THE NBA'S BEST CANADIANS: RJ Barrett

Canada set an NBA record for most non-American players on opening-day rosters this season. There were 16 in all, as well as four more on two-way contracts, meaning they could split time between the NBA and its development league, the G League. Two more Canadians got called up during the year. In the coming weeks we’ll continue to take a look at how the brightest lights of this golden generation of Canuck hoopers fared in 2019-20.

Next up, New York Knicks rookie shooting guard RJ Barrett, of Mississauga, Ont.

RECAPPING THE SEASON

As the third pick overall in last June’s NBA draft, RJ Barrett had to know the expectations would be high.

Being drafted by the New York Knicks meant those expectations were inflated even more while at the same time having to — there’s no nice way of putting this — play for an organization that has proven incompetent and incapable for the better part of the last 20 years or so.

But the Maple Mamba, a nickname that hasn’t quite taken off, persevered and despite another rough Knicks season, just 21 wins in 66 games, Barrett got his NBA feet wet and did not disappoint.

Oh the folks in Gotham might be a little down on their shiny new toy who averaged just over 14 points and five rebounds and just under three assists a game, but as starved as that fan base has been for as long as they’ve been wanting, that’s almost understandable.

As a rookie Barrett, the son of former national team member and current Canadian senior men’s team GM Rowan Barrett, had 13 games of 20 or more points, including two in his first three games.

The five games he played in October and the six games he played in March before the season was suspended by the coronavirus pandemic were easily his best in terms of scoring.

Barrett’s rookie numbers stack up favourably against the best NBA talent Canada has ever produced. Only Andrew Wiggins, who won rookie of the year in 2015, when he averaged 16.9 points per game, had a better first season in the NBA as a Canadian.

Barrett started 55 of 56 games and missed 10 due to a variety of injuries.

He ranked third among all rookies in scoring behind Memphis and likely rookie of the year winner Ja Morant as well as Miami’s Kendrick Nunn. He was fourth in rebounding among rookies and seventh in assists.

He did all this playing on a team that had the fifth youngest roster in the NBA averaging just under 25 years of age and did so while playing for two different head coaches as David Fizdale was fired after just 22 games on the job and replaced by Mike Miller.

These weren’t ideal conditions for a 19-year-old but he somehow managed to soldier on through it.