Knicks guard RJ Barrett drives the ball against Phoenix Suns...

Knicks guard RJ Barrett drives the ball against Phoenix Suns guard Ricky Rubio during the first half of an NBA basketball game at Madison Square Garden on Thursday, Jan. 16, 2020. Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

CLEVELAND — Early Saturday, when the rest of the Knicks were done with their morning shoot-around preparation, RJ Barrett took the court with an assistant coach and began to work.

Still sidelined with a high ankle sprain, Barrett had watched the rest of his team play. Then he took the court and began to gingerly work out, moving carefully to avoid a setback in what he has said is the first injury that has ever sidelined him.

He already has missed eight games, including Saturday night’s road victory over the Pacers, and certainly will sit out Monday’s game against the Cavaliers.

But Barrett, who has eagerly awaited the chance to rejoin the team, has something else to work his way back for. While the Knicks have struggled through a 14-36 season in which most of the games seem like nothing more than a slog to the next phase of a rebuild, Barrett has an invitation to the NBA’s All-Star Weekend. And he is anxious to get there.

“For sure, one of the things that I dreamed about,” he said. “I’m very thankful. I feel very honored that I’m going to get the opportunity.”

Barrett was selected to play for the World Team in the Rising Stars Challenge. The game will be held Feb. 14, giving him less than two more weeks to get ready to be a part of it. He is optimistic but uncertain whether he can accomplish that.

“I have no clue yet,” Barrett said. “But I’m hopeful to try to do more stuff next week, trying to return to practice next week. Some days you feel good and you want to do more, but you’ve still got to go with the pace and go with the flow and just make sure that you’re fully 100%.

“I’ve heard your first ankle sprain, it’ll take a little time. As it happens more and more, you get used to it. I guess it’s a couple of bumps in the road at the beginning.”

But he insisted that regardless of whether he can play, he will head to Chicago to be a part of the weekend.

The season has been a learning experience for the 19-year-old Barrett, who is enduring his first time on a losing team. He is averaging 14.1 points, and just before he suffered the injury, he had begun to show glimpses of the player the Knicks hoped they had gotten with the No. 3 overall pick in the NBA Draft. He averaged 19 points per game in the last six games before getting hurt, shooting 42.1% from beyond the arc.

“I felt like I was starting to figure out things a little bit more, figuring out how teams were going to play me,” Barrett said. “It was a little tough. But I know I have a lot more years to go.”

The one thing that hurts Barrett is that his teammate, center Mitchell Robinson, was not selected to play in the Rising Stars Challenge.

“That’s a tough one, especially for the USA team,” Barrett said. “It’s so many people competing for certain spots and it’s hard to not see him out there because he’s such a great talent. But he’s going to keep working and prove people wrong.

“Man, if people see the things he can do every day, it’s just ridiculous. He’s such an athletic freak. There’s not really many 7-footers that are running like he is.”


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