RJ Barrett after Knicks extension: I’m trying to be a man now

Alder Almo
RJ Barrett, Knicks, Donovan Mitchell
Jan 26, 2021; Salt Lake City, Utah, USA; New York Knicks guard RJ Barrett (9) dribbles the ball away from Utah Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell (45) during the first quarter at Vivint Smart Home Arena. Mandatory Credit: Chris Nicoll-USA TODAY Sports

RJ Barrett’s historic four-year extension with the New York Knicks came with an asterisk after he was reportedly made available in the nixed Donovan Mitchell deal.

How did he feel about those reports?

Why did the Knicks make their best young prospect available?

None of those questions were answered during Barrett’s first official public appearance since signing a four-year extension worth up to $120 million that essentially killed the Mitchell deal.

Instead, the Knicks and Barrett focused on moving forward.

The 22-year-old lefty Canadian talked about being more vocal as a leader and teased a glimpse of what’s to come after earning the most lucrative contract in the Knicks franchise history and breaking the Charlie Ward curse.

After losing out on Mitchell, a perennial NBA All-Star, the Knicks are banking on Barrett, the first Knicks’ first-round pick that they extended since Ward in 1999, to turn into one.

Barrett has shown he has that motor and work ethic throughout his first three NBA seasons, elevating his overall production each year. But there remain warts to his game like his 54.6 percent accuracy in the restricted area and 69.7 percent free throw shooting.

Last season, Barrett was one of the worst rim finishers in the league, making only 169 of 315 attempts from within four feet of the basket. That ranked only in the 19th percentile, according to Cleaning The Glass.

It did not help that he only shot 26.8 field goal percentage on pull-up 3s and 34.3 percent overall accuracy on his pull-up jump shots last season.

He could’ve hiked his career-high 20-point production last season into the mid-20s if he shot near the league average.

Barrett’s goal is to become an All-Star who will impact winning in New York. To become one, he acknowledges his weaknesses which became the focus of his summer workout with his personal trainer Drew Hanlen.

[I’m] Always working on finishing and just being able to shoot, shoot off the dribble [and] learning many different things,” Barrett said. “Free Throws — only shooting a lot of free throws. So I’m just [practicing] things of that nature, and then a way of doing it also is watching film.”

Barrett added he likes to watch his mistakes first during film sessions to see what he could have done better.

Barrett is one of the few young NBA players who has shown a certain degree of maturity and self-awareness that can withstand the demands of a big market such as New York and its passionate and hard-hitting fan base.

“They really support every game. They’re always there to have they have their opinions, but it’s good. It’s good to also play for New York that knows about basketball, that cares, and just, in turn, I speak for myself, and I care a lot too. I care,” Barrett said. “I want to help contribute to just winning and just, overall really great things for the Knicks.”

If Barrett can clean up those warts in his game, he can easily average an All-Star level-like production to combine with his growing presence on the defensive end.

That’s the next step. And it will significantly impact the Knicks’ future, especially after passing on a dynamic, three-level scorer such as Mitchell.

Barrett felt honored with the new contract, though it pales in comparison to what his draft classmates got. And there was not a hint of slight on nearly getting traded. Instead, Barrett looked at the turn of events that led to his extension with the Knicks as part of growing up.

“I’m trying to be a man now. I came into the league at 19. I’m 22 now, just learning different things about the world and the NBA world,” Barrett said.

Since his All-Rookie Teams snub, Barrett has always played with a chip on his shoulder. Even if his Monday’s fan event failed to yield answers to the hard-hitting questions, one could only imagine how the aborted Mitchell trade has added fuel to his fire.

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