After a rookie season of ups and downs, New York Knicks RJ Barrett entered the 2020-21 season with a chip on his shoulder and something to prove.
Barrett's performance in New York's win over the Oklahoma City Thunder on Saturday is the latest example of his doing so.
The 20-year-old, who was honoured as one of 20 Rising Stars ahead of NBA All-Star 2021, put forth the best scoring performance of his young career in the matinee, finishing with an efficient career-high of 32 points (on 12-for-21 shooting), five rebounds, three assists and three steals in a 119-97 victory that moves New York to 20-19 on the season.
How'd he do it? Well, by doing a little bit of everything. Inside, outside, spotting up, drives … you name it. The growth is evident, even in a simple shot chart.
While Barrett struggled to find his rhythm in the first few weeks of the season, those struggles have been made a thing of the past in the time since. Over the Knicks' last five contests, Barrett is averaging 22.2 points and 4.2 rebounds while shooting 60.5 percent from the field and 50.0 percent from beyond the arc (on 16 total attempts).
|First 10 Games||16.5||6.1||37.4||0.9||20.0||.447|
Barrett is the latest reminder of just why young players shouldn't be written off, especially considering that his rookie season was marred by injuries and made even more difficult by a midseason coaching change.
It's more than fair to assume that Barrett is only beginning to scratch the surface of his potential, which is an extremely encouraging prospect for a Knicks team that remains in the thick of the Eastern Conference playoff hunt more than halfway through the 2020-21 season.
That career-high figure of 32 might not stand for long, as Barrett could surpass that by the season's end.
In earning its 20th win in 39 tries, New York is now just one win shy of its win total in the 2019-20 season, when it finished with a record of 21-45 in a season that was cut short due to the coronavirus pandemic. It isn't just Barrett that's leading the resurgence, either, as the Knicks are enjoying major contributions from across the board.
In Saturday's win over OKC, New York's All-Star forward, Julius Randle, recorded his second triple-double of the season with 26 points, 12 rebounds and 12 assists. Rookie guard Immanuel Quickley came off the bench to finish with 21 points (on 9-for-16 shooting), giving Knicks faithful more to be excited about for the near - and distant - future.
Perhaps the most encouraging - and most sustainable - part of this New York team is its top-10 ranked defence, with Saturday marking the 11th time this season that the Knicks have held their opponent below 100 points. New York's record in such games? 10-1.
With Barrett and Randle leading the way under Tom Thibodeau's guidance, the Knicks are looking more and more like a legitimate playoff team with time. And although a win over a Shai Gilgeous-Alexander-less Thunder team might not be considered a signature win, a common trait of playoff teams is taking care of business when they're supposed to.
Should New York continue to do that, the eight-year playoff drought could soon be coming to an end.
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