"What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas."
When the advertising firm R&R Partners first rolled out the now world-famous catchphrase in 2003 as a marketing ploy to attract tourists to Las Vegas, the NBA Summer League was still in its infancy and had not yet made it to Sin City. 16 years later, the phrase is synonymous with the city and in a way has come to perfectly encapsulate the play that takes place on the Summer League hardwood.
Both better or worse, what happens on the court in Vegas often stays on the court in Vegas as there typically aren't many lessons to be learned. Just as future superstars often time struggle, some of the biggest performances are turned in by prospects who never quite reach superstardom.
It's that reason why Knicks and Canadian basketball fans should collectively exhale a synchronized sigh of relief when considering the play so far from RJ Barrett, who has underwhelmed in two games for the Knicks.
MORE: Catch all of the rookies in Summer League action on NBA League Pass
Inside Barrett's early struggles
In his much anticipated Summer League debut last week against former Duke teammate and No. 1 overall pick Zion Williamson, Barrett looked the part of a pressing player out to prove he belonged.
In just under 33 minutes, Barrett scored 10 points on 4-18 shooting including 1-8 from beyond the 3-point line. Beyond the scoring, Barrett didn't do much as a facilitator as he finished with just one assist to go along with two turnovers.
Clear of the spotlight from that much-hyped opening act, Barrett's second game in Vegas two days later offered up more of the same as he once again struggled to find his shot, finishing 3-15. Perhaps more concerning than the shooting struggles was his penchant for turnovers as Barrett finished with eight of them to go along with just one assist.
He wasn't even the best Canadian rookie on his own team as Ignas Brazdeikis, the 47th overall pick in June's draft, exploded for 30 points on an efficient 11-19 shooting.
MORE: Brazdeikis won't be in Barrett's shadow for long
Add it all up and it's an underwhelming start to Barrett's tenure with the Knicks:
- 7-33 shooting including 2-13 from beyond the arc
- 2-8 from FT line
- 10 turnovers and two assists
- 9.0 PPG (5th on Knicks)
Barrett's struggles then naturally lead to a separate conversation: is there room for concern?
Learning from the past
What we've seen from Barrett thus far is of course nothing new as lottery picks struggling in Summer League has become an annual tradition.
More important than merely pointing out the fact that he's not the first highly touted prospect to struggle is to then spin it forward and look at how some of the biggest names to struggle turned out just fine.
This time last year, Trae Young looked completely lost. Prior to Vegas, Young played three games in the Salt Lake City Summer League where he shot just 3-24 from the 3-point line with nearly as many turnovers (11) as made field goals (12). After shooting 23% in Utah, Young showed up in Vegas where he shot just 38% in four games. Simply put, he didn't look ready for the size and speed of the NBA game. That dreaded "b" word was already being tossed around.
Nobody remembered any of that when Young went on to finish second in Rookie of the Year voting as he averaged 23 points and nine assists per game over the final three months of the season.
The year before that, Lauri Markkanen shot just 29% from the field in Vegas including 24% from 3. Early signs pointed to a player that would struggle to find a role and adapt to the NBA. He rebounded to make All-Rookie First Team and became the fastest in league history to 100 made 3s. Two years into his career, he looks more like the next Dirk Nowitzki than he does the draft bust some thought he'd be following that first foray into Summer League.
What about Stephen Curry? Back in 2009, he shot just 33% in Summer League and was Golden State's fourth-leading scorer behind Anthony Randolph, Anthony Morrow and Cartier Martin. All he went on to do is become a two-time MVP and the greatest shooter in NBA history.
For every big name that's overcome early struggles, there are others who settled into smaller roles after stand out Summer League showcases.
- Jerryd Bayless poured in 29.8 PPG in 2008, the most ever by a rookie.
- Marco Belinelli dropped 37 in his Summer League debut in 2007 en route to averaging 25 PPG
- Marcus Williams averaged 16.6 points and 8.0 assists as a rookie in 2006
History is littered with these types of examples. That's not to say evaluating Summer League is a complete exercise in futility as some players use it as a springboard towards earning a closer look. Kyle Kuzma comes to mind as someone who parlayed a strong summer showing into a bigger role come the start of the season.
When it comes to Barrett, it's wise not to overreact.
Would it be more comforting to see him scoring with ease and flashing some better playmaking ability? Of course.
Would Knicks fans feel better if that jump shot started to fall a bit more? For sure.
But just because he has yet to put it together in Las Vegas doesn't mean he'll fall short of reaching his potential once the real season starts this fall.
What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas. Barrett will be fine.
The views expressed here do not necessarily represent those of the NBA or its clubs.