Huge second season ahead for RJ Barrett
RJ Barrett had a mixed rookie season in the NBA, in a year that was cut with 26 games to play due to Covid-19, Barrett averaged 14.3 pts, 5 reb, 2.6 ast and 1 steal while shooting 32% from three and just over 40% from the field. A tough first season but one that could still leave Knicks fans optimistic for the future, despite regular struggles from the field and the free-throw line, it was never going to be easy coming into a New York team that has been struggling down at the bottom of the Eastern Conference since 2014.
After getting an extended off-season, one would hope that RJ has used that time to work on his upper body strength along with his free-throw shooting. In his rookie year, Barrett was regularly left to attack a rim being guarded by at least two defenders, often failing to convert and when these failures led to line trips he also struggled, shooting just 61% from the charity stripe. If he is to become a dominant offensive threat then he has to be able to finish at the rim and make defenders think he'll punish them at the line if they try to foul.
Keys to unlocking Barrett's offensive potential:
Key 1: Coach Thibodeau- Newly appointed head coach Tom Thibodeau, comes with a great reputation for player development and is a former coach of the year. Coach Thib turned a 22 year old Derrick Rose from the Bulls best player to the leagues best player back in 2011, while he has also been credited with taking the games of league legends Kobe Bryant, Kevin Garnett and Yao Ming to the next level. So, if RJ is willing to work then he's in the ideal position to take his game to a new level in 2021 and beyond. Thibodeau knows unlocking Barrett's offensive potential will be key to him succeeding at MSG and that will mean setting up the offense to provide Barrett with the best opportunities to score.
Key 2: Trading for a quality playmaker- Barrett shot 32% from three-point land last season and that could easily rise to 36 or 37 if he was taking the shot he liked more often. Like most players, Barrett's sweet spot from three came in the left corner but as he was often the ball handler he rarely got open looks from the corner, that is why one of the main goals for the Knicks this off-season has got to be bringing in a quality ball handler with an eye for a pass. Best options to achieve this would be trading up in the draft and getting Lamelo Ball or signing Chris Paul, who is likely to look for a trade in the off-season. The addition of a quality ball-handler and passer to the starting line-up will give Barrett the opportunity to shoot more open shots rather than always having to create his own looks on offense.
RJ is still only 20 years old so still has plenty of time to develop into a franchise cornerstone caliber player and if he can be that he, along with Mitchell Robinson and Kevin Knox can lead the Knicks back to prominence in the East. Barrett has shown himself to be an elite player in college and high school, it is now just a question of translating that into the NBA.
In 2020/21, I will be expecting Barrett to shoot at least 75% from the line, 35% from three and closer to 50% from the field or maybe higher if he continues to favour driving finishes at the rim and has worked on it in the off-season. Coach Thib can do his part by incorporating more shooters around Barrett, such as Kevin Knox and teaching his team how to space the floor for his future superstar?