For a while, I have maintained a negative belief about RJ Barrett, one based not on any actual numbers but on the evidence collected by my ever-weakening eyeballs. The hypothesis is this: RJ does not perform well after spending a significant amount of time away from the court. “He stinks after breaks!” is what I’ve told anyone who will listen (not many).
With a sparse Knicks news week and posts to fill, I decided to test my theory. The question is timely: Will RJ lay an egg in Cleveland after five days off?
I ran the numbers at Basketball-Reference.com and...proved myself mostly wrong.
First, like Larry Graham, let’s establish a baseline. After four seasons, RJ Barrett has averaged about 18 points, shot 42% from the field, and made 34% of his three-pointers. (This season, he averaged 19.6 on 43% and 31%.)
So, to start, I collected data from the first five games of each of his four NBA seasons. Over those 20 games, New York’s starting small forward averaged 16.4 points and shot 40% from the field. Both numbers are almost two ticks below his career average. Even worse, the Maple Mambo connected on 22 of 97 deep-ball attempts. That’s only 27%! Yee-ouch!
So far, it looked like Russell’s eyeball assessment would be validated. Alas, not so fast, chums.
Next, I checked his five contests after the last four All-Star games. Surely, he was gorging on margaritas and double-cheeseburgers while the NBA’s best players attended its mid-season gala.
Nope. Over that 20-game sample, RJ averaged 20 points—not bad—while shooting 46% from the field and 37% from deep—also not bad! All are better than his career figures.
Maybe this wasn’t such a great topic for an article after all. . . .
Finally, I checked how our boy performed after missing games due to injury or illness. While we can complain about other aspects of Broadway Barrett’s game, he is certainly not injury prone. The 22-year-old has been a durable player, missing three or more games only four times in his career. I gathered data from the five games following each of those breaks, totaling 20 contests. Over that span, Headband Ro averaged 19 points and shot 40% from the floor. Egads, those are indeed average-ish RJ numbers. Abort the premise!
Wait—during those games, he shot 25% from deep.
That ain’t pretty.
Tallying it all up, in the 60 games following breaks (off-season, All-Star, or injury/illness), the young Canadian has averaged 18.7 points and 42% from the field, numbers which are, in fact, better than his baseline. However . . . in those 60, he made only 28% of his threes.
And so, statistically speaking, he is not as gawdawful after breaks as I had previously asserted, but he does struggle with the long ball after a hiatus from the hardwood, though. To make matters worse, he shot 26% from deep over the last ten games of the regular season. He’s on a roll in the wrong direction.
That’s a bummer, given that the Cavs had the season’s top-ranked defense, one that New York will need ample three-point production to defeat.
My theory may be a bust, but we will be right to hold our collective breath every time RJ heaves a three in Round One against the Cavs (starts Saturday, 6 p.m. EST). Hey, if the week stays slow, maybe I’ll take a deep dive into his free throw stats next. Riveting stuff.