New York Knicks

RJ Barrett: New York Knicks' rising star is on a tear and isn't showing any signs of slowing down

To say that RJ Barrett came up huge in the New York Knicks comeback victory over the Memphis Grizzlies on Friday would be a massive understatement. To put it plainly, New York doesn't win without its second-year star.

Allow me to identify three plays that show exactly how crucial his performance was:

• Down 112-109 with 37.0 seconds remaining in regulation, Barrett draws a foul on a 3-pointer and calmly hits all three from the charity stripe to tie things up

• Down 114-112 with 15.0 seconds remaining in regulation, Barrett corrals a free throw rebound and takes it coast-to-coast to tie things up at 114 and force overtime.

• With 1:15 left in OT, things are tied at 124 when Barrett calmly knocks down his second triple of the night to put the Knicks up for good.

After scoring just two points in the first half, the above plays are just eight of the 18 points that Barrett scored in the second half and overtime to help lead the Knicks to a much-needed win over a streaking Grizzlies team.

Barrett finished the night with 20 points and five rebounds while shooting 7-for-13 from the field, including 2-for-4 from beyond the arc. It was yet another efficient night at the office, which has become the norm for the 20-year-old in his second season.

How efficient? Let's take a closer look at what's fuelled an impressive stretch of play that by all means, looks to be sustainable.

On Feb. 23, Barrett registered his poorest statistical performance of the 2020-21 season. In the 21 games since, he is averaging 19.7 points and 5.3 rebounds per contest while shooting 49.2 percent from the field and hitting 1.9 3s per game at a 47.1 percent clip.

In this same span, Barrett has had five games in which he knocked down three or more triples, including a 6-for-6 performance from deep in a two-point loss to the Boston Celtics. After hitting three or more 3s just six times over 56 games as a rookie, Barrett has done so 10 times in 53 games this season, with half of them coming in the last six weeks.

After a rookie season of ups and downs, Barrett has thrived in Year 2 as he continues to make good on his promise to prove himself after missing out on an All-Rookie selection last season. A look at Barrett's shot chart since the late February anomaly shows that he's diversified his game by becoming effective in a number of areas on the floor.

The above plot displays that Barrett has found his spots as a shooter on the left and right wings but specifically on the left side of the floor, where he has shot a ridiculous 19-for-31 (61.3 percent) from deep over the last several weeks.

Of course, there's more volume on the right wing, which is where Barrett knocked down two catch-and-shoot 3-pointers against Memphis off of assists from Julius Randle. Speaking of his prowess as a catch-and-shoot 3-point threat, Barrett has gone from connecting on 33.8 percent of his catch-and-shoot 3s as a rookie to 38.5 percent in 2020-21.

And enough can't be said about Barrett's evolving chemistry with Randle, who accounts for nearly half of Barrett's assisted field goals this season.

Now if the red zones in the above shot chart alarm you, they shouldn't. Aside from the shots in the free-throw line area, Barrett has shot a low volume from the other areas that would normally be of concern. And while he falls within the league average in the area closest to the rim, that area was red throughout his rookie campaign.

A look at the shot chart from Barrett's rookie season shows that the improvement is undeniable.

Perhaps the most encouraging part of this run is that Barrett won't turn 21 until June and, as cliché as it may sound, he's just scratching the surface of the type of NBA player he can become, a fact emphasized by head coach Tom Thibodeau following Barrett's clutch performance against the Grizzlies.

With under 20 games remaining in the regular season, the Knicks' aspirations of putting an end to an eight-year postseason drought are becoming closer and closer to becoming realized. Whether it is as a play-in team or as a solidified member of the East's top six seeds, New York will largely depend on its rising star.

It might seem like a tall task for a second-year player but as Barrett told Stephen A. Smith ahead of being drafted, he's built for this.

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