Knicks: Why not just run the offense through RJ Barrett?

RJ Barrett Mandatory Credit: Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports
RJ Barrett Mandatory Credit: Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports /
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Feb 12, 2020; New York, New York, USA; New York Knicks shooting guard RJ Barrett (9) controls the ball against Washington Wizards point guard Ish Smith (14) during the third quarter at Madison Square Garden. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports /

Leading the Way: RJ Barrett in 2020-21

The Knicks roster has a lot of familiar faces from last season, but some significant tweaks as well. Looking at the veterans the Knicks lost, the ones they retained, and the ones they brought in, there will certainly still be significant competition for minutes.

So how do the Knicks create a cohesive rotation that not only helps their young players develop, but leads to actual, exciting basketball? They can start by making RJ Barrett the go-to-guy.

RJ Barrett is not a point guard. As of now, he’s somewhere in between a small forward and a shooting guard, but he has flashed some terrific play-making ability.

This may initially sound like a silly statement, but it’s really about Barrett’s strengths. RJ Barrett is a lot more effective with the ball in his hands than without. He isn’t very quick for his size and he isn’t a knockdown shooter, so he’s limited as an off-ball player. What Barrett does do extremely well is get to the rim. His combination of strength and slithery dribble moves allows him to create penetration and draw in defenders. There aren’t any other players on the roster who can do this as consistently well as Barrett.

So what about the other guards? Many have been impressed with rookie Immanuel Quickley’s preseason. In just a few exhibition games, Quickley has displayed very encouraging point guard skills and potentially elite shooting ability.

Can Quickley become the team’s point guard of the future? That remains to be seen, but his emergence is important because it provides the team with, at the very least, a complementary piece to Barrett.

The same goes for Obi Toppin. He has excellent potential as a prospect in his own right, but his ability to stretch the floor and effectively rim run will be a nice complement to RJ Barrett’s slasher playstyle.

Having Barrett play with guys like Toppin and Quickley will be a breath of fresh air compared to the spacing he was forced to operate with last season. Just because he’s not the point guard, doesn’t mean he can’t be the focal point of the team’s offense.

Plenty of teams use their star 2-guard or small forward as their highest usage player. Donovan Mitchell, Jayson Tatum, Kawhi Leonard, and DeMar DeRozan all had the highest usage rate on their respective team.

We know RJ Barrett is not that level of player yet, but if the team believes he can get there, they need to start acting on it. The Knicks didn’t draft RJ Barrett to be Julius Randle’s sidekick.

If the Knicks can roll out the correct lineups (Lineups filled with shooters and rim rollers) around Barrett, it could become the formula that brings them success. Success for the Knicks doesn’t mean an overnight title contender, it means a team that is laying the groundwork for future prosperity.

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Let him make mistakes. Give him the ball in crunch time. Let RJ Barrett learn how to become the franchise player.