Did the New York Knicks ‘bench’ RJ Barrett against Orlando?

New York Knicks, RJ Barrett
Jan 22, 2021; Sacramento, California, USA; New York Knicks guard RJ Barrett (9) holds onto a rebound against the Sacramento Kings in the fourth quarter at the Golden 1 Center. Mandatory Credit: Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

If you were looking objectively at New York Knicks shooting guard RJ Barrett’s stats, he has taken a developmental leap this year compared to his rookie season in 2020.

Over 56 games last year, he averaged 14.3 points, 5.0 rebounds, and 2.6 assists. He also earned a .402  field goal percentage and hit  .320 from downtown. This year, however, he’s averaging 16.5 points over 33.7 minutes, with a .428 field goal percentage.

Pair that with 3.16 assists and 6.2 total rebounds per game, and you can conclude he’s playing at a higher level.

With Barrett averaging about three minutes more per contest this year, he’s gradually taking steps forward and establishing himself as an everyday starter. That doesn’t mean that he doesn’t struggle in his own ways, as he was benched against the Orlando Magic on Wednesday evening, playing just 27 minutes. While his minutes have been degrading over the past few days, head coach Tom Thibodeau merely blames it on his rotation and what is working at the moment.

Thibodeau was asked about RJ Barrett’s regressing playing time recently:

“The depth is good. It’s a plus. You get into games like tonight and it’s more you’re just searching. You get in a hole like we were, then you’re trying to find anything that can get you going. The group that was out there got going a little bit. Ideally, you’d like to be playing from the lead. I thought the starters got us off to a decent start. The defense wasn’t good, but the offense was very good to start the game.’’

Thibodeau’s explanation essentially means that once the next got into a big hall, he was trying to find different combinations that would put points on the board with solid defense. Clearly, Barrett wasn’t part of the equation, as he finished the night with 15 points in a -3 +/-.

Veteran Julius Randle took it upon himself to field the blame, indicating he could do a better job of keeping him confident. That is the leadership that Randle has taken on this team. It’s important to know that Barrett is still young at 20 years old and finding his way in the NBA. It seems as if the youngsters on the squad struggled in the loss, with Immanuel Quickley hitting on just 1-of-12 shots and going 0-of-4 from three-point land.

“I can definitely do a better job of helping him out, keeping his confidence up,’’ Julius Randle said of Barrett. “He’s always stays confident. It’s one of those things got to keep learning, keep growing, see what you can do better. I’ll help him out as well. He’ll be fine. He’ll be fine.’’