Learning the Hard Way What It Means to Be a Top Pick for the Knicks

Written by on March 7, 2020

Knicks rookie RJ Barrett was within the midst of probably the greatest video games of his profession and he was doing it at Madison Sq. Backyard in opposition to the Houston Rockets, a possible finals workforce. The group ate up his artistic finishes on the rim, together with one late within the fourth quarter that despatched the Backyard right into a playofflike frenzy of leaping and screaming followers.

Barrett completed with 27 factors, tied for his profession excessive, and the Knicks received. For many groups, this could have been the story — that Barrett confirmed flashes of turning into the form of franchise participant that N.B.A. groups hope they will nab with a third-overall decide within the draft.

However Barrett shouldn’t be a rookie for simply any franchise. The following 24 hours after that recreation on Monday turned a bizarre litigation of whether Spike Lee, the director and Knicks superfan, had been mistreated by the workforce’s proprietor, James L. Dolan, that night time.

Barrett’s efficiency turned a sideshow to the circus that’s and has been the Knicks for a lot of the previous 20 years.

That’s life as a lottery decide for the Knicks, for whom uncommon happenings are the norm and the media buzzards are all the time hovering. Merely put, being a rookie for the Knicks, a franchise seemingly hooked on chaos within the nation’s largest metropolis, is totally different from being one for every other workforce. It may be jarring for younger males coming into maturity, and much more so for Barrett — who followers hope would be the centerpiece of a long-desired championship-level workforce.

“One factor I’ll say about New York is that their followers are very passionate and supportive,” Michael Sweetney, the previous Knick, stated in an interview. “However they’ll additionally inform you the reality, too. In the event you’re sucking and never taking part in effectively, they’ll inform you that.”

Barrett is the most recent in a protracted line of gamers who’ve tried to make it in New York. However only a few do, as many previous Knicks lottery picks can attest. It is a metropolis that booed Patrick Ewing in his prime when the team was winning, in spite of everything. Veteran management and a steady entrance workplace matter — and this present iteration of the Knicks has little of both.

Even when the Knicks have performed poorly — and during the last 20 years, they often have — the highlight has by no means shifted. The media press field is commonly full, gamers’ errors are magnified and nobody is spared from withering mockery within the headlines of tabloids just like the New York Every day Information and the New York Publish.

It’s a strain distinctive to gamers in New York. Though strain, in fact, is within the eye of the pressured.

“You all aren’t actually all that dangerous,” Mitchell Robinson, the second-year Knicks heart, stated of the media with a smile. “A few of you’re, however I can’t converse for all.”

Barrett, 19, has up to now put collectively a stable however unspectacular rookie marketing campaign. He was drafted third after Zion Williamson, his teammate at Duke, and Ja Morant, the younger star in Memphis. Barrett was averaging 14.1 factors a recreation, 5 rebounds and a couple of.6 assists on an inefficient .474 true shooting percentage earlier than Friday’s recreation. And whereas he’ll virtually assuredly not win the Rookie of the 12 months Award, he’s arguably having the third-best season out of this rookie class — primarily assembly expectations.

These across the workforce say Barrett handles any further strain with poise.

“He goes on the market, he locks in and he focuses in,” Robinson stated. “You’ll be able to see he needs to win and play laborious.”

After which there are the followers. New York is a metropolis rife with basketball historical past, significantly on the playgrounds. The Knicks fan base is devoted and has for years continued to fill the seats on the Backyard, even with an agonizing run of futility: The workforce will almost certainly miss the playoffs for the seventh straight 12 months, the longest streak of postseason misses for the franchise for the reason that 1960s.

Sweetney, now a men’s basketball coach at Yeshiva University, had considered one of his first New York-specific moments when he was strolling by way of Occasions Sq.. He noticed his face on a billboard promoting Knicks season tickets.

“While you’re within the metropolis, and other people discover you, they’re undoubtedly going to say one thing to you. It’d be bizarre stuff like ‘Man, how are you going to surrender an offensive rebound on that put again?’” Sweetney stated with amusing.

