After watching his draft classmates Ja Morant and Darius Garland blossom into All-Stars this season, New York Knicks lefty wing RJ Barrett feels he is next in line.
That will be one of Barrett’s goals as he enters a crucial offseason. This summer, he is eligible to sign a contract extension of up to $181 million over five years. But there are rumblings he is not worth the rookie max.
“My kind of next step for me is I want to be the leader,” Barrett said in The Old Man and the Three podcast recently. “I always said I want to be the leader on the team. I want to help any way I can and get the team back to the playoffs because winning is obviously the most important, and next year, my goal is, I feel like I can be an All-Star.”
Over his last 41 games, Barrett looked like a borderline All-Star. He averaged 23.6 points, 6.0 rebounds, and 3.5 assists. His shaky jump shot has what pulled him down. That’s what he wants to address this summer.
“Right now, based on what I saw this year, I’m trying to work on really pull-ups and having a consistent jumper because I get to the rim so much,” Barrett said. “I can get to the rim any time.”
The bulk of Barrett’s shot diet came less than 10 feet away from the basket. According to NBA.com’s shot dashboard, he hit 47.5 percent (4.4 out of 9.3 attempts) of those shots. Getting to the rim, especially in the second half of the season, has helped Barrett reach 20.0 points per game, his NBA career-high. Per Cleaning The Glass, Barrett shot 55 percent at the rim, defined as layups, dunks, and tip shots. His aggressive approach also led to a career-high 5.8 free throw attempts. He hit 4.1 of them or at a 71.4 percent clip.
But that’s about it when talking about Barrett’s offense in his third year.
His mid-range game was clunky, hitting only 31 percent, while his three-point clip fell to 34.2 percent from a career-high 40.1 percent in his sophomore season. He shot worse in pull-ups, sinking only 28.4 percent of his 3.1 attempts.
This summer, he’s hell-bent on improving that area of his game that he went to the length of asking DeMar DeRozan to work out with him in the offseason in the middle of the game.
DeRozan is the mid-range king in the NBA. During the regular season, he led the league in pull-up shooting, making six per game at a very high 49.3 percent per Second Spectrum. Nearly half of DeRozan’s 27.9 points per game came from pull-ups (12.1 points).
Leading Scorers By Zone. What Jumps Out? pic.twitter.com/gGt5ZSq4zm
— Kirk Goldsberry (@kirkgoldsberry) April 12, 2022
“DeMar is big time for me. I’ve been watching DeMar basically half of my life because he played for the (Toronto) Raptors,” said the Canadian Barrett.
If Barrett can generate even just half of DeRozan’s mid-range points, the Knicks wingman could lift his scoring average to around 25 to 26 points per game next season.
Despite stopping DeRozan’s potential game-winner in a Knicks’ road win last October, Barrett couldn’t help but marvel at how the Chicago Bulls swingman grew from “just being athletic and dunking all the time” to his current status as the mid-range king in the league.
“When I was guarding him, some of his footwork, I’m like, bro, what am I supposed to do right now? I remember I asked him mid-game, ” bro, can I work out with you this summer?” Barrett recalled.
The 21-year-old Barrett believes that if he can mix those pull-ups and can become a complete three-level scorer, he’ll be hard to stop under the screen.
His reckoning came when the Atlanta Hawks beat them in the playoffs last year.
“What I learned — the biggest part was — how important the mid-range [jumper] is for a player like me,” Barrett said. “Coming off the screen, they just try to funnel me into Clint Capela every time. So you try to go up against a [6-10] footer every time down there. It was tough. So, that’s why you see in the playoffs that all the guys are making those mid-range shots look way better.”
Achieving those lofty goals would also help Barrett cement his place in the Knicks franchise. He wants to break the Charlie Ward rookie extension curse. No Knicks rookie has played past beyond their first contract with the Knicks since Ward in 1999.
“I hope so,” Barrett said when asked if he would sign an extension with the Knicks. “I hope so. I’d be the first Knick in about 20 years. So, I hope so.”
His draft classmates may have been ahead of the curve, but Barrett believes everybody has a different journey. His focus lies on becoming the best version of himself every day.
Zion Williamson, Morant, and Garland all went to teams that catered to them. Barrett has to earn his keep ever since he was snubbed from the NBA All-Rookie Team.
“Being an All-Star, being in the conversation, which is obviously going to come with winning, but I have the ability to, I’ve always had,” Barrett said.
His time will come. He’s manifesting it to come next season.
Follow this writer on Twitter: @alderalmo