It’s been a confusing season for New York Knicks forward RJ Barrett. In the offseason, there were major rumblings about him getting traded for Donovan Mitchell. The Knicks opted to punt on the trade, and the next thing you knew, Barrett was the holder of a four-year extension. Signing former Dallas Mavericks point guard Jalen Brunson meant the Knicks envisioned Barrett, Brunson, and Julius Randle as a big three in the Big Apple.
Barrett’s inconsistent play to start the season frustrated fans as Donovan Mitchell and the Cleveland Cavaliers were climbing in the standings. No player is perfect, and efficiency is something RJ has struggled with throughout his career. Watching Mitchell electrify adoring Cavs fans every night has left a lot of doubt about whether being more aggressive to acquire him would have been the correct choice.
As of late, RJ Barrett is starting to improve his play, however. After a very up-and-down third year for the Knicks forward, it’s worth reflecting on what he’s done.
December surge after a slow start:
Barrett didn’t have the best start to the season. The Knicks forward would average 17.7 points on 40/21.9/79.2 shooting splits in six October games. Improving a bit in the next month, he’d average 19.2 points on 40.8/30.3/77.4 splits while playing 33.8 minutes per game. New York would finish November with a 7-9 record.
December is when things looked like they were turning a corner. After three below-average games to start the month, RJ had his best stretch of the season. Scoring 22+ points in five straight games while having at least a 43 percent field goal percentage in all five. More importantly, the Knicks were on a winning streak due to his contributions. Barrett would have an 18-point game to end his streak of 20+, but followed that up with 30-and 44-point games. He was starting to look more like the dominant force Knicks fans had hoped for.
The lacerated finger injury:
Amid his best month of the season, RJ Barrett would suffer an unfortunate finger injury against the Dallas Mavericks. He missed six games before returning and scoring 27 points in a victory over the Indiana Pacers. The rest of January featured two great performances against his hometown Toronto Raptors.
January would end on a sour note for RJ Barrett as he only played 27 minutes in a 129-123 overtime loss to the Los Angeles Lakers. He checked out with 6:51 left in the fourth quarter and never came back. This caused an uproar, and even some of us (hand up) frantically started typing away at what the benching could mean. With the trade deadline approaching, it raised questions about if the Knicks might look to deal Barrett.
To start February, Barrett scored 30 points while playing 41 minutes to defeat the Miami Heat. Jalen Brunson did not play, which meant RJ had more freedom to create and took full advantage. Hoping this would unleash the third-year forward, he fell into a real struggle after that performance. The addition of Josh Hart only hurt RJ’s production, and he was starting to feel even more irrelevant on the court. Finally breaking his poor on-court streak, Barrett hit 8 of 13 field goals, 4 of 7 three-pointers, and went a perfect 5/5 from the foul line for 25 points in a win over the New Orleans Pelicans. Closing the month, he’d shoot poorly against the Boston Celtics, which was unfortunate given his strong play against New Orleans.
March/where we are now:
It’s been three straight games of at least 25+ for Barrett which is a good sign. Rebounding numbers are also up, pulling down 11, six, and seven boards in those games. Yes, one of those was a double overtime game, but he knocked down 10 of 22 field goals (45.5%). Jalen Brunson has only played two of 12 quarters during this stretch which isn’t the worst thing. Barrett is starting to heat offensively, and if the Knicks can trust him, it could allow Brunson some time to rest with his recent foot injury. The three-point shooting has been bad but he’s been more aggressive in getting to the foul line. His nine, eight, and 10 foul shots are the most he’s taken in a three-game stretch this season.
The recent run can be a real confidence builder for RJ. A player like him gaining confidence will only elevate the ceiling of a team that has a chance to be an extremely difficult out in the playoffs. It’s been an inconsistent career for RJ Barrett to this point, but he continuously shows flashes that would pull any fanbase in.
Here’s to hoping the flashes come more frequently.
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