, he has consistently drawn double coverage and had an ample amount of opportunities to pass to open teammates. Instead, Barrett has show tunnel vision and gone to the basket each and every time.
These issues with his shot and decision making are real, but it’s not all doom and gloom. Barrett’s rebounding production has been strong through the first two games, and his defensive play has been solid. This was headlined with Barrett’s lockdown one-on-one defense and rejection at the end of regulation to force OT against the Phoenix Suns.
If history is any indication, Barrett’s performance in the Summer League is nothing to worry about. Let’s take last year’s No. 5 overall selection Trae Young as an example. Known for his explosive offensive production in college, Young struggled immensely early on at the 2018 NBA Summer League. In his first three games, Young shot 23.1% from the field and 12.5% from three-point range. His shooting percentage was the lowest among all players who appeared in the three Utah Jazz’s Summer League tournament games and recorded at least 30 minutes per game.
Young looked horrible, forcing shot after shot and turning the ball over at incredibly high rates. After just a few games in the Summer League, many were already labeling Young a bust before he even made his first appearance in real game action. Fast forward to the end of the season, and Young posted one of the most impressive rookie campaigns in recent memory. Averaging 19.1 points and 8.1 assists per game, Young established himself as one of the up-and-coming point guards in the league. He finished second in Rookie of the Year voting behind Luka Doncic and completely erased the criticism he received in the Summer League prior to the season.
For Barrett, his numbers and struggles through two games are eerily similar to Young’s. Their games are different, but with both having played just one season in college and coming to the NBA with high expectations, it’s no surprise to see them struggle in the Summer League. Even if Barrett continues to struggle throughout the remainder of the tournament, it will be impossible to truly determine his skill until he appears in games that matter.
Barrett’s potential is through the roof and if you’re seriously concerned about the 19-year olds future in the league after two exhibition games, you need a reality check.