RJ Barrett
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Once the early favorites at Las Vegas Summer League, the New York Knicks can take some positives away from their five games.

Danny Small

There has been ample time for the dust to settle in Las Vegas. The New York Knicks finished Summer League with a 2-3 record, but the wins and losses are beside the point. There are two major takeaways for the Knicks from Vegas.

The first is that RJ Barrett experienced a little adversity. Second, there are small ripples that indicate a legitimate culture manifesting around this team. On that front, there is still a long way to go, but there are positive signs nonetheless.

Barrett's Struggles

The No. 3 overall pick struggled to find his footing in his first few professional games. In his first two games in Las Vegas, Barrett shot 7-for-33 from the floor and the sky was falling.

The hot takes started to flood the airwaves and the internet. He was a bust and everyone with an agenda against the Knicks had a few moments to gloat. There are plenty of times to criticize the Knicks, but Barrett’s Summer League performance was not one of them.

The Duke product would finish out strong in Vegas. In his final game, Barrett finished with 21 points on 13 shots with eight rebounds, 10 assists, and just two turnovers. Although much of the criticism sent Barrett’s way was premature, it was a very small taste of what may be in store during his rookie season.

Teams nowadays are very cautious with all players, but young players especially. Plenty of first-rounders skipped Summer League entirely or only played a handful of minutes. It’s unfortunate because the NBA has done such a great job at turning Las Vegas Summer League into a major attraction.

New York Knicks

However, if the trend of keeping top draft picks out of Summer League continues, there will be fewer RJ Barrett-types playing under the bright lights in Sin City.

It’s obvious why teams will hold players back. Fear of injury is a major component to it and it’s hard to argue with that logic. Losing a potential franchise cornerstone to a significant injury in a meaningless game would be a nightmare for any team.

That being said, there are benefits to taking your lumps in Summer League. Stephen Curry, Trae Young, and Marvin Bagley III are three players who struggled during the summer circuit after they were drafted. There’s no doubt that those early struggles gave them some vital experience for the road ahead.

The Knicks are hoping that Barrett follows in the same footsteps of those three players. It’s important to keep things in perspective because after all, it is only Summer League, but these are the small steps that prepare a rookie for the grind of an 82-game season. Barrett’s teammate, Allonzo Trier, took to Twitter to give his take on all the incoming rookies who weren’t playing in Vegas.

A little adversity isn’t a bad thing for Barrett, or any of the other Knicks. But that wasn’t the only positive the Knicks can take away from Las Vegas.

Small Signs Of Culture Building

“Culture” is a buzzword that is often overused, but there’s no denying that the most successful teams have it. Putting your finger on it isn’t easy. It’s more of an “I know it when I see it” type of situation. The San Antonio Spurs, Miami Heat, Golden State Warriors, and Brooklyn Nets are all teams that come to mind when culture is discussed.

After failing to make the playoffs, the Knicks were relegated to consolation games. With one final game to play, Kevin Knox and Mitchell Robinson pushed the coaching staff to let them play. In today’s era of “load management” and “general soreness,” it’s refreshing to see Knox and Robinson advocate to play in a meaningless game in July.

Not to mention, Robinson was named to the Summer League First Team for his ridiculous play on both ends of the court. However, the statistics won’t mean anything in the long run. The team building is far more important than any three-pointer Robinson blocked.

As this writer has mentioned in the past, the biggest priority for head coach David Fizdale is to help this mismatched roster an identity. The charismatic coach from California came over with ties to Pat Riley, Erik Spoelstra, and the famed “Heat culture” that has led to three NBA titles since 2006.

That type of hard-nosed, grind-it-out squad is exactly the kind of team Knicks fans will fall in love with. Whether or not they develop into that kind of team remains to be seen. But there are small signs of a culture change in New York.

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