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The most impressive thing behind RJ Barrett’s early season success

It’s finally happening.

Charlotte Hornets v New York Knicks Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

Improved shooting percentages. That will likely be the first thing you look at and point to when discussing the big difference with RJ Barrett this year. And you would not be wrong to do so. The fifth year wing is currently shooting 49% from the field, 85% the free throw line, and most importantly, 50% from three. So far, Barrett has made two or more threes in all but one game, shot 44% or better from the field in all but two games, and has shot 75% or better from the charity stripe in all but one game. He’s also been a lot better defensively as well. But the most important and impressive improvement from Barrett comes not from a slight change in shooting motion, more reps in the gym, or an uptick in defensive commitment, it has come from an overall development in his decision making.

In the past, it was apparent that Barrett just didn’t have the ability to read the game on a high level. This is a problem a lot of young players run in to, and it’s not like he was completely clueless out there, so for the first two, maybe even three, seasons, there was more patience. That being said, his ability, or lack thereof, to take in information on the court, register it, and produce the correct outcome last season was simply lower than what you wanted in a fourth-year player who was drafted as high as he was. Barrett routinely had possessions where he was predetermining what he would do before he even got the ball. Over the course of any single game, you could probably point out a handful of occasions where you could tell Barrett had already made up his mind that he would drive left no matter what or that he was going to use a certain move no matter what. If you’re talented like Barrett, you can get away with it sometimes, but against the most talented players and coaches in the league, it often can and often does not end up well. And that was the most frustrating thing for a lot of Knicks fans.

Obviously we all want to see him score 20+PPG and shoot the ball as efficiently as he is now, but for him to truly take that next step as a player, the Knicks needed him to be better with what many call “the process.” This includes, but is not limited to, how he reads his defender, how he reads the help defender, how he reads his own teammates, how he reads game situations, and how he reads the flow of the game. And while it’s only been seven games so far, we’ve seen him clearly be better in pretty much all of those reads.

Take the play above for example. Most fans would agree that in the past there was a high likelihood that Barrett takes a contested floater after getting the ball back. Instead, he whips an on target pass right into Randle’s shooting pocket.

Or the play above, which he won’t get an assist for. As the post states, Barrett and his “more difficult-than-it-looks” touch pass helps create a wide open shot for Hart. I can say with a decent amount of confidence that there were definitely times in the past where Barrett holds on to the ball here.

And then there is this pass. It may look rather mundane, but this specific ability to not only throw an on target and on time cross-court pass but to do so while going to his right, is a huge development for Barrett.

It doesn’t end with just cross-court passes or touch passes either as we see Barrett come off of a pin down screen and execute a really nice pocket pass to a rolling Isaiah Hartenstein.

Again, it’s only been seven games, and there’s definitely a possibility that the shooting percentages see some negative regression. Nevertheless, his passing, his reading of the game, and his overall improved decision making is something that is sustainable. And that should be the thing Knicks fans are all excited about because that underlying ability to make the right decision will ultimately play such a big role in just how well he shoots the ball , how efficient he can be, and most importantly how good this team can be. We all saw how one dimensional and Jalen Brunson-reliant the Knicks were in the playoffs, so having this new and improved version of Barrett, one that is not only an improved shooter, but one that can also make plays for others should do wonders down the stretch.