NY Knicks: Responding to RJ Barrett being left off ESPN’s “Top 25 under 25”

RJ Barrett, New York Knicks (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
RJ Barrett, New York Knicks (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images) /
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NY Knicks: RJ Barrett’s Sophomore leap

There are some areas of RJ Barrett’s growth that seemed like a foregone conclusion, and there are other jumps in his 2021 game that were hard to see happening this early on in his career. Let’s look at the traditional stats on the surface: 17.5 points, 5.9 rebounds, 3.0 assists on 45.0% from the field, 38.0% from 3, and 73.5% from the free-throw line. I’m not sure many people know about those shooting percentages.

Shooting has been the non-stop criticism of RJ Barrett’s game coming into the league. Can he be a shooter from long-range? A 3 level scorer? You saw the season-long percentages already, and if you take out the first 5 games of the season from December and just look at RJ Barrett’s stats in the year 2021, he’s shooting 41.7% from 3. Not so bad.

I still wonder if Barrett will be a high-level shooter off-the-dribble. Those question marks are very real. Barrett has a slower release that typically needs to be squared to the basket to be effective. Even though Barrett takes far more catch-and-shoot 3s per game than he does pull-up 3s (3 pointers taking immediately after dribbling) his pull-up 3 percentage of 36.4% is solid. So at this point, we know that Barrett can be a very effective spot-up 3-point shooter and he’s continued to improve as an off-the-dribble shooter – Seems like a pretty nice trajectory for someone’s “Biggest weakness”.

RJ Barrett’s numbers at the rim and from the mid-range have all gone up this season. RJ Barrett has always had tremendous strength (Already one of the strongest players in the league, you rarely see him affected by contact) but his touch at the rim was chaotic. He looks far more decisive with his finishes in year 2. The kid has always had no problem getting to the rim – It’s been how he finishes. He still is inconsistent finishing at the rim, but he’s already made nice improvements from his rookie season.

He can still add to his move set, but really, he uses his long length and strength to get the rim without flashy dribbles or elite speed. Not having elite burst or a wide range of crossovers isn’t a death sentence, just ask Kawhi Leonard, Jimmy Butler, Tobias Harris, and other players who have made a living scoring using strength, reach, and footwork.

NY Knicks: RJ Barrett’s Defense

Barrett’s defense, like his offense, is not the flashiest you’ll see. You won’t see many chase-down blocks or pick-pockets, but you will notice how difficult it is for opponents to get by him. The 20-year-old Canadian has made big strides on defense this season – He’s been consistent in his stance and dares people to shoot. Barrett’s long reach allows him to smother any space closing out shooters, and his formidable strength makes it strenuous for ballhandlers to get through to the rim. He’s been a huge part of the NY Knicks’ success on defense.

He’s been able to guard smaller guards and even some power forwards. He typically guards the opponent’s best wings. Opponents’ field goal percentage goes down 1.5% and their 3-point percentage by 1.7% when guarded by RJ Barrett.

The Maple Mamba’s history as a top prospect and further development as a shooter, playmaker, and perimeter defender have him poised to become one of the top 2-way wings in the game. Based on who RJ Barrett is mentally and his talent as a basketball player, Is there any way he doesn’t become a perennial 22-6-4 player? One who also plays lockdown defense? It seems like a nice bet to make.

For whatever reason, there are some players who seem to be either worse now, have lower ceilings, or both, who made the ESPN Top 25 Under 25. Let’s take a look at some of the nonsense.