RJ Barrett is capable of handling more offensive responsibility. It’s time for the New York Knicks and Tom Thibodeau to give it to him.
RJ Barrett is the shining light for the New York Knicks right now. Sure, Julius Randle is playing at an All-Star level and they have exciting young players like Mitchell Robinson, Obi Toppin, and Immanuel Quickley. But Barrett represents the one with the potential to be a bonafide superstar.
All things considered, the Knicks are off to an impressive start this season, but there are still areas where they can improve. There are questions about the overall effectiveness of the current starting lineup and more specifically, how head coach Tom Thibodeau can put RJ Barrett in the best position to succeed and develop.
The Plan: Put the ball in RJ Barrett’s hands more.
He’s capable of handling the ball due to his physical strength on the ball and his ability to facilitate for his teammates. This will help take some pressure off of his inconsistent jumper.
But how can the Knicks do this? One change to the starting lineup would do the trick, but more on that later.
Why Give RJ Barrett More Responsibility?
Simply put, playing through Barrett will accentuate his strengths and ironically enough, it will take some pressure off of him. Instead of Elfrid Payton or Julius Randle kicking it out to Barrett for threes, he’ll be the one finding his teammates.
Despite the fact that he’s just a kid by NBA standards, Barrett is strong enough to score at the rim and in the mid-range. His field goal percentage at the rim and at every spot in the mid-range have improved from his rookie to sophomore season. His three-point shot is down, but using him in more of an on-ball role will allow the jump shot to come in time.
— Danny Small (@dwsmall8) January 29, 2021
Give Barrett the ball in the pick-and-roll. Even with less than stellar spacing, he has the strength to displace his defender and hit the lefty floater.
But the scoring is just one reason to give him more offensive responsibility. Watch his assist numbers soar if the Knicks start to use him more in the pick-and-roll game.
Although Barrett’s numbers as the pick-and-roll ballhandler won’t knock your socks off (31.7 percentile), Robinson is among the best rim-running centers in the NBA. He finished in the 97th percentile for pick-and-roll roll men last season and he’s in the 83rd percentile this year. Let Barrett and Robinson — two franchise cornerstones — develop that chemistry.
— Danny Small (@dwsmall8) January 29, 2021
Barrett knows how to find his teammates. In the five games when Barrett’s usage rate is 25% or higher (27.7% average), his assist percentage is 21.6%. However, in the 14 games when his usage rate is below 25% (21.8% average), his assist percentage drops to a paltry 12.8%.
Let Barrett cook.
Adjustment? Rivers Or Quickley
If Knicks fans had their way, Immanuel Quickley would already be in the starting lineup. His silky three-point stroke and teardrop floaters have fans entranced — and for good reason. But Thibs seems hesitant to put Quickley in the starting lineup too early.
If he’s looking for a veteran presence, Austin Rivers makes sense. He’s not a pure point guard, but he would be fine as the guard beside Barrett in the backcourt. It’s worth noting that Quickley and Barrett have a better net rating (+3.4) than the Rivers-Barrett duo (-3.7).
Essentially, the move to make is pulling Elfrid Payton and his 23.8% usage from the starting lineup. Julius Randle and RJ Barrett should be the two guys getting the most opportunities when they are on the floor together. Adding a guard who can shoot in place of Payton should provide those two with more space to attack the rim.
Even though benching Payton could help spur Barrett’s development and make him an even bigger part of the offense, it’s probably not going to happen in the near future.
Among the four different five-man lineups that have played at least 25 minutes together for the Knicks this year, Payton is in the only two with positive net ratings. He’s a crafty defender who can guard the point of attack and we all know Thibodeau is a defensive-minded coach.
Unless things really go south for the starters, Thibs is likely going to stick with the group he has right now (injuries permitting). But still, Barrett can give more to the Knicks than he is right now. Let him go for it.