The New York Knicks are looking to build a winning culture in Madison Square Garden and RJ Barrett looks like the perfect man for the job.

Danny Small

Here we go. It’s RJ Barrett‘s time to shine and there’s no bigger stage than Madison Square Garden. The New York Knicks are bringing in a player who is hungry for the spotlight. There was no crying from Knicks fans on draft night which is a success in itself. New York is thrilled to have Barrett and the feeling is unequivocally mutual.

“I’m so overwhelmed, humbled and just honored and very thankful that the Knicks took the chance with me, that they believed in me,” Barrett said. “I’m so happy to be a Knick, and I can’t wait to play in Madison Square Garden.”

More importantly, he seems like the type of player that head coach David Fizdale salivates over. We all know Barrett has the physical tools and skill set to succeed at the next level. He’s an athletic wing with a smooth, albeit inconsistent shooting stroke. Barrett rebounds well for his size and projects as a secondary ballhandler at the next level. Sure, he’s far from a finished product, but his ceiling is sky high.

But let’s put all that aside for a moment and drill down into what makes Barrett the perfect fit for these Knicks. After the tumultuous 2018-19 season, the Knicks are still searching for their identity. Admittedly, it’s a vague notion—identity. It’s impossible to quantify, but I’ll know it when I see it. Barrett gives off the vibe that he could be the type of player to establish a culture and identity in the building that lasts.

As individuals, the Knicks are a collection of unique personalities. It starts with the charismatic head coach. Fizdale will go to the mat for his players and he’s beloved for it. Barrett is already a fan of Fizdale, but don’t call him David—he’s just Coach Fiz.

Kevin Knox, last year’s lottery pick for the Knicks, is the soft-spoken type, never too high or too low after a game.

“I knew I was gonna struggle,” Knox told reporters in the locker room after a February loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers. “I knew I was gonna have some times where I played really well, sometimes I played bad. I just gotta be able to stay up, keep working hard. I’m never going to get down on myself.”

He doesn’t jump out as the type to be the outspoken leader on a team. Knox is more of the lead-by-example archetype. Barrett, on the other hand, doesn’t seem to have any problem handling the spotlight.

Rookie sensation Mitchell Robinson is a bit of a goofball but in all the right ways. Every great team needs someone to lighten the tension in the locker room. He came into his own as a player and a person during the 2018-19 season. Not to mention, Robinson put on a shot-blocking clinic down the stretch.

But Robinson and Knox aren’t the only promising young players Barrett is joining. Damyean Dotson is a solid three-point shooter who is always ready to step in and fill whatever role his team needs. Allonzo Trier is a dynamic scorer off the bench with an undeniable edge. Frank Ntilikina, although his sophomore season was marred by injury, has elite defensive potential with the ability to guard four different positions in a switch-heavy defense. Furthermore, the Knicks traded up in the second round to take Iggy Brazdeikis, a sharpshooter from the University of Michigan who embraced his role as a villain with a smile.

In short, the Knicks are an amalgamation of interesting personalities. But in Fizdale’s first year they were never able to establish their collective identity. Part of that is on Fizdale, but it wasn’t an easy task by any stretch. The Kristaps Porzingis trade, Enes Kanter drama, and a dearth of on-court experience left the Knicks shooting from the hip for much of the season.

However, Barrett can change all of that. Although he’ll only be 19 next season, he’s been building up to this moment for much of his life. He was always one of the top Canadian prospects growing up and won multiple championships with various Canadian national teams. Barrett usually played with older kids in those tournaments.

He transferred to Montverde Academy in Florida, a pipeline for NBA talent boasting the likes of Ben Simmons, D’Angelo Russell, and Joel Embiid. His lone season in college was spent at Duke on one of the most hyped teams in the history of college basketball. Additionally, his father is a former pro who now serves as executive vice president and general manager of the Canadian national team.

New York Knicks

He has all the tools and the pedigree to grab New York by its haunches and take over this city. That being said, he won’t be able to do it alone. Barrett will need his teammates to step up and coalesce around him.

However, perhaps more than anyone, it’s up to Fizdale to nurture this kid into the New York legend that he can eventually become. This is any coach’s dream. He has a player brimming with talent in a city starved for a winner. It obviously won’t be an easy task, but my guess is that Fizdale is already way ahead of us in that regard.

Obviously, if the Knicks were to land superstars like Kawhi Leonard, Kevin Durant, or Kyrie Irving, the calculus on this changes somewhat. Barrett won’t be the centerpiece on the roster in that scenario—which is (obviously) good for the Knicks. Nonetheless, the plan is for Barrett to eventually develop into the top dog on a championship team. Only time will tell if Barrett’s story ends with rings, individual accolades, and a statue out in front of the Garden.

Buckle up Knicks fans, this could be one hell of a ride.

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