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Mythbusting: Does RJ Barrett start slow?

No mustaches were harmed in the experiment.

Washington Wizards v New York Knicks Photo by Dustin Satloff/Getty Images

Josh Wiesel profiled RJ Barrett last week and concluded that the fifth year small forward needs to improve his efficiency. This tweet from Tommy Beer adds to Josh’s assessment.

Beer states that the cumulative +/- numbers for the four Knicks who have played in at least 30 games in each of the past three campaigns are: Immanuel Quickley +765; Julius Randle: +159; Mitchell Robinson: +103; and RJ Barrett: -71.

This reminded me of a belief that I’ve held about RJ since year two without ever stress-testing. The theory is that in every year he’s been a Knick, the 23-year-old RJ has started the season poorly and gradually improved throughout the year. To test this, I went to and pulled his numbers for each of his four seasons in New York. I compared basic counting statistics and percentages from the first 20 games to the same stats for the whole season.

Does RJ start the season slow? Here’s what I found.

In the first 20 games of his rookie year, RJ averaged 14.7 points, 5.3 rebounds, and 3.2 assists with shooting percentages of 40% from the field and 32% from beyond the arc, and had a negative +/- of -6.7. He finished the campaign with similar numbers. Myth: Busted.

In 2020-21, Barrett’s numbers over the first 20 tilts improved as he averaged 17.8 points, 6.7 boards, and 3.4 assists, shooting 42% from the field, and 29% from three-point range, and a +/- of +1.9. By the end of the season, his numbers were mostly similar, but his 3-point percentage leaped to 40%. Good enough to support my theory. Myth: Plausible.

Yet, his stats for the first 20 dipped in the 2021-22 season, with averages of 14.6 points, six rebounds, 2.2 dimes, 40% from the field, 32% from three-point range, and a negative +/- of -2.0. He finished the season with 20 PPG and improved his shooting percentages. Myth: Confirmed.

Last season, Barrett’s scoring increased to 18.6 points over the first 20, but he maintained similar numbers in rebounds and assists. His shooting percentages were 40% from the field and 27% from three-point range, and his +/- was -4.0. His averages had all ticked up by the end of the season: 19.6 PPG, 43% FG, 31% 3P. Myth: Confirmed.

According to my amateur sleuthing, the myth averages out as plausible. The last two seasons, RJ picked up the pace as the campaign rolled on. In his sophomore year, his three-pointer definitely found the bottom of the net more often after the first 20 games. His first year can probably be tossed out: he was a rookie, his coaches were Fizdale and Miller, and he played in only 56 games.

I’ll be following RJ specifically in tonight’s preseason opener and over the next two months. The Knicks’ front office and coaching staff will be, too. Barrett is due to make $23.8M this season. Josh Hart is waiting on the bench and fully capable of starting at small forward. We might find that a slow start by RJ is less tolerated than before.