RJ Barrett’s durability is perfect for hard-working Knicks

New Orleans – RG Barrett has become the anti-Zionist Williamson for durability.

He will not face the Knicks on Saturday when they play the Pelicans, because he was injured again. In fact, Williamson, the infamous 2019 draft pick and Barrett’s former teammates, did not play in pre-season and did not make his debut in 2021-22 as he recovers from right-foot surgery.

Williamson had a series of illnesses. He missed the first three months of his rookie year due to knee issues.

On the other side is Barrett, the number 3 pick in 2019, who played all 72 games last season and ran the ground like a marathon man.

Barrett’s stamina and drive are great. The 6-foot-7 swingman never looks curvy, and Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau’s heart continues to grow even more.

When The Post asked Barrett after Thursday’s 20-point fast-breaking gem in Chicago what the secret was, Barrett replied, “You have to be in good shape to play with Thibs. It’s non-negotiable. That’s what we do in practice.”

RJ Barrett #9 of the New York Knicks drives down the court
RJ Barrett has proven much more enduring than his former Duke teammate Zion Williamson.
Charles Wenselberg/New York Post

If Nick had won the 2019 lottery and picked Williamson, it’s worth wondering how he would have fared given the ways of Sergeant Thibodeau. The Pelicans are now led by rookie coach Willie Green.

According to Bleacher Report, Williamson, who is 6-6 years old, has bulged more than 300 pounds in the off-season. Williamson’s weight was his only issue coming out of Duke. His wondrous talent and incredible explosion are unparalleled, but if he couldn’t stay healthy, it was worthless.

If the top 3 picks from the 2019 draft were reworked today, Grizzlies’ Ja Morant (who finished second) would probably be No. 1, with Williamson No. 2. But he’s hardly a no-brainer since the success in the NBA is based on the health.

“He’ll be fine,” Barrett said of Williamson. “He is a special talent and a great human being. I always like him. He will be good. When he comes back, you guys will see.”

Barrett was expected to be the first choice when he and Williamson began their early school years.

“Everyone’s journey is different,” said Barrett, who never made my All-Rookie team. “I know who I am. The team believes in me. So that’s what matters to me.”

The Pelicans are no longer a prominent opponent nowadays with Williamson out and Lonzo Ball traded to Chicago. Brandon Ingram emerged as a star, but New Orleans doesn’t even look like a team that played at 1-4.

The Pelicans drafted a Knicks goal for Trey Murphy and signed goalkeeper Devonte Graham, but until Williamson’s return…

“Any team without him, when he’s on the field, he definitely makes it more difficult,” Barrett said. “But they are still a good team, they have a lot of weapons. It will be a good match.”

Barrett and Williamson don’t look as close as they did during the junior seasons, but eyebrows were raised last season when Williamson mentioned Madison Square Garden as his favorite place to play. The former Duke’s power attacker lit up like a Christmas tree when asked about the most famous square in the world. Subsequent reports indicated that he might want to exit the Big Easy.

Pairing Williamson with Barrett would be a dream combo for the NBA. New Orleans is among the most fun cities in the world, but it is a poor market in the NBA.

Barrett has cared about Tibodo’s decree about increasing the Knicks’ pace this season. His handling of the ball seems to be tighter too.

“Just be aggressive and be who I am,” Barrett said. “Whatever game he gave me, that attacking mentality, that’s how I have to play. [My handle] It was a lot better, especially when it turned on when I finally got the pontoon [in Chicago]. Just being able to do nothing crazy, just to make the cannonball move and come to the edge. ”

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