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RJ Barrett may not be able to handle this heavy workload

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RJ Barrett and Julius Randle lead the NBA as a 1-2 punch in one category.

It’s not in scoring but minutes per game. RJ Barrett, after playing 44 in the Knicks’ loss to Oklahoma City on Friday, entered Sunday’s 114-89 loss to Denver averaging 38.8 minutes. Randle was close behind at 37.7.

Nothing changed against the Nuggets except coach Tom Thibodeau throwing in the towel in the fourth quarter. But the load is taking a toll on Barrett, who labored through a second straight poor outing — scoring nine points with three turnovers, shooting 4 of 13.

Barrett logged just 33 minutes as Thibodeau wisely yanked him midway through the fourth to save him for Charlotte on Monday.

Thibodeau’s lone alleged fault as a head coach is having a reputation for going too hard on his important players and wearing them down for the playoffs.

Taj Gibson’s arrival certainly will ease the minutes burden on Randle, but he won’t join the team until Wednesday versus the Nets at the earliest. Amid COVID-19 protocols, Gibson is not with the team yet.

Thibodeau is only mildly concerned about the high minutes.

Knicks
RJ Barrett drives to the basket for the Knicks.
Getty Images

“There’s a lot that goes into pacing a team,’’ Thibodeau said before Sunday’s blowout loss. “You do it in practice. They’re both young guys. We’re shorthanded. Over the course of the season, I think you’ll see their minutes will be in line. I think they can handle what they’re getting so far.”

At age 19, Barrett played 31 minutes per game as a rookie . Former coach David Fizdale was asked early in Barrett’s rookie season if he were worried about giving a 19-year-old too many minutes. But Barrett remained sturdy and mostly injury free — save one ankle sprain.

Barrett had a tired-looking game versus the Thunder in which he shot 7 of 21.

“I go out there and I play,’’ Barrett said about leading the NBA in minutes. “It’s my job. As long as coach wants me out there on the floor I’m happy to be out there. I want to contribute any way that I can.’’

Thibodeau is hoping even if Barrett’s shot is off, he’s not shortchanging other departments.

“To have the understanding you can play well if you don’t shoot well,’’ Thibodeau said. “The objective is to win. So don’t get mired in any personal dilemma if it’s not going well’’

Randle’s workload has increased partly due to rookie lottery-pick Obi Toppin being out since the season opener with a calf strain. And Randle is holding up well with another efficient 29 points, 10 rebounds and five assists Sunday.

“Just got to do the extra things,’’ Randle said. “The things to take care of my body and making sure I’m feeling fresh game to game. Today I felt great.’’

Toppin is not that close to returning as Thibodeau revealed he hasn’t been cleared for contact. But that could occur any day.

“We just have to be patient and go through the process,’’ Thibodeau said. “Right now it’s one-on-zero, with some movement, jumping, change of direction and that sort of thing and then progress to two-on-two, three-on-three, and get to the point where he can get to five-on-five and get through practice. But he’s making good progress so we’re pleased with that.’’


Injuries to Alec Burks and Frank Ntilikina, in particular, has Barrett playing more minutes than Thibodeau would like and neither will be back in the next week.

Ntilikina (sprained knee), has missed nearly two weeks with a sprained knee and doesn’t figure back at practice for another week, according to Thibodeau.


Thibodeau and Nuggets esteemed coach Mike Malone were on the same Knicks staff in the early 2000’s under Jeff Van Gundy. Thibs has often talked that staff being power-packed — naming Malone’s father, Brendan, Steve Clifford, Don Chaney, Kevin O’Neill and Jeff Nix.

Asked what the younger Malone learned from him, Thibodeau said, “We had a lot of guys. I think we learned from each other. And that was the best part of that staff was it felt like we were going to the best clinic in the world every day.’’

Thibodeau said Malone has gone on to weave “a terrific career.’’

Malone said he learned a lot and recalls the marathon summer league practices in 2001.

“I think back upon that time because I think of what a tremendous coaching staff I had the opportunity to learn from,’’ Malone said before the game. “I was really fortunate to be around a lot of coaches that looked out for me and taught me the ropes as I was going along. What always impressed me with Thibs was his work ethic, obviously, and his passion for the game, the details.

“I do laugh when I think about the summer league practices up in White Plains at the Westchester Civic Center. We had practice for our summer league up in Boston and I remember Don Chaney would have ice bags on after practice because Thibs’ summer league practices were like five hours long.’’

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