3) Encourage RJ Barrett to become a better distributor
Tom Thibodeau’s greatest achievement as a head coach might just be developing RJ Barrett into a triple threat on offense. Barrett should become the ultimate playmaker by showcasing the ability to score in the paint, score in the perimeter, and distribute the ball to his teammates.
Barrett already showcased an innate ability to find his teammates. Mitchell Robinson often was the recipient of some nice Barrett alley-oop passes. He has the vision to find shooters in the corner for open threes. His 2.6 assists/game only remind fans that he’s yet to scratch the ceiling of becoming a great playmaker.
Barrett’s assist percentage of 12.7% ranks in the bottom percentile amongst starting NBA guards and approaches the level of fringe starters and bench guards. Yes, Barrett shared the floor with Elfrid Payton & Julius Randle, two players that cannibalized the number of assist opportunities available. Yes, Barrett also played with Marcus Morris for a bulk of the season. However, it’s imperative that Thibs maximizes RJ’s vision and ability to find passing lanes.
One simple area of improvement is resisting tunnel vision. Barrett often fell victim to bad habits by driving into the paint and not making the kickout pass. Teams easily game-planned for Barrett, knowing that his main goal was to score rather than pass. Once Barrett learns to find the open shooters, defenders will have to respect his playmaking skills. This will also allow him to drive into the paint more efficiently and draw fouls.
Thibs took advantage of coaching shooting guards that had a modicum of ability to playmaker, whether it was Jimmy Butler or even Zach LaVine. Barrett provides him with another opportunity to nurture a wing playmaker. As silly as it might sound, Thibs should consider setting an assist goal for Barrett. Either average at least 4-5 assists/game or evaluate the metric based on assist percentage. An ambitious goal of doubling his assist percentage to 25% may help the Knicks win a lot more games than in years past.