ATLANTA – In the final minute of Wednesday night’s victory over the Mavericks, the Knicks sent out a historic note that put RJ Barrett’s performance in perspective: With 32 points, he became the youngest player in franchise history to post back-to-back 30-point play.
And it is the fact that he is only 21 years old, rather than the 30-point fights, that may be the most important figure for Barrett and the Knicks.
The back-to-back scoring does not mask the fact that there are still wild disagreements in his game and that Barrett may not be ready to be frontman for the Knicks, but there are hints that it could happen one day.
While Julius Randle decides his own problems and the Knicks are waiting for Kemba Walker and Derrick Rose to return, Barrett has shown that the potential is there.
“There’s no ceiling to what he can do,” Evan Fournier said. “It’s like I said in the last game: When he scores at all three levels, he becomes less predictable. So it allows him to do what he is best at, which is to be aggressive and drive … Yes, when he plays like that, it makes the job easy for everyone because he attracts a lot of attention and he is a willing passerby. So hopefully he gets it started. ”
By the time he entered Saturday’s game against the Hawks, Barrett had borne the offensive burden of the previous two games, not only collecting 63 points, but doing so effectively – shooting 25-to-42 overall and 7-to-11 from the other side of the arch.
But compare that to the eight games before that: He averaged 17.6 points per game. match and shot 59.5% – but from the penalty throw line. He shot 40.2% from the field and 29.8% from three-point range in those matches. It is inconsistent.
Since arriving as No. 3 in the 2019 NBA Draft, he has had to live up to polls against his college teammate and No. 1 pick, Zion Williamson, and No. 2 pick, Ja Morant, who is currently rising as a star in the league. Now he has been reunited with another college teammate in Cam Reddish, who was selected as number 10 in that draft.
Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau has seen a change in performance, but not in Barrett’s approach.
“No. That’s what I love about him,” Thibodeau said. “RJ is stable. He’s never getting too high, he’s never getting too low, and he’s putting a lot of extra work into right now. He’s coming back at night, and I think that’s a big factor.”
The biggest change for Barrett may simply be health. He suffered from a non-COVID illness earlier in the season and then went into the NBA’s health and safety records. After playing in all 72 games last season and finishing in second place in the NBA in total minutes played, he has already missed seven games this season. More importantly, his own illnesses and the NBA’s COVID outbreak have limited his training time and kept him out of the gym and out of the work routine he had set for himself last season.
“I mean, just work consistently and be healthy, I think,” Barrett said of his recent outings. “And so honestly, we just as a unit figure it out, figure it out, get locked inside both ends. When we split the ball, and then we get stops and run out that way, it’s hard to stop.”
His play has caused Madison Square Garden audiences to sing his name and send him off with “MVP” chants, calls that were reserved for Randle last season and that might skip Barrett.
Early in the season, Barrett’s goal was to be noticed for his defense on the edge, and that may be the first stable step he can take. The rest can come with time.
“You know, like guys last year, they were successful, but that was a different option,” Fournier said. “How they played, their rotation and their touches. I think RJ was the player who played the second most minutes in the league last year? So you go from that and you get a rhythm, and from one year to the next is it different and you have to somehow adjust, so maybe he thought, I do not know, but he definitely looks like he does not think at all, and he just lets his game speak, and he exploits pretty much anyone situation.”