RJ Barrett
Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports

RJ Barrett turned in a great week despite generally struggling all year.

The New York Knicks have been waiting for RJ Barrett’s consistency to show up all season, and it finally did last week.

The third-year wing out of Duke finally reminded everyone why some call him the Maple Mamba with three strong performances. He manhandled the Indiana Pacers, overcame a rough performance to send the Boston Celtics home with a loss, and was looking strong before things went south against Boston again on Saturday.

And though his averages are a step back from his tremendous step forward last year, RJ Barrett is trending in the right direction. Slowly but surely, his confidence is coming back and the Knicks will only benefit from such.


RJ Barrett trusts the ball again

Let’s start with the Pacers game, in which Barrett scored 32 points and pulled down eight rebounds. The efficiency was there, as he shot 12 of 20 from the field. However, even more inspiring was the confidence with which Barrett played.

He drove the lane and was fearless attacking the glass on both ends. From three-point land, he just got the ball and shot it without caring about a hand in his face. Best of all, he capped his night with a perfect mid-range jumper. Barrett’s greatest strength is his low-key underrated ability to score in multiple fashions and heat up quickly, and it was on full display against Indy.

Even better, RJ Barrett trusts not only his shotmaking abilities, but also the feel of the ball in his hands. Look at Thursday’s win over Boston. Barrett had an ugly game, shooting 4 of 15 from the field with just 13 points, but he never lost focus. Never once lost his poise. He just trusted the ball and his basketball awareness, and look what happened.

There’s literally no way to practice a shot like that. Not unless you’re nine years old and playing Harlem Globetrotters with your friends or otherwise messing around in practice. This isn’t like practicing shooting threes under full-court pressure. No way Tom Thibodeau looked at RJ Barrett and said, “Shoot a three on one foot and bank it in under heavy pressure.”

Instead, RJ Barrett received the ball, trusted the ball, and shot the ball. Game over.


Final thoughts

Barrett struggled when he returned from a six-game absence in the health and safety protocols on Christmas Day, but all signs point to a turnaround coming.

In January, he is averaging 20.8 points and 5.3 rebounds per game while shooting an impressive 43.5% from three. He’s even said he’s working on his jumper after missing time with both a stomach bug and COVID.

It seems an RJ Barrett turnaround is nigh. Hopefully, the New York Knicks’ season does along with him.

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.