The New York Knicks are one of the more volatile teams in the NBA. They’re capable of winning any game, but they’ve lost several disappointing contests this season, representing a combustive team with wild inconsistencies.
Several factors have played into the Knicks’ demise at times, ranging from a lack of effort, inconsistent shooting, and porous defense. However, there are two specific players who need to elevate their game during the second half of the season if a playoff spot is still the primary goal.
Two players who need to elevate their game for the Knicks:
1.) RJ Barrett
The Knicks invested a ton of stock into the development and growth of RJ Barrett this past off-season. Barrett was expected to take a significant jump, pairing with Julius Randle and providing the team with a necessary one-two punch. At 21 years old, Barrett still has plenty of time to continue progressing, but his stats have taken a step back this year.
Barrett averages just 32.5% from the three-point range after hitting 40.1% during the 2020–21 season. He’s averaging about five minutes less per game on the floor and 2.6 fewer points. His field goal percentage has dropped 4% and assists from 3.0 to 2.2%.
Almost every statistical season has seen regression, and that might be partially the result of Julius Randle crashing back down to earth after an incredible season, resulting in the signing of a four-year, $117 million extension with New York.
Barrett’s defensive numbers have also taken a sizable dip. He hosts a 110.5 defensive rating compared to 107.2 last year. His -6.4 net rating and 11.6% assist rate display a player who is lost in translation off the ball and isn’t seeing the court at a heightened level.
Barrett is still a solid player who can contribute in a myriad of ways, but most are expecting him to take the leap to above average, which would’ve given the Knicks plenty of firepower to work with.
I believe Randle’s impact on the game has tremendously dampened Barrett’s contributions. Julius demanded so much attention last season it opened up the floor for Barrett to hit corner shots and drive with his left hand. However, Randle isn’t performing at the same level, and it has impacted everybody else on the team. An argument can be made that RJ simply lacks confidence at times, hurting his shooting efficiency.
2.) Evan Fournier
Evan Fournier is another player, the Knicks desperately need to make a run at a playoff spot. After signing a four-year, $73 million contract in free agency, Fournier was expected to offer an elite sharpshooter in the starting five.
Unfortunately, the French native has also experienced regression this season, hitting just 36.6% of his three-point attempts after connecting on 41.3% last year with Boston and Orlando combined. His field goal percentage has dropped 5%, and his defensive qualities remain a liability. He currently hosts a 111.2 defensive rating, resulting in a -5.8 net rating. His assist percentage has dropped 7% from last year to just 10%.
With a player who is experiencing a lull in shooting effectiveness and isn’t spreading the ball around as a playmaker, the Knicks are likely scratching their head at the Analytics department.
Interestingly, Fournier isn’t getting to the free-throw line as much as season, maybe as a result of rule changes that have prevented referees from handing out shooting fouls like candy.
Fournier is a more than capable scorer who explodes on occasion for big numbers, but his defense remains awful night in and night out. Unless he can be a consistent scorer averaging 20+ points per game, the Knicks will always have a way to work around his defensive vulnerabilities.