In 2019, the New York Knicks missed out on generational talent Zion Williamson and fell to the third pick in the draft. Despite this, Knicks fans were still excited as they would still get a great prospect in RJ Barrett. However, Barrett had a lackluster rookie season as although he averaged 14 points per game, he shot 40% from the field and was inefficient, causing him to not even make the All-Rookie team. In his second season, he has improved his game and is noticeably more efficient. Along with improvements to his game, the Knicks are in playoff contention, which was very unexpected.
Many considered Barrett’s rookie season a disappointment. However, now some ask the question: Is RJ Barrett the key to the Knicks’ future? Barrett is still very young and can easily be a superstar. However, many have criticized his game and even some have given up on him being a star. Barrett is averaging nearly 17 points per game and has improved his shooting to 43%, despite his three point percentage slipping.
Barrett is looking much better and he has been less criticized this season. However, he still has many flaws that cannot be ignored. For one, Barrett is still quite inefficient as his true shooting percentage is nearly 7 points below league average and he’s barely shooting 30% from three. As a guard who is known as a scoring guard, it is concerning how inefficient he is.
However, Barrett is an above average defender. He can get steals and the occasional block, and his defensive rating of 106 is quite solid. His frame is quite big and his speed can allow him to switch on to smaller guards without any struggle. His defense is something that will allow him to stay in the game even if he is having a bad night offensively.
Additionally, Barrett was praised for his athleticism in high school, and it still holds up in the NBA. Barrett is quite quick and his strength allows him to attack the basket quite well. However, he doesn’t get to the line too often. Despite this, he can create his own shot and get room due to his quick first step.
To round out his game, Barrett is a pretty good rebounder for a guard and is an underrated playmaker. He cannot lead an offense just yet, but he definitely can lead plays and is an above average shot creator, which are valuable in today’s NBA.
RJ Barrett has plenty of potential and can still be a star. However, his shooting must improve for him to make the big jump. He is still 20 years old and has plenty of untapped potential, so what is his ceiling?
RJ Barrett certainly can do more than just score, which will make him a more viable option than someone like DeMar DeRozan. If he were to be compared to someone, he is similar to Victor Oladipo or Donovan Mitchell. Both players are quite talented offensively in many aspects while also being solid on the defensive end. Oladipo and Mitchell both were not great shooters at the beginning of their careers, but have since become respectable and must be guarded on the perimeter. Barrett still needs major improvement to get to either of those players levels, but his development should allow for him to be a similar player to those two.
A best case scenario could let Barrett be similar to Dwyane Wade, a guard who though not a great shooter, was good at attacking the rim and was a good defender as well. Wade’s game might not best be suited for today’s NBA, however, Barrett seems to have a better shot than Wade. Add on that he is quite athletic, Barrett’s ceiling of being a modern-day Dwyane Wade certainly shows that the Knicks have a future star on their hands.
Despite not being as dominant as Ja Morant and Zion Williamson who were taken before him, Barrett still could be a top player in the NBA. Though he likely won’t live up to the “Maple Mamba” nickname, RJ Barrett can be a top NBA player and the Knicks’ future face of the franchise, who could hopefully bring a title back to the Garden after half a century without one.
Photo Credit: Michael Reaves / Getty Images