With the worst-case scenario averted, the Knicks expected RJ Barrett to be full throttle in about a month for offseason workouts.
Further tests on Barrett showed the preliminary diagnosis of a knee sprain as accurate after he landed badly on a drive-and-dish to Jericho Sims late in the first half Friday in Washington.
Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau couldn’t rule out further damage to the ACL on Friday night, but those concerns have since been put to rest.
“Just a sprain,” Thibodeau said before Sunday’s 105-94 season-closing win over the Raptors. “So that’s the good news in a way.”
Very good news. The Knicks aren’t in the postseason, so he only missed Sunday’s contest. The team will lay low for a little bit before Thibodeau expects Barrett to be ready.
“We’re going into active rest, so there’s going to be a three-week period where there’ll be some activity but very light,” Thibodeau said. “Everyone is in recovery for the next three weeks. Then we’ll pick up after that.”
Thibodeau said he expects Barrett to be back around then. It’s a sigh of relief as Barrett was coming off a breakout season in which he averaged 20 points and showed All-Star potential.
“I’m always concerned,” Thibodeau said of his feelings that evening. “You never want to see that awkward kind of landing. But then he played. That part was encouraging. The next day there was soreness, but he said he felt OK. That was a good sign.”
Barrett, without crutches, watched Sunday’s game from the bench.
“I don’t know the exact specifics,” Thibodeau said on whether Barrett underwent his MRI exam yet. “He was examined by the doctors and trainers. What I got is, it’s a sprain. We’ll just follow the protocol from the trainers and doctors and then when he’s ready to go, he’ll go.
“One thing about RJ, whatever it is he can do, he’ll do. He’ll be in rehab, then he’ll be in the pool, then on a bike. RJ is a worker. He’ll do all he can.”
While Barrett averaged 20.0 points, it could be viewed as deceiving because of his low shooting percentages — 40.8 overall, 34.3 from 3 and a modest effective field-goal percentage of 46.6. But the No. 3-overall pick of the 2019 draft showed a relentless attacking of the basket that was eye-opening.
Barrett, 21, will be in contention for a major rookie contract extension in October — even if not the full maximum of $181 million.
“I thought RJ took a great step this year, took more responsibility covering the best player on the other team and really has elevated his game,” Knicks president Leon Rose said on MSG Network on Sunday regarding a contract extension. “I can’t really put a ceiling on where he’ll go. As far as the plan and negotiations, I think we’ll keep that private for now.”
With the Knicks down to eight bodies, Thibodeau said he’d give playing time minutes Sunday to new two-way signee, Feron Hunt, who started the season with the G-League Texas Legends. He played seven minutes, missing a pair of shots from the field.
Hunt, a defense-first small forward/power forward, has already impressed Thibodeau with his work ethic.
“High energy, played two positions, excellent defender,” Thibodeau said. “His shooting is improving. Just a multiple-effort guy, just a long wing. Top-of-the-line guy. I think he adds to the team so we’re excited about having him.”
Thibodeau feels he can also guard shooting guards.
“I’ve been impressed with just the way he works,” Thibodeau said. “We’re excited. He’ll be here all summer so we’re excited about that.”