When the Knicks selected RJ Barrett with the third pick in the NBA Draft two weeks ago, he could have imagined fitting in place alongside an assortment of star pieces acquired in free agency.
But as the Knicks commenced their first practice in Las Vegas prepping for Summer League play, Barrett found himself playing alongside a few pieces from last season’s 17-65 team and a roster that might not be much different when the real season begins.
The Knicks struck out on the stars in free agency and instead settled for signing six players who, with the exception of Julius Randle, figure to be role players. That puts a lot of pressure on the 19-year-old Barrett to shoulder the load — which was the first question for him the day after he was drafted. It elicited laughter when he was asked if his shoulders were big enough to carry the franchise.
“I think it’s a team,” Barrett said in a conference call Tuesday. “It’ll be our squad. I’m just a rookie coming in and just trying to learn and really just try to do as much as I can to help the team.”
He could not address the free-agent moves yet, with teams not able to comment until Saturday. But even if the Knicks had signed a star, Barrett would likely be the main focus for the team when it begins summer league play Friday. The Knicks will play the Pelicans in their opening game that night, meaning Barrett will face his college teammate at Duke and friend Zion Williamson.
"I kind of just laughed,” Barrett said. “It’s funny that my first game ever in a uniform is against my guy. I’m just really excited to play.
“We haven’t talked about it at all. We don’t really talk about basketball too much. We’re just going to go out there and play.”
In his first practice, Barrett was happy just to be a part of the group and begin his learning process.
“It was great,” he said. “High intensity. It was a lot of fun. It was one practice, so you can’t really tell much. I was really just trying to learn. That’s what I came in for, really. That’s about it. I definitely want to have a great summer league. Really try to show out.”
He has kept busy since the draft, appearing on numerous shows, including Kevin Durant’s The Boardroom. Barrett also went on stage at the NBA Awards show to present the Rookie of the Year award to Dallas’ Luka Doncic.
“The NBA awards were great,” Barrett said. “Hopefully, that’s me getting that award next year. So it was great to experience that.”
Barrett has been working with a trainer in Los Angeles since his freshman year at Duke ended, and before the draft he predicted his work would drastically fill in the holes in his game. Asked Tuesday what he has been working on, he was coy.
“Everything,” he said. “So if you really want to see, you’ll come watch the game.”
Notes & quotes: Kris Wilkes, who is expected to sign a two-way contract with the Knicks, is suffering from an illness and is not on the summer league roster ... Mitchell Robinson, who wore No. 26 last season, has switched to his high school number, 23, which he wore to honor the numbers 2 and 3 that had been worn by a pair of childhood friends who passed away.