Tom Thibodeau is letting Knicks cornerstone RJ Barrett work his way out of slump

RJ Barrett, New York Knicks

RJ Barrett is historically a slow starter. But after the New York Knicks essentially handed the keys to him with the largest contract in franchise history, it’s disappointing that he is not keeping his end of the bargain.

It’s more disheartening when Donovan Mitchell’s MVP-caliber play this season is factored in. After all, the Knicks tried to bluff the Utah Jazz by extending Barrett when they refused to give the third unprotected pick.

Barrett’s shooting numbers — 39.4 percent from the field and 26.4 percent from 3 — are all career lows.

What’s worse is Barrett can’t stop anybody on the other end. The Knicks have been better on both ends of the floor with Barrett on the bench. His on/off differential of minus-11.4 is in the 14th percentile.

Barrett’s defense took a hit when Reggie Bullock, the Knicks best perimeter defender, left the team after their surprising playoff run. Last season, opposing teams have scored 4.9 more points per 100 possessions when Barrett was on the floor. This season, it shot up to a staggering 15 more points per 100 possessions, which is in the bottom one percentile, according to Cleaning The Glass.

On Black Friday, Barrett chucked his way to a dubious double-double of 19 points and 10 rebounds with five assists in a team-high 44 minutes in their overtime loss to Portland.

Instead of owning it and showing accountability, Barrett redirected the aim at game officials.

“[Portland] was getting everything. I thought I could get some [calls]. Sheesh!”

RJ Barrett via MSG Network

Thibodeau refused to call out Barrett until he could watch all of his starting wing’s disenchanting wild forays to the basket.

“I want to look at [Barrett’s] shots before [I comment further], but it seemed like he got hit on others. Like if you’re looking for the contact, and they’re not going to give you that unless you attack the rim. Like if we fade away from the basket, we’re not gonna get the call. But if we’re attacking the rim, you tend to get those calls. So again, before I comment further, I want to see all the drives and see exactly what transpired.”

Tom Thibodeau postgame via MSG Network

So what really transpired?

Barrett started Friday night’s overtime loss to Portland, missing his first five shots — a corner 3, an airball stepback jumper against Jerami Grant, a floater, an above-the-break 3 and a layup blocked by Jusuf Nurkic. He did not make his first field goal — a three-pointer — until the 3:28 mark of the second quarter.

He couldn’t shake off the smaller Anfernee Simons and couldn’t shoot over the taller Nurkic.

Barrett missed five of his last six shots, which hastened the Knicks’ collapse.

Over his last seven games, Barrett shot a putrid 31.6 percent from the field (36 of 114 field goals) and 16.7 percent frown downtown, even if his 25-point efficient game in Oklahoma City is factored in.

But Thibodeau isn’t wavering in his faith in Barrett. He’s not kicking his player while he’s down.

“Just keep working at it. Gotta trust the process of working your way through things. Get into gym, put in the extra work. It’s all you can do.”

Tom Thibodeau postgame via MSG Network

Thibodeau has no choice but to stick to Barrett after his reported pleas to acquire Mitchell, even at his expense, didn’t materialize.

Follow this writer on Twitter: @alderalmo

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