RJ Is Confident
The most impressive attribute of Barrett’s game is the confidence he exudes with the basketball in his hands. Most rookies don’t radiate as much confidence as RJ did last season. Rookies by definition are inexperienced. It takes time for them to become comfortable at an NBA level. Typically this inexperience leads rookies to be shy and hesitant on the floor. But for the twenty-year-old swingman out of Duke, this was not the case. As the number one option, RJ looked comfortable having the ball in his hands as much as he did, never hesitating to shoot the ball. Yes, he was highly inefficient, missing much more than he scored. However, while his inefficiency should not be rewarded, his persistence and perseverance should be commended. The rookie did not discourage himself but instead kept shooting. His will and determination were impressive, and he does not get the respect he deserves in this sense.
Aside from his confidence, another area of RJ’s game to take note of is his ability to attack and finish at the rim. RJ’s ability to find an opening in defenses, attack the paint, and draw defenders to him, is spectacular. RJ also does not get enough credit for his athleticism and strength. While he is not incredibly strong or welcome contact, his ability to navigate around opposing bigs demonstrates his craftiness. RJ possesses the innate abilities and fundamental skills as a finisher around the rim. With some additional time in the weight room, RJ could become unstoppable on the drive.
RJ, The Defensive Stud
As a 6’6″ shooting guard, Barrett matches up extremely well on the defensive end against smaller guards. His size and length give opposing guards difficulty seeing and passing over his large frame. With a 6’10” wingspan, he has a knack for disrupting offenses and getting his hands on the ball as a defender. With improvements in his footwork to enable him to become quicker, RJ could turn into an elite defender.
Barrett has the attitude and determination to become a star in New York, but the organization needs to surround him with talent. RJ had too much pressure to be the number one option in the Knicks offense, especially being surrounded by players who did not help him thrive or bring out the best in him. RJ was not used to having the spotlight on him. At Duke, he did not feel the pressure of New York. He was the clear number two option behind Zion Williamson, and he thrived in that role. So it is understandable that when asked to enter the role of the first option, he did not feel immediately comfortable. Especially in “The Mecca of basketball”.
Weak Supporting Cast
The Knicks were a mess last season. Barrett had no support, nobody to coach him properly, and no veteran to serve as his mentor. The organization forced RJ to take on roles he was not comfortable with. This was unfair and the organization should never even have expected him to take on. The Knicks organization and fans should applaud him for taking on so much responsibility. Given the circumstances that the organization put RJ in, with an organization that doesn’t have much direction right now, Knicks fans should be happy with his rookie season.
It is clear that Barrett is not a generational talent or a franchise centerpiece, but he possesses the tools to become an important piece of a contending team. RJ has a lot to learn, and Knicks fans have to be patient with his progress. With the hiring of Thibodeau and new coaching staff, RJ could finally receive the guidance that he desperately needs. For Knicks fans, there is not much to look forward to, but they should remain hopeful about RJ Barrett.