RJ Barrett was drafted third overall in the summer of 2019, and with that selection came plenty of speculation about his transition into the pros. Two games in and Barrett has already displayed a veteran tenacity we’ve not quite seen in many rookies. Let me hit the brakes for a second though, if only to clarify the New York Knicks are living up to the prefix of being, well, new.
Another, more effective, rebuild
The Knicks cleaned house last season, trading away a player who shall not be named for a package of future first-round picks and players. The offseason brought in Barrett and a collection of low-to-mid tier free agents. Julius Randle was perhaps the closest thing to a marquis signing the Knicks made, and he will be a staple to the regrowth of the franchise.
As a result, they are far from being contenders. However, in both games to start the season, the Knicks have competed as best they can against heavily favorited teams. On opening night, the Knicks would lose to the San Antonio Spurs 120-111, and go on to lose to the Brooklyn Nets 113-109.
With a team full of young, less accomplished players, this was to be expected. Yet, that doesn’t take away from one clear-cut observation many viewers have made.
To keep things plain and simple, Barrett is the real deal. There’s some ironing out to do with some aspects of his game, but he’s been an immediate impact player for the Knicks nonetheless.
Barrett has proven to be crafty on the drive, strong at the rim, and willing to take any shot he’s comfortable with. He became the second youngest rookie to score 21 in their NBA debut behind none other than LeBron James, and while the game resulted in a loss, that doesn’t take away from Barrett’s resilience.
His first score against the Spurs came from this wonderful euro step, reminiscent of legend Manu Ginobili, which is fitting given the circumstances. At the time of writing, I’m doing my best to hold off on James Harden comparisons, but know I will defend that claim until I die if the conversation were to arise.
In the first matchup of the boroughs, Kyrie Irving took out the Knicks in the final seconds, and a sloppy mistake by Randle cost the Knicks a chance to win the game.
Throughout the game, though, Barrett displayed veteran awareness, as he was able to adjust to the flow of the Knicks’ offense on all fronts. On one drive early in the fourth quarter, Barrett took the ball to the rack after evading Irving and rose up to dunk over DeAndre Jordan but was unable to flush the ball. Minutes later, Barrett produced two pivotal assists to Wayne Ellington, tying the game.
The audacity to attempt a highlight dunk on a vet is impressive in and of itself, and to follow with crucial assists in the clutch adds fuel to the fire. Performances like this from a 19-year-old rookie breeds a new level of appreciation .
While players like Coby White, Ja Morant and PJ Washington have also brought some attention their way in the early moments of the season, Barrett has some decent prospects at being a favorite for Rookie of the Year.
Zion Williamson’s injury puts a damper on the possibility of him winning the award, but who knows what could happen? Williamson could make a freak recovery comparable to Saquon Barkley and come back to average 30 points and 20 rebounds to run away with the race.
Since that isn’t likely to happen, it appears Barrett already has a great case for himself. While the award doesn’t bring team success with it, Knicks fans would still adore a rookie receiving the award. Barrett would be the first Knicks rookie to win the award since Mark Jackson in 1988.
Barrett is averaging 18.5 points, 4.0 rebounds, and 2.5 assists on a slash line of .552/.429/.286. With improved free throw shooting and more involvement on offense, Barrett could be looking at an impressive rookie season.
Gambling this season? Want to try it just to see what it feels like? Go to MyBookie.ag and use promo code ARMCHAIR25 at checkout. They will match your deposit dollar for dollar. Putting in $100? You’ll now have $200.