As the Knicks' fifth-year forward entered his fifth NBA season, the same questions arose as always. Can he shoot? Can he score efficiently? Will he just stand in the corner again? Will he look disengaged? Are we going to see any major improvements from RJ Barrett?
The answer to those questions is a delightful yes to start the season.
After scoring 26 points on 9-of-16 shooting in the win against the Los Angeles Clippers, Barrett is averaging 22 points in the early season. What’s even more encouraging are his shooting numbers. RJ is hitting 48% of his field goals, up from 43% last season. He’s knocked down 44% of his three-pointers and is shooting 85% from the foul line. Barrett shot 74% at the line last season; this is a substantial and necessary improvement.
Overall, the Knicks forward has seen his effective field goal percentage go from 49% in 2022–23 to 54% this season. He is shooting better than the league average in all three categories.
Efficiency has always been the name of the game with RJ Barrett. This was the theme I wrote about in his player preview before the season. Everyone knows RJ can score; he’s averaged over 17+ points in the last three seasons. Scoring and scoring in a timely fashion are two separate entities.
Last season, Barrett was used incorrectly. There were too many possessions where he would stand in the corner, watching Jalen Brunson and Julius Randle. This season, he has found more ways to make himself productive. Shooting better percentages is always helpful, but Barrett is averaging nearly five fast-break points per game.
Plays like this are when the six-foot-six forward with a six-foot-ten wingspan is at his best:
look at the Knicks playing defense— The Knicks Wall (@TheKnicksWall) November 7, 2023
RJ WITH THE SLAM pic.twitter.com/olVgBnU16H
what a bounce pass and RJ THROWS IT DOWN pic.twitter.com/B0acPQoNLn— The Knicks Wall (@TheKnicksWall) November 7, 2023
The Knicks still need to cut down on isolation possessions. Isolations were something I touched on before the season, pleading with the Knicks to improve assist numbers by spreading the ball more (they haven’t). The memo still hasn't been met, and New York is tied for sixth in isolation possessions per game and shooting the second-worst percentage in the NBA.
RJ Barrett would benefit more from a run-and-gun style offense but is on a Knicks team that is bottom-ten in pace. Around the basket is where RJ is so tough to stop. He’s averaging 9.6 points in the paint and shooting 65% from less than five feet.
Defensively, he has also made early strides. Last season, he had the worst defensive rating of his career at 116.5. This season, it’s been lowered to 97.6. Add this to his 107.4 offensive rating, and he has a +9.8 net rating, the highest on the team by a healthy margin. Barrett is also a +24 in plus-minus to start the season, the best of any Knick. In 2022-23, the third overall pick in the 2019 NBA draft finished at -62, a concerningly poor number. He also had a -1.2 net rating in the regular season.
RJ Barrett is showing very encouraging signs to start his fifth season in New York.
He’s still only 23 years old.
The future is bright.
Follow Josh Wiesel on Twitter for more Knicks news and stories.