If New York Knicks rookie RJ Barrett sets and achieves these simple goals for his first NBA season, nothing but success should follow him.
The former Duke star is just a few months away from his long-anticipated Madison Square Garden debut. Rabid Knicks fans were hoping for his teammate Zion Williamson after New York won just 17 games last year, but landing Barrett with the third pick was a nice consolation prize.
That is, everyone hopes Barrett can live up to “nice consolation prize.” Talent aside, the 19-year-old swingman is still raw and won’t be an immediate star like LeBron James or Kevin Durant. He has every chance of becoming a star in the NBA, but it could take him a year or two to reach this level.
Now, let’s talk about Knicks fans or, as the layman calls them, New Yorkers. They expect results. A few bad games in a row draws their ire regardless of where the season is going. Barrett may struggle out of the starting gate and it may be enough for some fans to immediately label him a bust.
Fortunately, Barrett has a good head on his shoulders and should be able to avoid getting caught up in the ridiculousness.
In fact, so long as he sets the following goals for himself his rookie season, his transition to the NBA will go smoothly.
Average 15 points per game
A common belief among fans seems to be top draft picks will be immediately capable of scoring lots of points as rookies. For the record, this isn’t entirely unfounded. Durant averaged 20.3 points his first year in the league, and James averaged 20.9. Those numbers aren’t out of this world, but still respectable.
However, neither man’s rookie season was without growing pains. James shot just 41.7% from the field as a rookie and Durant shot 43%. Both men shot under 30% from three-point range. Fast forward to today and both men seem incapable of taking a bad shot.
Now, let’s talk about RJ Barrett’s rookie year. He posted 22.6 points per game his lone season at Duke, shooting 45.4% from the field and 30.8% from long range. There’s going to be some regression as he transitions to the pros from Blue Devils coach Mike Krzyzewski’s fast-paced offense.
It is both unfair and unrealistic to expect Barrett to immediately be a top scorer for the Knicks. Sure, it’d be nice, but an adjustment period will be unavoidable. Much like teammate Mitchell Robinson, it could take Barrett some time to get his legs under him.
Thus, by setting a goal of at least 15 points per game and taking his lumps accordingly, Barrett should have no trouble eventually fitting in the Knicks’ offense.
Shoot 40% from the field
15 points per game may seem low for Barrett, but keep in mind his flaws on offense. He has no mid-range jump shot and isn’t a great three-point shooter (yet). In the NBA Summer League, a layup off the glass or dunk were regular moves. He improved in each game and averaged 15.4 points, but shot just 34% from the field.
The good news for Barrett is as the season draws closer, he’ll be working with veterans and not just youngsters. The pressure to carry the load won’t be as high. Having greater access to head coach David Fizdale, who was primarily a spectator during the Summer League games, will also help.
But more importantly, it’s not as though the Knicks expect RJ Barrett to be an efficient scorer and shooter from the get-go. Julius Randle was added in free agency after a career year in New Orleans and Robinson will have more opportunities as the official starting center.
By not being the go-to scoring threat, at least early on, Barrett can continue developing his shot and also learn which approach works best for him. By setting his goal field goal percentage at 40, he sets himself up for further success.
Shoot 33% from three-point land
As was discussed earlier, Barrett is not a particularly strong shooter. On top of that, he needs to focus on developing his offense as a whole. Focusing too much on his long-range game could torpedo his growth everywhere else.
This means Barrett shouldn’t ignore improving his three-point shot, but also shouldn’t necessarily prioritize it. If anything, he should take baby steps when it comes to being deadly from downtown. Making a third of his shots from there is just fine for a player of his caliber, especially when his overall ceiling is still unknown.
Don't worry about being the guy
Being a Top 3 draft pick comes with high expectations from fans, and the good news for RJ Barrett is his situation is ideal. Unlike many lottery teams, the New York Knicks’ success this season doesn’t hinge on Barrett’s own.
Randle was added in free agency and is expected to be the primary scoring threat. Dennis Smith Jr. is a third-year point guard with the potential to score in bunches himself. Throw in the veterans New York added in free agency, plus the continued development of second-year Kevin Knox and Barrett isn’t under much pressure.
He doesn’t need to be Aladdin in Prince Ali-form and burst into practice with epic fanfare. Nor does he even need to make a grandiose impression.
No, all RJ Barrett has to do is focus on certain parts of his game while building relationships with his teammates and coaches. By continuing his growth and development, being the top draw of Madison Square Garden can become a reality later.