Rodney Dangerfield’s entire schtick might as well have been about RJ Barrett, because last year’s third overall pick was disrespected at every turn all season, culminating with his exclusion from both All-Rookie Teams.
Before we begin, let’s acknowledge the consolation prize: Barrett received the most votes of any of the rookies who didn’t make either First or Second Team. Hooray! Just ahead of Barrett was Rui Hachimura of the Washington Wizards, and behind him was Matisse Thybulle of the Philadelphia 76ers.
Here is the voting for the two All Rookie Teams. Knicks’ RJ Barrett finished 11th among 18 rookies who received votes: pic.twitter.com/SQp2GpJWwC— Ian Begley (@IanBegley) September 15, 2020
This isn’t meant to demean the rookies who were selected ahead of him, but Barrett has been receiving disrespect since before he was even drafted. While Zion Willliamson and Ja Morant have an “it” factor suggesting they are new-age stars with such skill and explosive athleticism that they could single-handedly lead their teams to success, Barrett’s game has more of an old-school feel to it.
Still, Barrett was clearly one of the top 10 rookies this year.
Barrett began his NBA career by joining a team that had no idea who or what it was. Yet the then-19-year-old wasted no time asserting himself as one of the most important players on the Knicks.
He had 21 points, 5 rebounds, 2 assists and 2 steals in his debut — a nine-point loss to the San Antonio Spurs. Over his first four games, Barrett averaged 20.5 points (49% from the field, 46% from three), 7.5 rebounds, 3.3 assists and 2 steals, including a remarkable 19-point, 15-rebound, 5 assist performance in New York’s first victory of the season over the Chicago Bulls.
Quick aside: If you didn’t watch those highlights, scroll back up and notice that the very first play sees Barrett driving and kicking to Mitchell Robinson, who sinks a jumper from 10 or so feet out. Tantalizing stuff as we consider the future of this team.
Back to Barrett, who continued to thrive as a neophyte despite playing for a franchise in complete turmoil. When the Knicks fired David Fizdale after a 4-18 start, Barrett was averaging 14.4 points (40% from the field, 31% from deep), 5 boards, 3.3 assists and 1.4 steals per game. Over the remaining 35 games of the season, under interim head coach Mike Miller, Barrett averaged 14.3 points (41% from the field, 33% from deep), plus 5 rebounds, 2 assists and almost 1 steal.
In total, he finished his rookie season with the following numbers across 56 games: 14.3 points (40% shooting, 32% from three), 5 boards, 2.6 assists and 1 steal. He put together 12 individual efforts of at least 20 points and 5 rebounds or assists. And don’t forget, he played with the worst spacing in the entire NBA.
Barrett was top six among rookies in points, steals, rebounds and minutes, and top five in points and boards. He took the second most free throws among rookies, and while he shot poorly from the line (61.4% for the year), the ability to draw fouls, and finish through contact, is something that can’t necessarily be taught. Better free throw shooting can be attained through hard work and incessant practice.
He dominated in the Rising Stars game, finishing with 27 points, 6 rebounds and 5 assists.
Further, Barrett finished his inaugural NBA season on a tear, with the following averages over his final 10 games: 17 points (46% from the field, 37 from three), 4.6 rebounds, 3.2 assists and 1.1 steals. Included among those last 10 games was a Knicks’ victory over the Houston Rockets at Madison Square Garden, in which Barrett had 27 points, 5 boards, 5 dimes and 1 steal.
At the very least, Barrett should have been selected over Terence Davis II of the Toronto Raptors, who averaged 8 points a game for the year on 46% from the field and 39% from deep, plus 3 rebounds and 2 assists. Again, this isn’t a knock on Davis. It’s a knock on the voters, who obviously saw the Raptors’ record and decided his campaign was more impressive than Barrett’s.
Finally, this tweet from the Knicks suggests that Barrett may actually have superpowers, which alone should probably have gotten him on one of the All-Rookie Teams, if only to avoid the wrath of someone with superhuman abilities.
Barrett seems like the type of fella who likes to carry a chip on his shoulder, so hopefully this snubbing simply leads to a career filled with more important successes, like All-Star selections and playoff appearances.
Now, while we peacefully let our rage dissipate, let’s enjoy the best moments from Barrett’s rookie season, which was most definitely All-Rookie worthy.