At 12-33, the Knicks appear to be on their way to their seventh straight playoff-less season - which will tie the longest playoff drought in franchise history.
RJ Barrett played in his 41st NBA game on January 16th against the Phoenix Suns, meaning we've now gone beyond the halfway point in what's been a tough season record-wise for the Knicks and the Canadian rookie.
An early-season coaching change, a bunch of me-first veterans and a lack of team identity have been the story surrounding Barrett in his first year. Through it all, he's had some tough outings but also shown some positive signs.
In January 14th's blowout loss to the Milwaukee Bucks , Barrett had one of those nights where he exhibited his great potential. The Mississauga, Ontario native posted 22 points and eight rebounds. He also looked as comfortable as ever from 3-point range, knocking down 5-of-7 from distance.
Keeping Up With The Canadians 🇨🇦- NBA Canada (@NBACanada) January 15, 2020
RJ Barrett | vs. @Bucks
5 THREE POINTERS
3 ASSISTS #NewYorkForever | @nyknicks
Keeping Up With The Canadians is presented by @McDonaldsCanada. pic.twitter.com/95FF2AmYbZ
After the game, he talked about why he shot the ball so well and why he felt comfortable against Milwaukee.
"I wouldn't say easier," Barrett said after being asked if reading the Bucks defence was easy after playing them twice before. "I would say it came with experience. Playing against them twice, I kind of knew exactly where my shots were going to come.
"Playing against them a couple of times, I kind of knew those were the shots I was going to have to make today, thank God they went in."
Barrett's play has been inconsistent all year but that should've been expected - he's a rookie after all. But over the last 15 games, he seems to be finding himself.
Barrett's averaging 14.7 points, 5.1 rebounds and just under a steal in his last 15 outings, numbers that at first glance aren't much different to his season averages. But over that stretch, Barrett's shooting - which many questioned heading into the season - has improved drastically.
Barrett is knocking down 38.9%, taking more attempts from long range over the last 15 games than his season average. And while his overall free-throw percentage still isn't anything to write home about, he has upped his overall percentage from the stripe to 60.3% by hitting 70.8% of his free throws over the last 15 games.
Barrett isn't waiting on the offseason to make adjustments, he's making them in season as he continues to perfect his craft. His free-throw percentage fell as low as 54% in December.
"I've just been working at it more,'' said Barrett via the New York Post. "I've always been confident. As I'm learning the league and getting more comfortable game-to-game, it's falling. I was always confident I knew I could (do) it.''
Right now, Barrett is a far cry away from becoming the player everyone eventually expects him to be. He's also a ways away from getting back into the Rookie of the Year race, which Ja Morant has seemingly run away with.
But consider this: Barrett has only missed four games so far this season and averages more minutes per game than any other rookie. His team trusts him enough to have the ball in his hands more than any other rookie who has played in at least 30 games this season not named Ja Morant or Kendrick Nunn.
He's third amongst rookies in steals per game behind known klepto Matisse Thybulle and Cam Reddish. He's getting to the line more than any other rookie in the league and finally starting to hit those free throws.
Barrett may not have lit the league on fire in the first half of the Knicks season, especially considering the hype that he came in with, but he's slowly progressing and getting better.
At the end of the day, that's what a rookie season is supposed to be about.
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