RJ Barrett Credit: Bill Moore photo

Preseason is what it is. Preparation for the start of the regular season, a period for players whose minutes will be minimal during the regular season to get precious playing time, and those coming off injuries to readapt. To read too deeply into individual or collective preseason performances may raise unattainable expectations or underestimate a team’s and/or player’s capabilities.  

The Knicks’ preseason opener on Tuesday night at Madison Square Garden saw guard Derrick Rose appear in his first NBA game since last December. On his 34th birthday, Rose returned to the court after missing 26 games, including the final 56 of the 2021-22 season due to ankle issues. He underwent surgical procedures in December and February to address the injuries.  

Fourth-year guard RJ Barrett, who signed a four-year, $120 million extension in late August after being persistently referenced in trade rumors regarding the Knicks potentially obtaining Donovan Mitchell, began his quest to level up and become an All-Star caliber player by leading the Knicks with 21 points.

There are strongly divided public views by media and fans debating on talk shows and social media on whether the 22-year-old, No. 3 overall pick by the Knicks in the 2019 draft will become one of the NBA’s better wing performers in the class of Jayson Tatum, Khris Middleton and Jimmy Butler, or ultimately max out as a solid, reliable contributor.  

Followers of the Knicks also had their first look at 24-year-old Isaiah Hartenstein, who they signed as a free agent in July. The 7-0, 250 pound center has the athleticism and skill set that can add versatility to the Knicks’ front court rotation, including the ability to shoot effectively from the perimeter and make rim runs for easy transition baskets.

Last season Hartenstein, who was born in Eugene, Oregon but moved to Germany in 2008 where his father was playing professional basketball, averaged 8.3 points, 4.9 rebounds, 2.4 assists and 1.1 blocks in 68 games with the Los Angeles Clippers. Yet more than anyone else, Jalen Brunson was the player most fans were eager to see.

He was the Knicks’ most prominent addition of the summer, signing a four-year, $104 million contract at the start of the free-agency cycle in July. The 26-year-old point guard had a stellar playoff run with the Dallas Mavericks last season and fills a critical void for the Knicks, who have unsuccessfully up to now tried to acquire a long-term productive hand at position for the past two decades.

In 20 minutes on Tuesday Brunson posted a stat line of 16 points on 7-9 shooting and 5 assists. “I think Jalen can provide whatever you need,” said Knicks head coach Tom Thibodeau. “So if you need him to do more scoring, he can do that. If you need more playmaking, he can do that. If you need him to create pace and create movement, he can do that.

“If you need a big three, a big shot, he can do that. But I love the way he can control and manage the game. And to me, that’s the number one function of a point guard.”

The Knicks will host the Indiana Pacers at the Garden in their second preseason game tomorrow night. 

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