CHICAGO – Knicks rookie RJ Barrett may lack a stable perimeter jumper, but he hardly lacks confidence.
Barrett said he was looking forward to protecting his Duke colleague Zion Williamson at the Rising Stars Challenge on Friday night at the NBA All-Star Weekend, adding that he would vote for himself – not for Grizzlies Point Guard Ja Morant – for the Rookie of the Year.
"Many people deserve it [Rookie of the Year]Many people work hard for it. I dont know. It's difficult not to vote for myself, ”Barrett said Friday morning before a Rising Stars training session at Wintrust Arena, home of DePaul basketball.
Barrett said he really wasn't in the rookie of the year conversation and said, "I feel like a lot of guys are playing really well. There are a lot of good newbies out there. Yeah does his thing all year round. Kendrick [Nunn of the Heat], Zion is back now. Boys play really well. I will never stop believing in myself. "
The Rising Stars Challenge offers the best rookies and sophomores from the NBA, divided into Team USA and Team World. That means Barrett, a Canadian who plays for Team World, and Williamson will fight for the second time. They faced each other in a summer league game in July, although Williamson closed after nine minutes. Williamson was still in rehab to repair a torn right meniscus when the pelicans visited the garden on January 10th. The Knicks will be visiting the Big Easy on March 27th.
When asked by the post if he wanted to protect Williamson at the Friday night exhibition, Barrett said, "Hell yeah. Hell yes. I feel like I know better than anyone how to protect him."
Williamson, who came to Chicago at 2:30 a.m. on Friday morning after the pelicans did the thunder on Thursday evening, said he was only "here for fun" and called Barrett "something very special".
"This is my brother," said Williamson. "We had great times at Duke."
When he found out Barrett wanted to protect him because he knew things, Williamson changed his mind.
"I'll take RJ straight to the post office," Williamson said with a smile.
Barrett later retreated slightly when asked if he could reveal any secrets about defending Williamson, who has been phenomenal since his debut last month. Williamson was the first player to score eight 20-point games in his first ten games when he lost a career high of 32 points on Thursday night. He has an average of 22.1 points and 7.5 rebounds.
"I'll give you a secret: He'll do what he'll do and you can't stop it," said Barrett.
"I feel like he's a player with him that we've never seen before. How do you protect him? He's such a talent. He's such a great kid. He works so hard on his craft."
Barrett, the 19-year-old left 6-foot-6 shooter, scored an average of 13.6 points in 44 games, but his field goal percentage was 38.8 – 31.3 percent of them from a 3-point range. Its effective field goal percentage, which gives additional weight to 3-point shots, is only 43 percent.
But his sly instinct to get in the basket, defense, hustle and bustle, and intangibles still raise hopes that he will turn into an all-star, as Morant and Williamson seem determined. Williamson was the first choice in last June's draft, Morant # 2 and Barrett # 3.
NBA scouts told The Post during the Las Vegas Summer League that Barrett's boast would help him transition to the NBA, focusing on 3-point shooting rather than his strength.
"I feel like I'm expecting greatness from myself," said Barrett. “I work hard to be great every day. I expect great things. Something like that [All-Star invite] happens, I can step back and enjoy it. "
Barrett said he would drive to "sunny Florida" on Saturday afternoon to relax after a hectic first half of the Knicks season. But first he wants to enjoy the all-star vibe.
"I want to pick out people's brains," said Barrett. "There are a lot of stars here. It's a chance to talk to them and see what they're doing and apply it to my life. I saw Gary Payton last night. He was cool talking to us and telling us how hard he worked and told us to ask questions. don't be afraid to ask questions. people have a lot of knowledge. "
The Knicks took a break with an interim coach, a GM whose future is in the air, and no official team president. But Barrett is a building block.
"It was really different," said Barrett of his novice year. "I had a lot of people who helped me make my transition smoother. Marcus [Morris]I've talked a lot, mostly because it's a grand piano. Wayne [Ellington] and Taj [Gibson] Really help me with the daily routine and stay focused all the time. "
Friday wasn't just any game for Barrett.
"I saw this game a lot when I grew up," said Barrett. "I really wanted to be there."