Sweetney, like Barrett, was drafted in the lottery by the Knicks, though a bit decrease on the ninth slot out of Georgetown College in 2003. His rookie 12 months was full of drama as effectively. Isiah Thomas was hired midseason to run basketball operations, ushering in an ignominious period for Knicks basketball. There have been three head coaches in Sweetney’s rookie 12 months alone — Don Chaney, Herb Williams and Lenny Wilkens. The workforce completed 39-43 that 12 months and was swept within the first spherical of the playoffs. Sweetney had a number of veterans in entrance of him on the depth chart so he didn’t obtain a lot taking part in time. His N.B.A. profession lasted 4 years.

“There have been so many distractions occurring after I was there,” Sweetney stated, “Me being a lottery decide and never residing as much as my expectations was in all probability the least of their worries.”

Sweetney stated a supply of counsel for him throughout that first 12 months was Ewing, a fellow Georgetown Hoya who instructed him to maintain being optimistic. Sweetney additionally obtained steerage from a sure fan.

“Spike Lee wasn’t an ex-player, however he would all the time give me recommendation on New York Metropolis and what it means to be a Knick,” Sweetney stated.

For Barrett, he’ll seemingly play for his third head coach subsequent 12 months (David Fizdale was fired in December; Mike Miller has been filling in as interim coach) and is already on his second workforce president. This 12 months’s Knicks workforce will end with a worse document than the one Sweetney performed for in 2003.

“My recommendation to him is to maintain being him,” Sweetney stated. “Hold working laborious. I feel he’s constructed for New York. It’s not New York media, however he performed with Zion Williamson. They all the time had the microscope on them.”

Some Knicks rookies have been drafted within the lottery right into a steady Knicks franchise. Considered one of them was Greg Anthony, now a TNT analyst. After having grown up as a Knicks fan, he was picked 12th in 1991. These Knicks had been a perennial playoff workforce anchored by Ewing and Coach Pat Riley, each future Corridor of Famers. Anthony performed all 82 video games throughout his first 12 months, coming off the bench and getting used to taking part in in high-pressure conditions. Anthony was 24, and in contrast to many lottery picks as of late he was not only a 12 months faraway from highschool. That in all probability helped him.

“The period was totally different, Anthony stated. “You had a variety of media scrutiny, clearly, simply due to the market. However I don’t assume it carried the identical affect it did 20 years in the past.”

As a rookie, Anthony stated he obtained recommendations on the right way to behave from veterans like Ewing and Charles Oakley. His eye-opening expertise of being in New York was watching the Knicks get booed of their first preseason recreation in opposition to the Dallas Mavericks. Anthony would go on to have a 10-year profession within the N.B.A., together with a job on a Knicks workforce that made the finals in 1993-94.

“We ran a reasonably tight ship when it got here to the sport and apply so I had nice mentorship in that regard, in order that was an enormous benefit to have, versus what you’re seeing right this moment,” Anthony stated. “Look, they’ve already had a training change.”

Teaching modifications can occur anyplace, in fact. However the Knicks have had a very rocky season throughout, from the entrance workplace’s public upbraiding of the workforce throughout a shock information convention after a loss in November to followers’ yelling at Dolan to promote the workforce after another loss in January. And with solely two teammates over 30 — Taj Gibson is 34, and Wayne Ellington is 32 — Barrett doesn’t have a steady of skilled veterans to mentor him.

“He has been actually a professional,” Miller stated. “He has the proper demeanor for it. I feel he embraces it and I feel he’s real what he does. With these issues in thoughts, I feel he’s achieved rather well.”

If nothing else, Barrett has firm on the workforce — teammates who can commiserate about spending their first 12 months within the Knicks wringer. Robinson, Kevin Knox, Frank Ntilikina and Damyean Dotson had been all drafted by the Knicks. Allonzo Trier, now in his second 12 months, went undrafted however was signed by the workforce. That’s atypical lately for the Knicks, who’ve usually stocked the franchise with veterans due to a scarcity of draft picks after poor entrance workplace selections.

Knox, who was a Knicks lottery decide in 2018, stated that whereas there’s a “little extra strain” taking part in in New York, he and Barrett aren’t fazed: “All of us put the jersey on and hoop the identical.”

“Me, I performed at Kentucky. RJ performed at Duke,” Knox stated. “We performed on large phases in school. Robust video games on a regular basis. It’s simply one other basketball recreation for us.”

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