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Mandatory Credit: Frank Franklin II/POOL PHOTOS-USA TODAY Sports

No disrespect to Julius Randle, but the New York Knicks are now RJ Barrett’s team.

RJ Barrett is heating up and so are the New York Knicks with him.

In case you missed it, the Knickerbockers are 7-3 in their last ten games and just dominated the Dallas Mavericks at home, 108-85. Barrett’s 32 points led the way, continuing his red-hot January.

Since the calendar turned to 2022, Barrett is averaging 24.3 points and shooting 47.7% from the field, plus an incredible 50% from three.

And yet, what is the main storyline out of Knicks camp? The ongoing saga starring Julius Randle. Forget RJ Barrett having quite a dominant run in his own quietly unique way. Let’s keep talking about Randle slumping after a breakout season.

Mind you, that isn’t to say Randle had an awful game against Dallas. He was an ugly 6 of 17 from the field, sure, but still had 17 points with 12 rebounds and eight assists. Plus, his effort was there and he flashed some of the confidence that made him last year’s Most Improved Player.

And maybe that’s just it. Could Randle be the better second option and Barrett the better man to lead?

As of now, those signs point to yes.


RJ Barrett can keep his cool

We all saw how badly Barrett was struggling earlier this season. The confidence with his jump shot wasn’t there, consistency and percentages were an issue, and what was at times a deadly three-point shot last season almost became a non-factor.

Whether this hot streak ends tomorrow, the end of the month, or lasts the whole season, there is now official confirmation. RJ Barrett can lead a team. It’s hard to imagine, especially since he played behind the dominant Zion Williamson at Duke. In fact, Williamson went No. 1 in the 2019 NBA Draft while New York picked Barrett at No. 3.

But where is Zion Williamson now? Sure, he can play…when he’s not drowning in foot trouble and conditioning issues. At this rate, he’s known more for what can be more than what he is: a phenomenal talent who can’t stay off the trainer’s table.

On the other hand, where’s RJ Barrett? Showing that while he may have started as a high-ceiling No. 2 on a team, that’s no longer the case.

It’s time to give the 21-year-old Canadian the keys to the kingdom, with Julius Randle serving as the complementary piece.


Barrett leading means getting the best out of Randle

Look at the highlights above and watch what’s included of Randle. Even with his streaky offense, he’s still very active on the glass and more than happy to dish the ball. That isn’t to say he’s automatically looking to pass rather than score, but he’s still very aware of when a teammate has a good look.

RJ Barrett, meanwhile, seems unstoppable. He can score in the paint with ease, is getting his legs back from three, and he’s looking increasingly confident in the midrange. It’s as though he’s assuming the leadership mantel left open by Derrick Rose and the rest of the Knicks are following his example.

We’ve seen flashes of Julius Randle being a strong team leader. He was the V8 engine that made the New York Knicks go all last season. If he wants to lead the team now, he should embrace almost a point forward’s role, let Barrett shoulder the scoring, and focus more on a balanced attack.


Final thoughts

The Knicks drafted RJ Barrett because they clearly saw his potential as a franchise cornerstone. This month, Barrett has shown he can handle the big chair.

Let him sit in it, and maybe watch the New York Knicks keep up this hot streak.

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.