Of all of the Knicks, he’s the one who will obtain essentially the most scrutiny for so long as he performs right here. He was the No. 3 decide in a draft during which Zion Williamson went 1 and Ja Morant went 2. He was the Knicks’ first-round decide after a yr during which they gained 17 video games and dreamed of successful the lottery.

It wasn’t truthful then, it isn’t truthful now, it should by no means be truthful.

However earlier than RJ Barrett ever performed an NBA minute, this was a time period affixed to him:

“Comfort prize.”

A humorous factor has occurred through the first 15 video games of Barrett’s sophomore season right here, although. There are nonetheless nights when it seems to be like he and the basket haven’t been formally launched, certain, nonetheless video games whenever you take a look at the stat sheet and the capturing numbers are grotesque and grisly: a 2-for-15 right here, a 4-for-19 there, a 4-for-21, a 4-for-14.

Extra typically, although, you additionally see a 20-year-old participant who already understands that his worth to the crew isn’t contained to how he’s capturing the ball. Extra typically, you see a participant dedicated to rebounding, dedicated to taking part in (and bettering) protection, dedicated to transferring the ball, dedicated to taking part in arduous.

“I really like the best way he competes,” Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau mentioned Monday after the Knicks held on for a 91-84 win over the Magic in an MLK Day matinee at Madison Sq. Backyard, and to an effort-now, effort-always coach like Thibodeau, there could also be no extra telling six phrases than that. However Thibodeau’s glowing evaluate doesn’t finish there.

“His angle has been nice and he’s in place,” the coach mentioned. “Folks speak about his capturing, however he’s doing different issues, rebounding properly, nice rim reads, excessive help numbers. I really feel his capturing will come round. He’s in rhythm now and the sky’s the restrict for him. He’s studying, as most younger youngsters do.”

He’s additionally a employee, who not solely gladly accepts the truth that he averages slightly below 37 minutes per recreation (he performed 38 Monday, the second half of a back-to-back) but in addition places within the time within the health club. It has allowed him to determine the opposite points of his recreation. However currently it additionally appears to have introduced his offense to a extra constant place.

RJ Barrett is turning into a solid NBA player.
RJ Barrett is popping right into a strong NBA participant.
NBAE through Getty Photographs

After pouring in 22 factors (on 9-for-19 capturing) and including 10 rebounds and 4 assists towards Orlando, he’s averaging 20.2 factors and seven.5 rebounds his previous 4 video games, capturing 49 p.c from the ground. His numbers are up throughout the board, and the one that actually stands out is on the free-throw line. He was 4-for-4 Monday, upping his proportion to 75.3, and that’s approach up from the 61.4 p.c he shot a yr in the past.

“He can rating in a bunch of various methods on the ground, he can run the ground, rating off the dribble, put up up,” Thibodeau mentioned. “Plus, he strikes with out the ball and that’s what makes him actually powerful to protect I feel.”

As a lot of an influence as Thibodeau has had on the opposite Knicks — notably Julius Randle, who performed a “depressing” recreation Monday and nonetheless put up 21 factors and 17 rebounds — it could be Barrett who shall be his most important lab challenge due to his youth (he’ll play this entire yr as a 20-year-old), his excessive ceiling and the truth that, as a No. 3 decide, he is part of the everlasting basis the Knicks are attempting to construct.

“[Thibodeau] is at all times believing in me,” Barrett mentioned after Sunday’s 105-75 Knicks’ thrashing of the Celtics in Boston. “That’s the largest half, he’s instructing me so many nuances of the sport. I’m actually completely happy to be part of this crew, studying underneath this coach.”

What’s most encouraging is how little Barrett’s power capturing woes have an effect on the best way he assaults the remainder of his recreation.

“When that occurs,” he mentioned, “I simply need to get again within the health club. I’ve nice teammates and the teaching workers consider in me, retains pushing me, need me to succeed.”

Barrett made little secret that he was upset at being left off the NBA’s all-rookie team final yr. Williamson has higher numbers this yr. Morant, restricted to solely 4 video games this yr, was sensible in all 4. Barrett could properly perpetually be the third-best participant to come back out of that 2019 draft. However that doesn’t imply he can’t have a terrific profession.

After flirting with blowing a giant result in a depleted crew, Thibodeau had this to say: “We took a punch, obtained again up and stored combating. That’s a giant a part of this league.”

He was speaking about his crew. However the identical phrases would’ve utilized completely to his favourite challenge, too. We all know that a lot about Barrett. He can take a punch.

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