new york knicks
Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports

RJ Barrett overcame an early slump for a strong week.

Thank god for RJ Barrett, because yours truly 100% mushed Julius Randle.

No, dead serious. One week, Randle is lauded as a surefire MVP candidate. The next, he averages 13 points, 11 rebounds, and 6.7 assists on a meager 36.8% shooting despite being 44.4% from three.

RJ Barrett, on the other hand, cemented himself as the proper No. 2 option in this New York Knicks offense. He improved immensely in each of the team’s three games this past week. In New Orleans, he reached full Maple Mamba capacity.

Let’s hope Barrett enjoyed some midnight poutine this week, because he sure earned a serving or five.

RJ Barrett never gets complacent

RJ Barrett was always going to be great for the New York Knicks, and he’s always been mature for his age. Yet, when looking at Barrett now compared to his rookie year, it’s almost like watching two different players. Gone is the youngster just playing the game as he knows how.

In his place is a dominant wing who constantly works on his craft and can take over a game whenever he damn well pleases.

In the Knicks’ first three games, Barrett’s offense struggled. He managed just 12.7 points on 38.9% shooting, plus a dismal 21.1% from long range. Since then, he has averaged 21.7 points and made 55.8% of his shots and 60% of his threes.

A quiet night against the Sixers was bolstered by defense. Barrett then took over the game in Chicago before exploding in New Orleans.

This season always had breakout potential for RJ Barrett. After this week, it inched closer to reality.


RJ Barrett did more than just score

Even better, Barrett wasn’t just a scoring machine for the New York Knicks last week. Even during his early struggles, he told local media his personal goal for the season was, in his words, to be “first-team all-defense.”

Lucky for the Knicks, RJ Barrett brought plenty of that to the court, particularly in Thursday’s visit with the Chicago Bulls. Barrett’s D didn’t stuff the stat sheet, but take a look at the film below.

Watch Barrett as he defends Chicago guard DeMar DeRozan. It’s clear the Bulls’ plan is for DeRozan to get the ball where he operates best in the mid-range, cross a guy up, and put up what’s hopefully the game-winning shot.

RJ Barrett anticipates just that as he comes off the screen from Evan Fournier. Instead of following the ball, he just follows DeRozan and isn’t worried about getting beat by him. He has that much confidence in staying on his man, and cue DeRozan’s airball.

Fast forward to New Orleans, and Barrett has himself a well-earned night against the Pelicans. A career-high 35 points with eight boards and six assists, plus six three-pointers. Even with a great scoring night, he still managed to do everything else too.


Looking ahead

The New York Knicks have a busy week ahead with four games on the schedule, two each at home on the road. They’ll play the Raptors, Pacers, Bucks, and Cavaliers, all teams with respectable talent on some level.

Even if Randle returns to form and with plenty of help otherwise, the Knicks also need RJ Barrett at his best. He’s still just 21, yet plays with a focus well beyond his years.

Moreover, after back-to-back games in which New York struggled on defense, count on Barrett to up his effort on that side of the court. Against the above opponents, the Knicks will need it.

Josh Benjamin has been a staff writer at ESNY since 2018. He has had opinions about everything, especially the Yankees and Knicks. He co-hosts the “Bleacher Creatures” podcast and is always looking for new pieces of sports history to uncover, usually with a Yankee Tavern chicken parm sub in hand.