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RJ Barrett deserves more respect!

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Lucky for us, RJ is focused on improvement, not unnecessary notoriety.

Cleveland Cavaliers v New York Knicks
RJ laughing off the haters.
Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

RJ Barrett has improved in almost every statistical category this season and is easily among the brightest young talents in the NBA, yet the 20-year-old wingman continues to be disrespected, most recently with his omission from ESPN’s list of the 25 best players under 25.

Before we go any further, let’s get one thing out of the way: it really doesn’t matter that Barrett was left off ESPN’s list. It’s merely a list that lives on the internet, and is meant to produce discussion and debate just like this. Still, the lack of proper respect for Barrett is bizarre and deserves to be examined.

Fortunately, Barrett is not one to be concerned with such lists. He’s focused on developing his game, as evidenced by sharp improvement across the board this year. He’s scoring more points (17.5 per game this year compared to 14.3 last season) while shooting better from the field and free throw line (45% on field goals this season versus 40.2% last year, 38% from deep compared to 32% a year ago, and 74% from the line after a rookie season in which he hit only 61% of his free throws).

By the way, his shooting percentages have gone up even though he’s taking 1.7 more shots per game this season (14.7 shots each night this year, 13 last season).

He’s also grabbing more rebounds (5.9 this year after exactly 5 as a rookie) and dishing more assists (3 on the dot compared to 2.6 last year). Not to mention, his turnovers are slightly down (exactly 2 this year after turning it over 2.2 times per game last year).

Meanwhile, he’s been able to refine his game while being asked to play more minutes (34 per game this year, 30 last year).

Plus, he’s been getting better as the season goes on. The third overall draft pick from 2019 seems to see the forest through the trees. Despite his youth, he handles both ups and downs with maturity. Like when he recently laughed off comments made by Timberwolves rookie Anthony Edwards after RJ missed a potential game-winner against the Timberwolves.

By the way, for what it’s worth, Edwards is shooting under 40% from the field this year, including just 31% from three, and at 13-39, the T-Wolves are the worst team in the NBA.

Anyway, back to Barrett, who did indeed begin his sophomore campaign struggling to find his stroke. In fact, through 15 games, he was shooting under 40% from the field and just 21% from three. Ever since, his numbers have jumped like Edwards doing the only thing he’s good at so far, dunking. In the last 37 games, RJ is shooting almost 48% from the field and nearly 47% from three.

Meanwhile, after scoring 20 or more points 13 total times in 56 games as a rookie and never reaching the 30 mark, RJ has already put up 20 or more 23 times in just 52 games, including a career-high 32 during a recent blowout of the Oklahoma City Thunder. The Knicks are 14-10 when Barrett scores at least 20.

Barrett’s sensational second season has him looking like a veteran compared to many of his peers. Among sophomores, he’s third in points per game (behind, you guessed it, Zion Williamson and Ja Morant), seventh in rebounds and ninth in assists.

There are obviously many players on the ESPN list that deserve the shine over RJ, like Luka Doncic, Donovan Mitchell and Jayson Tatum. But then there are guys like Jarrett Allen, Mikal Bridges and Tyrese Haliburton. Not that those three aren’t very much up and comers, but should they really have made the list over Barrett?

RJ isn’t as flashy as some of the other youngsters that made ESPN’s list, and perhaps that’s why he sometimes seems like an afterthought in the national NBA conversation. His highlights don’t necessarily make your eyes melt out of your skull. He’s got the vibe of a guy who does manual labor for a living; he comes to work, does his job, and doesn’t even ask for credit.

But those who have been paying close attention understand the deal. His teammates get it. Jimmy Butler gets it. When will everyone else?