On New Years Eve, the Knicks were on a three-game winning streak. RJ Barrett averaged 10.7 points per game in that three-game stretch. Before this three-game stretch, Barrett endured a stretch on the COVID Protocol which momentarily halted a painful stretch of play by the Canadian.
But on the last day of 2021, Barrett woke up in Oklahoma City and texted his trainer, reported Fred Katz of The Athletic.
“It’s time to take over. At the beginning of the season, we made a goal to average 20 (points per game). I’m gonna get there, Brodie.”
Barrett was scoring just 14.6 points a game at that point in the season, well below the expectation considering the rookie-to-second-year improvement and extremely below the expectation of Knicks fans.
He went out against a rebuilding Thunder squad and put up 26 points on 50% shooting from the floor.
Since sending that text message at 12:41pm on New Years Eve, Barrett has scored 20-plus points 27 times, 30-plus points nine times and 40-plus once.
On February 8, the New York Knicks were in Denver, battling against the Nuggets. After hanging tough in the first quarter, the Knicks were severely outplayed in the second frame. At the half, they trailed 83-60. New York outscored Denver in the third quarter, but still trailed by 17.
With 3:56 left in the game and the Knicks trailing by 15, RJ Barrett was re-inserted into the game by Knicks head coach Tom Thibodeau. Barrett would get another four points on the board in the final minutes. In the dying seconds of the game, Barrett rolled his ankle after stepping on a foot while closing out in what ended up being a 17-point loss.
“We sat most of the fourth, we got it down to 13 and we wanted to see if we could make a run,” said Thibodeau.
Just three days after scoring a new career-high 36 points against the Los Angeles Lakers, Barrett was injured and would miss four games headed into the All-Star Break. He would not play again until February 25.
On that late February night, the Knicks hosted the Miami Heat at Madison Square Garden. Barrett returned against a top team in the Eastern Conference by dropping a new career-high 46 points. But, Barrett was the only Knick with a knack as the ‘Bockers fell 115-100.
This might just be the turning point in the career of RJ Barrett.
In that contest, Barrett went 13-for-22 from the field and 6-for-11 from behind the arc. However, Barrett had multiple opportunities to get to 50 points. He went 14-for-22 from the free throw line.
Going into the game against Miami, Barrett was shooting 69% from the free throw line on just five attempts. Since this contest, he is shooting 77% from the free throw line on eight free throw attempts.
It’s been 20 games since Barrett returned from the ankle injury. In this time, Barrett’s usage percentage is 30.8, placing him second on the team behind Julius Randle. In the first 48 games he played, Barrett’s usage percentage was at 26.1.
In these 20 games, Barrett is leading the team in points per game (25.1), minutes per game (38.5), field goals made per game (8.4), free throws made per game (6.3) and free throws attempted per game (8.4). The Knicks are 10-10 since.
Barrett has found what he is comfortable with at this level and it’s slashing to the rim, absorbing body contact and getting to the free throw line. Now he must work on getting comfortable at the free throw line and from beyond the arc. His inability to shoot from three point range does bring a concern, but not an enormous concern. Barrett is still shooting better from deep than Ja Morant, Nikola Jokic and James Harden.
RJ Barrett has the potential to be that guy. If the keys are handed to him for an entire season, surely he could average 25 points. The Knicks should inquire for a reliable sniper to complement him. Did the front office notice what Barrett’s bread and butter is and think Evan Fournier was the sniper that could go along with him? Do they think it can be Alec Burks? Can they package Randle and Fournier or Burks for a sniper? The front office has to flex its brain muscle to give the keys to Barrett.