AT OPENING NIGHT In Indianapolis, New York Knicks security guard RJ Barrett stood wide open in the left corner before taking a cross-court pass and gathering for the shot. Although the Indiana Pacers guardian Aaron Holiday closed hard, Barrett rose and fired a high-arched shot that hit the entire net, giving the Knicks a three-point lead just before half-time.
It was Barrett’s third 3-pointer in as many attempts that led a final boxing standings where he set a team high of 26 points in 11v15 shooting, eight rebounds, five assists – and the perfect 3-for -3 marks from below.
Earlier this season, Barrett, ranked 3rd overall in the 2019 NBA draft, had been working with the help of his coach Drew Hanlen to remove an issue from his jump shot. The duo’s off-season work paid off immediately. After shooting just 32% from a distance as a rookie, Barrett apparently added another tool to his arsenal.
But Barrett began to be absent from the next few games. And is missing. And is missing.
In the next four games in New York he shot 17:66 from the field – including 0:21 from 3-point range. The off-season experiment with his shot and his return to opening night suddenly seemed unsuccessful.
Barrett redoubled his efforts, going to the gym at night after a workout for an additional 400 to 500 3-pointers and 100 free throws each time. It began to produce the results he had hoped for when he and Hanlen first diagnosed the problem.
Over the next 23 games, Barret shot 44.1% from the field and 33.3% from 3. He then shot 45.9% from a distance, including three games with 10 or more 3s.
“You just have to keep working,” Barrett told ESPN. “If only you can get the results you want that easily, everyone would be where they want to be. “
New York remains firmly on the hunt for a home advantage in the first round of the playoffs on the road to home advantage at the LA Clippers (3:30 p.m. ET on ESPN). And when the Knicks rose to the biggest surprise of this NBA season, Barrett went from being a perceived bust of rookie to being a major contributor to their sudden resurgence.
However, coaches, leaders, and scouts have mixed opinions about what’s next for the 20-year-old guard.
After last seasonBarrett sat down with Hanlen and they both agreed to go through the film from its first NBA season once and only once.
“Then we’d never talk about it again,” Hanlen told ESPN. “Last year was a frustrating year.”
When he entered the draft, Barrett’s concern was an inconsistency with his knight, and that proved problematic for his rookie season: Barrett shot 32% out of 3-point range with an effective field goal percentage of 44.5, the second worst player among players with at least 30 minutes per game last season.
He finished eighth in the rookie of the year election and was not selected for the all-rookie team.
“It bothered me a lot,” Barrett said in December. “I really don’t understand why I wasn’t there. But it was motivation – motivation for the next season. It was good to have an extra chip on my shoulder and just prove myself even more.”
Over the summer, Hanlen and Barrett had noticed some changes to his form, and two main goals were set: improving his percentages from the 3-point range and the free-throw line. While the start of the season was indeed difficult, the changes have produced results.
Barrett now shoots 39.9% from 3-point range and 74.5% from the foul line, compared to 61.4% last season. As a result, opposing teams had to adjust in scope to Barrett’s newfound accuracy.
“His shooting,” said Charlotte Hornet coach James Borrego when asked where he has seen Barrett’s growth this season. “You can start there. Just the ability to shoot the ball now. He looks a lot more comfortable, safer in his shot. He’s made a lot more games. I think his game really took a step there – and a lot of it comes from it from your confidence in shooting the ball.
“I think players in general, when they can shoot the ball and go downhill, they’ll be a lot more comfortable playing off the jump and making games for other people.”
Several Boy Scouts and executives also recognized new Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau for improving Barrett’s play and Barrett himself for being receptive to the instructions. The latter was something became a problem with Thibodeau’s previous stop while coaching a Minnesota Timberwolves team hoping to take care of Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins.
Barrett, however, has settled in seamlessly under Thibodeau. Barrett and first-time All-Star and Most Improved Player front-runner Julius Randle are the newest players to get tough minutes from Thibodeau. Since the All-Star break, Randle has led the league in minutes with more than 38 per game. Barrett is third with 36.9.
Barrett’s increased minutes, however, coincided with a spike in his shooting rates across the board – including 42.8% from 3-point range with just over five attempts per game since break. Shortly before, Barrett had nine straight games with a 3-pointer, a streak he said held him on for the remainder of the season.
“That’s when I started shooting well,” said Barrett. “It’s just about going back to the gym at night and getting extra reps. That was it for me. And as the year progresses, we learn each other, you learn your places, you learn where you go, get those shots . “
Barrett’s improvement as a marksman makes the other parts of his game shine. Always a willing rebounder and defender, he’s aggressively attacking the rim. With a more threatening 3 point shot, those other facets of his game become more dangerous as he has more chances of either getting to the edge or playing for others.
“He’s going to be under better control later in the year,” said an Eastern Conference manager. “Decision-making and shooting had to be improved and he does less when he lowers his head and crashes into the defenders.
“The great thing about him as a prospect was that he would play super hard and be competitive and do anything to win … RJ will be fine.”
Knicks head coach Tom Thibodeau joins Stephen A’s World to find out how the team became a real playoff contender.
While Barrett’s offseason focus was on improving his knight, it wasn’t the only thing he was working on. He attributed Knick’s assistant coach to Johnnie Bryant, who had worked with all-star Donovan Mitchell on Utah Jazz for the past several years.
“I’m feeling a lot more comfortable,” said Barrett. “Like last year if you iced me up on the screen and took me to the right I’d be done. Now I’ve learned how to meander and come back to my left or still get where I want dish. .. or I can go right away and finish with my right hand.
“It’s harder to quit when you add more things to your game.”
HAVE TALENT EVENTS Get away impressed with Barrett’s growth, but skepticism remains about his future.
Some suggest a clear hole in Barrett’s offensive play: his poor shooting on 2-point shots with no border in color, commonly referred to as the “floater range,” from roughly three to ten feet. For the season, Barrett shoots 33.7% of those shots, the fifth worst percentage in the league.
He also shoots a below-average 56.6% on shots in the restricted area.
“I don’t see him as a franchise or a star player,” said a Western Conference manager. “I think he’s a complementary goalscorer and bucket-getter. His shooting has added to his efficiency but he still plays a lot straight away and has not proven capable of taking those shots.”
“If he can improve as a finisher and improve his shot selection, he has a chance. Because he can get the color and the line, and the best players do that.”
However, some thought the ceiling could be higher.
“I probably don’t think of him in the same way as Jaylen Brown, [but] That’s its advantage, “said a boy scout from the east.” This comes to mind because of the similar design position and size, although I would rather have Brown. [He’s] the top end. “
For his part, Barrett is at the next level in his evolution. He and Hanlen plan to work on two new goals: Improved finishing and adding a 3-pointer with no dribble.
“Think of all the top players in the league. Everyone has that in their games,” said Barrett.
It would have taken a leap in confidence a year ago to see Barrett improve as a marksman this season. And the Knicks relied on the same drive and determination Barrett used to evolve his game to continue as they chase after an ongoing string of playoff appearances.
“I knew the kind of qualities he had,” Thibodeau said when asked about his early impressions of Barrett. “I loved his size, I thought he got on the streets very well and I knew he was young.
“Most of the people who come in take some time. But just like how he works, who he is as a person, I knew he was going to get better; and I think we’ll just keep seeing that throughout his career. And again.” is he? Another guy who comes first on the team. Whatever you ask him, he’s ready for it. Very trainable.
“I think he had a great season and he will keep getting better.”