The Knicks, load management and the RJ Barrett controversy

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Updated: November 19, 2019

7:32 AM ET

This edition of the NBA mailbag features questions on the RJ Barrett‘s minutes load, a hypothetical West-East move and pick sixes in the NBA.

You can tweet your questions using the hashtag #peltonmailbag or email them to peltonmailbag@gmail.com.


The furor over the heavy workload for No. 3 overall pick RJ Barrett erupted after he played 41 minutes, including seven in the fourth quarter, during a 21-point loss to the Sacramento Kings on Nov. 3. Following the game, New York Knicks coach David Fizdale pushed back on a question about Barrett’s playing time.

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  • “We’ve got to get off this load management crap,” Fizdale said. “Latrell Sprewell averaged 42 minutes for a season. This kid is 19. Drop it already.”

    The funny thing about the outcry is that Fizdale did almost immediately cut Barrett’s minutes, possibly because he has been less effective following a fast start. After playing at least 39 minutes three times in New York’s first seven games, Barrett hasn’t played more than 35 in any since.

    So while he still is high on the leaderboard for minutes per game during a season concluded at age 19, no longer is he ahead of everyone but LeBron James.

    Adding in seasons begun at age 19 offers the second years for James and Dwight Howard at 42.4 and 36.9 minutes per game, respectively, as well as Lamar Odom and Andrew Wiggins each playing more than 36 MPG. But no matter where you set the bar, it’s certainly atypical for a teenager to play as much as Barrett had been early in the season. And that was true even a decade ago at the dawn of the one-and-done era, long before NBA folks were using the phrase “load management.”

    Fizdale’s choice of Sprewell as a comparison was an unusual one given that, at the same age, Sprewell still was playing in obscurity as a sophomore at Three Rivers Community College. After two years at Alabama, Sprewell made his NBA debut at age 22 and still averaged fewer MPG (35.6) as a rookie. It wasn’t until turning 23 that Sprewell’s workload grew to a league-high 43.1 MPG in 1993-94. So I’m not sure Fizdale’s example tells us much about how many minutes Barrett is playing at age 19.

    Unfortunately, given the small sample size of predecessors for Barrett, it’s tough to draw any real conclusions here. In the 2011 Pro Basketball Prospectus, I studied how players with high minute totals early in their career developed and found they tailed off earlier than their low-minutes peers. However, that study contrasted players who either entered the NBA out of high school or were one-and-done in college like Barrett against those like Sprewell who reached the NBA later. It doesn’t necessarily tell us much about the extra handful of minutes per game Barrett was playing early in the season.