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How They Drew It Up: Maple Mamba Vol. 1

RJ Barrett has been pretty, pretty, pretty good in his last five games

Miami Heat v New York Knicks Photo by Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images

Welcome to another edition of the Pulitzer Prize-winning series “How They Drew It Up.” It’s the inspiration for so many articles across the SB Nation NBA Universe. I’m not saying that I’m a basketball writing influence... but I’m a basketball writing influence. In this edition, I want to talk about a player near and dear to my heart: Rowan Alexander Barrett Jr., AKA the King of New York.

Over the past five games, RJ Barrett is averaging 18.4 points on 57.2 true shooting, has a usage rate of 22.3 percent (ranks third on the team, first of players who have played more than four games), and 5.4 rebounds. Not only has he posted efficient scoring numbers over this stretch, he has also played some inspired defense. Since I missed a good amount of these games live due to an extravagant vacation hiking the majestic National Parks of the American West (Editor Note: Easy with the boasting, it hasn’t been 200 words yet), I drove all the way to Dallas’ Analysis Palace to get into his film room and see what I missed. Barrett really stood out to me so I wanted to use the Posting and Toasting platform to discuss some of the basketball played that stood out to me. Let’s start the show.

Mamba Mentality over those screens

It is somehow an understatement when I say that the Miami Heat LOVE to run their players off screens and dribble hand-offs. It’s been the foundation of their offense for as long as I can remember. If you don’t fight over, under, and through those screens, their players get off easy shots and make them with ease. That’s how Wayne Ellington made a name for himself and somehow can’t do it with the Knicks. Unlike some guards on this team — *cough Elfrid Payton cough* — RJ Barrett gets his behind over those screens with gusto.

I have no idea how Tyler Herro got that last shot to go in; that was smothering defense from Barrett. Just look at the speed, quickness, and pace Duncan Robinson and Kendrick Nunn get around to makes those curls and line up those shots. And you know who was right there to contest the shot? RJ F**king Barrett. Seeing a rookie doing the little things on defense well is very promising.

Reading between the passing lanes

Not only does Barrett fight over screens with purpose, he’s already a Knick with the knack to create live-ball turnovers.

In the second and third parts of the clip, Barrett already knows where the passes are going before the players even make them. Barrett makes a poor gamble every now and then (I only found one missed gamble during this five-game stretch) but for the most part, he jumps the passing lanes with intelligence and poise, unlike some other veteran guards on the team — *another cough Elfrid Payton cough*.

A Poor Defensive Rotation: The Julius Randle Story

This Miami game was arguably Barrett’s best defensive game of his season. Chasing those Miami wings around is no easy task, especially when it’s Jimmy Buttlord.

Barrett forces Butler both baseline and under the basket like he’s supposed to. Excellent defense. Taj Gibson comes over both to help and take away the pass to Bam Adebayo. Again, excellent defense. Julius Randle leaves Meyers Leonard open in the corner to wander into the paint. Awful defense. This extremely poor decision by Randle allows a wide open shot for Nunn, which he obviously drains. Sorry that your great defense went to waste, RJ.

Barrett’s 3-point shot

The Maple Mamba’s 3-point shooting has expectedly cooled down from the start of the season. He’s been rather inconsistent with his shooting from behind the arc, and it may have to do with the way he releases the ball.

I want to make this very, very, very clear that I am the furthest thing from a shot doctor. I in no way pretend to be one on the interwebs. All I do is look for patterns that occur on the court and provide my two cents. I was never a fired scout on an underachieving Eastern Conference team, so what the hell do I know about NBA basketball, right?

With that said, I think there is something off with Barrett’s release. In the video above, it appears that either RJ’s hands are in different spots when he goes up and/or he flicks his wrist too far left on misses. Keep in mind that I may very well be seeing things, but everything else with Barrett’s jumper seems relatively fine. Elbows are tight, base is firm, shoot up and not at the rim, etc. Again, I’m the furthest thing from a shot expert, but this appears to be something that’s rather correctable. If Lonzo Ball can fix his shot release over an offseason, I don’t see why Barrett can’t. I wouldn’t worry about the shot, unless it’s still this inconsistent by year four or so.

Barrett the sneaky athlete

We as fans, blog boys, or NBA “experts” usually define “athleticism” with a player’s first step, explosion to the rim, and open-court speed. We rarely ever associate “strength,” “change of speed,” and “footwork” with athleticism. Newly-acquired Knickerbocker Kenny Wooten is an explosive athlete (he actually is), but Barrett is not when we use athleticism in a very conventional sense.

Barrett doesn’t have the that quick first step or that explosion going to rim like a Russell Westbrook, but the Crafty Canuck certainly knows how to use his strength, change speeds and use footwork to create space for layups.

This type of change-of-pace athleticism is such an underrated NBA ability. It’s how post-prime Chris Paul is still effective, how Luka Doncic is making a name for himself, and how Dwyane Wade was still a role player off the bench during his second tenure in Miami. Theoretically, learning the nuances of space, using your body and pace changing only get better with more experience. Once Barrett learns to finish with his right hand more efficiently, starts getting respect from the officials, and improves his free throw shooting to over 75 percent (currently at a nice 69 percent over these five games), expect that true shooting percentage to flirt with 60 like it’s doing right now.