The Cleveland Cavaliers have arguably two future Hall of Famers on their roster, three if Evan Mobley hits the way many think he will. Vegas would pro’ly give you long odds on the New York Knicks having two future All-Stars on theirs. There’s no shorter or simpler explanation for the Cavs’ 121-108 victory of the Knicks. Donovan Mitchell was the game’s first star, Kevin Love was second and maybe Dean Wade was third. Mitchell went into god mode late in the fourth, a nauseating sinkhole of a frame that saw the Knicks outscored 37-15 and out-3’d 8-0. New York didn’t lose because of any one player. Still, for the purposes of a recap lasting longer than this paragraph, consider RJ Barrett.
The box score says this was a bounceback effort for Rowan. He entered the night 7 for 28 on 3s, yet made three for four from deep. He and Evan Fournier were the only starters to make at least half their shots. And the truth is Barrett has been an active nihilist’s dream during his time in New York: still soooo young, won’t even reach his prime until, what, 2028? If the destination lies beyond your view, all you can do is focus on the journey. Everything RJ ever does is reason for optimism; his struggles we accept, knowing what a harder worker he is, knowing he cares. For Knick fans who missed the Patrick Ewing draft, Barrett’s the closest we’ve come to the rareified air of the messiahsphere, a paradise we only see in dreams, where G.O.A.T.s and #1 draft picks are on their way to MSG to save us all.
Barrett gave up two 4-point plays in the fourth quarter, and while that isn’t something he’s famous for, this L pissed me off enough that I have no interest in being fair or rational tonight. Instead, I have questions. Let’s begin with a simple one. What does RJ Barrett do, exactly?
Here, not counting last summer’s draft, are the last 10 players chosen third in the draft: Bradley Beal; Otto Porter Jr; Joel Embiid; Jahlil Okafor; Jaylen Brown; Jayson Tatum; Luka Dončić; RJ; LaMelo Ball; Mobley. Three of those names have been MVP-level. Seven have been All-Star level. The other three have been Porter, Okafor and Barrett.
It’s easy to know what skill these players possessed that led them to be chosen so high. Luka and Embiid came with question marks but with upsides recognized as transcendent. Beal and Tatum offered oodles of offense. Brown and Mobley were tantalizing two-way talents. LaMelo was an elite passer even before he was drafted. Porter? Size at the wing, wingspan and athleticism. Okafor? Much of 2015 he and not Karl-Anthony Towns was the projected #1 overall pick, which happens when you’re 6’10”, 270 and average 17 on 67% shooting.
And RJ? Availability is a skill — Barrett’s played more minutes than any of his draft peers — but the draft is like love: most people want more from it than just “They’re there.” No team would take him over Zion Williamson or Ja Morant, obvs. What about the two taken after him? De’Andre Hunter hasn’t been as durable, but he’s a better shooter and defender. Darius Garland is already an All-Star. How about further down the draft? Would you rather have RJ or Tyler Herro? RJ or Jordan Poole? RJ or Kevin Porter Jr.?
It’s possible the little devil on my shoulder was asking these questions louder than usual tonight because of the presence and essence of Mitchell, who Mike Breen, a Mets fan, kept calling “Kevin.” The Mets traded Kevin Mitchell, ironically, due to concern that he’d be a bad influence on Dwight Gooden and Darryl Strawberry. Mitchell went on to win MVP in 1989. Did another New York team err by letting another Mitchell get away from them? Should the Knicks have pulled the trigger and traded for Donovan when Danny Ainge was on the side of the road flashing some leg? In August I firmly felt the Knicks should keep their depth, that Utah wanted too much, and that if Mitchell loves the Knicks so much he can sign as a free agent in a couple years. On Halloween Eve, I don’t know what I think anymore.
I promised a lack of rationality, and that’s where this recap fades out. Quoth kaisersoser37: “I’m mad.” I am. My emotions have been all over the place this season. Maybe I need the Knicks as an escape more than I have in a while. Maybe this was always the most likely outcome for this game, and like Memphis and Milwaukee before it just chalk it up to a road L against a superior foe, and the next game, home vs. Atlanta Wednesday, is their latest chance to beat somebody good. Maybe Mitchell’s a Knick in a few years, alongside Barrett, ushering in a golden age. If so, I’ll look back on this night as “Oh, how weird and cool was that?” For now, I’m just pissed. How you doing?