Over the past few seasons, as teams have become much smarter about keeping their players well-rested and healthy over the course of 82 games, stars playing fewer minutes and even sitting out here and there has become commonplace. Last season, Kawhi Leonard took that to a new level with the Toronto Raptors. He played just 60 games, and the team even coined a new phrase for the nights he was taking off: load management.
The plan worked, as Leonard was fresh for the playoffs, and led the Raptors to their first title in franchise history. Even still, there are some around the league who aren’t fond of taking a more relaxed approach to the regular season. Count New York Knicks coach David Fizdale among them.
He’s thrown the No. 3 overall pick, R.J. Barrett, right into the fire. Through the team’s first seven games, Barrett is fifth in the league at 37.1 minutes per game, and on Sunday he played a whopping 41 minutes in a 21-point home loss to the Sacramento Kings. After the game, Fizdale was dismissive of the idea that this is too much, too soon for Barrett.
“He’s got the day off tomorrow,” Fizdale said. “We gotta get off this load management crap. Latrell Sprewell averaged 42 minutes for a season. This kid’s 19 years old. Drop it.”
Young players can obviously handle more minutes than veterans, but just because Barrett can play almost 40 minutes a night doesn’t mean he should. There’s a big difference between making sure your young players are getting enough experience and running them into the ground. Fizdale is doing the latter.
Barrett is 19 years old and appears to have a long career ahead of him. There’s absolutely no reason to be playing him this many minutes this early in his first season — especially with how bad the Knicks are. It’s not entirely clear what the long-term plan is at Madison Square Garden, but this is a years-long project at least. Yet for some reason, Fizdale is treating Barrett’s first season as a sprint.
There’s a reason almost every team across the league is trending towards playing their stars fewer minutes and giving them nights off. The season is an absolute grind, and making sure players get enough rest helps prevent injuries, keeps players fresh for the playoffs and can lengthen careers.
Whatever Fizdale’s personal feelings may be towards load management — and they appear to be quite negative — he should put them aside for the good of Barrett and the team.