Should the New York Knicks try RJ Barrett at point guard in his rookie season?
When summer league started for RJ Barrett, New York Knicks fans were on his case from the get-go. After two games fans were calling him a “bust,” or a guy who can’t score or shoot. Yes, he did only score18 points combined in those two games on 7-for-33 from the field, but it was only just two games. Funny enough, over the next three games he scored a combined 59 points on 19-for-44 shooting.
The Knicks need to play to Barrett’s strengths to ease some of the unwarranted criticism, and, at point guard, he could flourish.
Look at the landscape of the NBA; Russell Westbrook, James Harden, LeBron James, Ben Simmons, Jamal Murray and even Devin Booker all have been the point guard for their team at some point last year. Yahoo Sports even reported LeBron James as the starting point guard for the Lakers this year.
The position has changed, as it covers a team’s worst shooter or has their best athlete or scorer be the point of attack. Barrett fits both those points right now. He is the Knicks best isolation scorer while lacking a perimeter shot.
Would you rather have an extra shooter out there like Marcus Morris or Reggie Bullock instead of Elfrid Payton and Barrett sharing the court together? With Mitchell Robinson being a staple of the lineup, the Knicks will already be down one shooter. Two more non-shooters out there can’t be afforded, which is how the Knicks are configured right now, with either Dennis Smith Jr. or Payton slotted next to Barrett.
Barrett attempted six three-pointers per game for Duke at 30.8 percent. That will not cut it as an off-ball player. Remember the college line is also closer, so he has to adjust to shooting even further out.
With the abundance of forwards, playing Barrett at lead guard would give head coach David Fizdale more opportunities to play lineups with different combinations, potentially with Barrett, Robinson, Morris, Kevin Knox and Wayne Ellington. They can play even smaller with Julius Randle at center.
This gives the Knicks more shooting on the court, while covering up the lack of shooting Barrett has at this point of his career.
Add the fact the Knicks don’t even have a strong option between Smith and Payton, as neither has shown they can handle the position. Position-less basketball is where the NBA is at, with lineups hosting the five best players.
Barrett is a good isolation scorer, he needs to work on his jumper, and playing him as the ball-dominant guard will cover up some of those weaknesses and put him the best position to succeed right away.
Based on Synergy, Barrett went to the free-throw line 13.5 percent of his possessions at Duke, in comparison Harden was at 15.4 last year. He clearly is a guard that likes to go downhill, as he took 22 free throws in five summer league games this year. Sure, he will struggle at times with him finding the balance between forcing and dishing, but those are always growing pains with young players.
In the summer league, Barrett averaged 15.4 points, 8.4 rebounds and 4.2 assists and was the first rookie to average those numbers in this July slate of games. The 19 year old got stronger and more comfortable as each game passed, which went beyond the numbers.
Barrett is the New York Knicks’ best scorer even after five summer games, and he is most effective when he has the ball in his hands. The Knicks have golden opportunity to get with the times of position-less basketball and give Barrett a chance to be the point guard of the future, which could lead to his future stardom.