Knicks: Is RJ Barrett the future or a trade piece this offseason?

The New York Knicks have a few big decisions to make this off-season, ranging from parting ways with valuable resources to acquire a star via trade, or rolling with the assets they currently have on hand.

With plenty of youth players and draft picks available, there is the potential for president Leon Rose to package a few together and target a player like Damian Lillard, but the Knicks could easily sit still, spending $60+ million in free agency and still have an improved team in 2022.

With the expectation that Alec Burks, Nerlens Noel, Frank Ntilikina, and Taj Gibson will all hit the open market, the Knicks will be looking to roll over their salaries to other players and having multiple options like Lonzo Ball, Chris Paul, Spencer Dinwiddie, and much more for the taking, it might be beneficial to allocate the resources more strategically.

On the off chance that the Knicks look to acquire a big-name like Lillard, Portland could demand RJ Barrett in return, to go along with a bevy of draft selections. Question is, should the Knicks be willing to give away Barrett in the scenario, or should they stick with him long-term given his development last season?

What did Barrett offer the Knicks during the 2020-21 season?

Barrett averaged 17.6 points, 3.0 assists, 5.8 total rebounds, and shot .441 from the field and .401 from three-point last season. He saw his three-point percentage increase by .80%, which is an astronomical number for a player who isn’t known to thrive in that category. Considering he was attempting 4.3 shots per game from beyond the arc, hitting 40% was incredible and should give the Knicks’ coaching staff plenty of optimism for the future.

Barrett is headed into the third year of his contract and will be paid $8.6 million. The team has an option during the 2022-23 season for $10.9 million and a qualifying offer they can enable during the 2023-24 season at $14.3 million.

Considering RJ is just 20 years old and effectively has three years left on his deal, his potential is sky-high, so parting ways with him would be inadvisable, even if it meant acquiring Lillard in the process.

There were stretches during the most recent campaign where Barrett looked like a star alongside Julius Randle, and with plenty of free agents available to fill the point guard spot, Barrett doesn’t need to be a number two right away. They can find adequate talent to give Barrett more space to grow without the lofty expectations.

Consider this, Barrett is one of only eight players in NBA history to record more than 2000 points, 500 rebounds, and 300 assists before turning 21 years old. For goodness sake, the kid can’t even buy an alcoholic drink legally yet and is making an impact on the biggest sports stage in the world.

Other positives that come to mind include consistent defense, durability, and remaining confident during cold streaks. He increased his minutes to 35 compared to 30 in his rookie season, finishing second in the entire NBA in total minutes, behind only teammate Julius Randle.

Barrett scored less than 10 points in just 18% of games this year, but scored 20+ points in 46%, compared to 23% last year. The big question is, is his shooting sustainable and can he continue to improve that category? As long as things progress nicely, Barrett will inevitably become a key factor for the Knicks on both sides of the ball. Trading him away would be utterly foolish, and something the old management might do.

Providing the starting five with more talent and taking pressure off RJ will contribute toward his growth — which should be a priority.

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