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Point/Counterpoint: Is David Fizdale playing RJ Barrett too many minutes?

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Is Fiz running RJ into the ground, or is it good to give the rookie a heavy workload?

Sacramento Kings v New York Knicks
Does he look tired? Is that up to viewers to decide?
Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images

A frustrated David Fizdale lashed out at a reporter who questioned the amount of minutes RJ Barrett played after the Kings’ recent blowout of the Knicks, lambasting as ridiculous such inquiries about a 19-year-old who had the next day off.

Chaos ensued on social media, with some criticizing the workload Fizdale is giving Barrett and others critiquing the criticism. Much of this probably boils down to distress over the team’s record early in the season, which at 1-6 is currently worst in the NBA. But it’s always worthwhile to question authority, and in this case the authority-in-question is Fizdale.

Is the second year coach doing the right thing by squeezing as many minutes out of his premier rookie as possible? Is he putting Barrett at risk of injury and therefore risking the future of the franchise?

Let’s look at both sides of the situation.

The argument for why Fizdale should give Barrett some rest

Common sense would suggest that a person’s risk of injury is probably greater when they are fatigued. Therefore, some believe, Fizdale should quit playing Barrett so much.

As of Monday afternoon, Barrett had played the most total minutes of any player in the NBA (260) and was fifth in minutes per game (37.1), behind only Kyle Lowry, Fred VanVleet, Justise Winslow and Damian Lillard. In those minutes, meanwhile, Barrett has also covered more ground than any other NBA player to this point in the season. He’s run 20.10 total miles across the first seven games, according to stats.NBA.com, which is about two miles more than the man in second place, Zach LaVine. Barrett also sits atop the list for miles per game, at 2.87, ahead of VanVleet, who trails him by .07 miles per contest.

Although young people typically have fresher legs than their elders, Barrett is a rookie who played only one year of college, meaning he’s never experienced the grind of a full NBA season. For some, the thinking goes, you can never be too careful with a potential franchise player. During his lone season at Duke, Barrett averaged 35 minutes per contest in 38 games, totaling 1,341 minutes, or about a fifth of the minutes he has already played just seven games into his professional career.

The NBA season is long. We’re here for 82 games of Barrett-ball, not 38, and everyone knows about that pesky wall rookies seem to inevitably run into after the midpoint of the year. Theoretically, one way to make it less likely Barrett hits that wall sooner than we want is to lessen his load a bit now. Particularly when the game is long over and the team should just wave the white flag and let guys like Ignas Brazdeikis, Damyean Dotson or even Frank Ntilikina get more run.

Critics of those who yearn for Fizdale to give Barrett some more rest might say the team knows better than the fans when it comes to what particular players can handle. The Knicks presumably employ people whose job it is to know stuff like that. But should we really be trusting that this organization — which has made the playoffs in only four of the last 18 years and hasn’t signed one of its draftees to a multi-year contract since Charlie Ward in 1994 — knows best?

Sometimes it isn’t crazy to be skeptical.

The argument for playing Barrett as many minutes as humanly possible

Common sense isn’t infallible. And it wasn’t just Fizdale who barked back at the criticism of his handling of Barrett’s minutes. Barrett himself wasn’t concerned, saying after the Kings game that he would tell Fizdale if he thought he needed to rest.

Of course, you can’t always trust the player to act in his best long-term interests. Oftentimes, they just want to compete. But it wasn’t just Fizdale and Barrett, either.

Damon Stoudamire, who was drafted seventh overall in 1995 by the Toronto Raptors and averaged more than 40 minutes per game in each of his first three seasons, said on Twitter that Barrett will be just fine. The man they called Mighty Mouse wound up playing 13 years in the NBA, which is a lot longer than the average career length of less than five seasons.

Kenny Anderson, who played 14 NBA seasons, chimed in to say that there’s no reason Barrett shouldn’t be playing a ton of minutes.

Stefan Bondy of the New York Daily News noted that LeBron James, Tim Duncan and Michael Jordan all played 40 minutes or more per game early in their careers. Those are three of the best ballers in history, of course, and while it would be great if Barrett does wind up in that company one day, it might be better to look at some people who are good, but not the best to ever do it.

How about Latrell Sprewell? Fizdale evoked his name when telling reporters to chill out about the whole load management thing. Sprewell was in the NBA for 13 seasons, and in 10 of those years he averaged more minutes than Barrett is currently playing per game.

To pick another random example, Vince Carter is currently in his 22nd season in the league. Six times, all much earlier in his career, Carter posted more minutes per game than Barrett is currently averaging. Carter was three years older than Barrett is now when he made it to the NBA, and his minutes didn’t start really winding down until a good decade into his career.

These examples don’t prove anything when it comes to Barrett specifically, but they show that it’s possible to play a whole lot of minutes early on in your career without it negatively affecting your game going forward. It’s worthwhile to weigh the potential benefits of Barrett playing his way into prime shape against the unknown amount of risk that comes with playing him almost 40 minutes a night.