The New York Knicks might experience a different RJ Barrett in 2021

New York Knicks, RJ Barrett
Nov 12, 2019; Chicago, IL, USA; New York Knicks guard RJ Barrett (9) dunks the ball against the Chicago Bulls during the second half at United Center. Mandatory Credit: Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports

When the New York Knicks drafted RJ Barrett with the third overall pick in 2019, they saw superstar aspirations for his future. Barrett was never an elite level shooter, but his ability to drive to the basket and display extraordinary athleticism was a selling point.

Barrett had his fair share of struggles in his rookie season, averaging 30.4 minutes per game. He averaged 14.3 points per contest, five total rebounds, 2.6 assists, and a .402 field goal percentage. One of his biggest negatives was his free-throw percentage at 61.4%. However, he has seen that number bubble to 86.7% this preseason.

Barrett’s improvement in the category is significant and hopefully can roll over into the regular season.

“I just got a lot of reps in,’’ Barrett said Sunday on a Zoom call. “It’s definitely something that bothered me from last season. I got a lot of reps. I haven’t done anything yet. I got to continue to be consistent.”

The New York Knicks might see a different Barrett in 2021:

Barrett has looked phenomenal this preseason, finishing the final contest against the Cleveland Cavaliers with 15 points, shooting 5-for-10 from the field. In the contest prior, Barrett posted 16 points, shooting 50%. He has been extremely effective when driving the rim and shooting from close range, showing off his aggression and mentality.

“I just thought his rim reads were terrific,’’ Thibodeau said. “His all-round play. His ball pressure [on defense] got a lot better as time went on. Offensively he scored a number of different ways — transition, cutting without the ball, off the dribble, catch and shoot.’’

The Knicks have prioritized defense this season under new head coach Tom Thibodeau, overwhelming opponents with on/off ball pestering. RJ has taken it upon himself to utilize the off-season to improve his game, and it is translating over so far.

Consistent reps seem to be the message that RJ is displaying, allowing him to work on his craft.

“I always set goals for myself, but I’ll keep that to myself,’’ Barrett said. “I’m feeling good about the season, really good. We got a hard-working group and hard-working coaches. I’m excited to see what this group will do this year.’’

Things will be different under Thibodeau, who plans to put developing youth on the back burner while winning comes first and foremost. Ultimately, winning games is the best form of teaching for young players entering the NBA. The Knicks have plenty of talent and little organic chemistry, so expect the first half of the season to go a bit bumpy as they figure out the starting five and begin to develop the future of this team.

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