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The two statistical faces of RJ Barrett

Meet the Maple Yin-Yang

Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images

It’s been nearly three months since the Knicks announced RJ Barrett’s contract extension. Nearly three months since the Canadian signed a then-undisclosed agreement with the franchise that drafted him with the third-overall pick of the 2019 NBA draft. Three months since team New York Knicks’ president Leon Rose made some remarkable, magnificent statements about the now-and-forever face of the team.

“We are thrilled to announce a well-deserved extension for RJ Barrett, a core piece of our team’s foundation,” said Rose while introducing the Knicks' statement about the contract extension.

“[Barrett’s] numbers are in the company of elite,” Rose told MSG Network, before making it clear that Barret’s stats are “in the company of Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, Luka Doncic, and Kevin Durant.”

Out of context, that sounds wild. In a proper, historic context, that’s actually fact. As ridiculous as it sounds.

“They are the only other four players that by the age of 22 scored 3000 points, 1000 rebounds, and 300 three-point shots.” Rose got his stuff right, indeed.

As much cherry-picking as he could have done going for the single-digit-unit difference with his comments and vague research, the truth is that the 3K-1K benchmark along with 300 3-pointers offered by Rose wasn’t even a remotely fine-grainily crafted stat line made up out of the blue just to put Barrett into an exclusive one-man club.

Speaking of stats, from Rose's angle, RJ Barrett surely is in an elite class. Not even looking at his age, but his actual games played (218 through Sunday) to balance things out a bit more in terms of experience, Barrett is part of a unique group of players to have reached the next marks in that span of play since 2000:

  • 3,500+ points
  • 1200+ rebounds
  • 600+ assists

The members: Barrett, Luka, Ben Simmons, Joel Embiid, Blake Griffin, and LeBron James.

Add Rose’s favorite statistic, three-point shots made, and that only Barrett and Luka were able to hit more than 266 (LeBron’s mark) by their 218th game since the start of the century! Quite a partner!

Of course, something here isn’t really working. And at this point through Barrett’s career, it’s been repeated more than often: RJ can’t be efficient to save his life.

Just a few days ago, coming off a loss to the Trail Blazers on Friday night, Barrett said that he is “fine.” “Don’t worry about me. I’m fine,” he repeated.

Those remarks came after he shot 6-22 from the field, 1-7 from beyond the three-point line, and 6-8 from the charity stripe.

On the season (stats through Sunday night games), Barrett has shot 132-329 from the floor, 30-112 from three, and 77-100 on freebies. In other words, he’s currently slashing 40.1/26.8/77.0.

Also, in a 2022 campaign that has already reached the first fourth of the season, Barrett ranks 21st in total FGA, 41st in 3PA, and 24th in FTA. Talk about volume!

Nobody is arguing Barrett is the true face of the New York Knicks franchise. The shots he’s taking, the usage he’s getting, .etc... all point in that direction. Rose take a bow.

It is a shame, though, that those numbers don’t really that much about RJ Barrett or, perhaps better said, they said too much about him and the rest of the Knicks operations under the guidance of Tom Thibodeau and the long leash he’s giving RJ.

Instead of looking at Barrett’s stats from Rose’s angle, I propose a fresh view around them. Given how RJ has been saying that “sometimes in basketball, it happens” and that he “is going to shoot it” as long as the shot is “wide open,” adding that he “doesn’t have a conscience that way” and that he “is comfortable” because he seemingly “works too hard on [his] game”... it might make more sense to treat Barrett as a shooter, and look at his career from a shot-volume instead games-played perspective.

You can find a list of the players that have attempted 3200+ field goals from the 2019-20 season (the one in which Barrett entered the league) if you click here.

Excuse me for smacking you right in the middle of the face with the spoiler: “sorted by descending Field Goal Percentage.“

Barrett has shot a hell of a lot of basketballs shots, as Rose noted. Also, Barrett has missed way more shots than he’s made. So many, in fact, that only Mr. Buddy Buckets himself has failed at hitting buckets at a higher rate than Barrett.

Instead of including counting or per-game stats in that table, I opted for the hipster per-100-possession data. Just so we get to analyze things in a slightly better context.

Looking at it from that angle, Barrett has definitely not been the no. 1 shot-bomber in the NBA through the last three years (and this one). In fact, he’s attempting the fourth-fewest (22.4) FGA per 100 among the 30 players in this group. That makes sense considering he’s hitting them at the second-worst rate.

The problem, of course, comes with the slicing of Barrett’s numbers.

  • Worst 2P% (.447) among the 30 qualified players, 22nd most 2PA/100.
  • 13th-worst 3P% (.347), 20th most 3PA/100.
  • 4th-worst FT% (.704), 21st most FTA/100.

Something (everything) should be flipped here. You shoot badly, you take fewer shots. If Barrett’s guesses were right, and if just hoisting more and more shots ultimately fix his woes... well, one has to assume that over a three-plus-year span that would be right... right?

The two fancy metrics included in the chart speak (even louder) volumes of RJ Barrett’s never-fixed struggles:

  • True Shooting Percentage: dead-last (.510)
  • Effective Field Goal Percentage: dead-last (.470)

The former is defined as “a measure of shooting efficiency that takes into account 2-point field goals, 3-point field goals, and free throws.” The latter is a statistic that “adjusts for the fact that a 3-point field goal is worth one more point than a 2-point field goal.“

Even if you’re a casual NBA fan, one of those that follow the league through IG stories and five-second clips shared on Twitter, you have seen Russ Westbrook brick triples. Well, Russ sits above Barrett on the two metrics presented above. Nikola Vucevic does, too. Terry Rozier, Andrew Wiggins, Donovan Mitchell, Dejounte Murray, and even someone that goes by the name of Julius Randle.

You be the judge.

You can play around with the table I shared and see where Barrett ranks in rebounds, assists, etc... among players shooting as much as Barrett has (and is) through his rookie deal. Another spoiler: not quite high, either.

The New York Jets just benched Zach Wilson (the franchise quarterback they drafted with the second-overall pick of the 2021 NFL draft ahead of last season) just 20 games into his professional career. Mike White, a career-long backup, started last Sunday and carried the Jets to an extraordinary 31-10 victory and made everybody happy ($).

Wilson’s benching, just in case, came down to his “lack of accountability”. After a 10-3 loss to the New England Patriots (yes, that’s three points scored by the Jets), Wilson asked about his performance, and he made clear that he “didn’t let down” the Jets' defense—the one that limited a professional football team to just 10 points of their own. “No. No,” he answered without explanation. Even if you don’t know football, you can clearly see there’s something wrong right there.

I’m not saying the Knicks should sit RJ, let alone leave him undressed, but I’m also not not saying it. Perhaps the leash has grown too long.

Just saying.

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