rj barrett
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

RJ Barrett declared at the Knicks’ media day that his team would “shock the world” this season and he’s 100% correct.

Sorry, I should clarify. He’s 100% correct at least to a certain extent because the Knicks still have some question marks ahead of the season opener on Oct. 19. However, if there’s any Knick who will shock the world in the 2022-23 season, it’s RJ Barrett.

It’s significant because amidst almost constant trade rumors involving Donovan Mitchell, Barrett also got paid. His new contract pays him $120 million over four years, well below the $185 million rookie max. This was a big enough number that the Jazz backed out of trade talks and sent Mitchell to Cleveland.

RJ Barrett, meanwhile, remains a cornerstone of this current Knicks rebuild. His fourth NBA season thus might be when he reaches his full star potential.

Let’s quickly recap the former Duke Blue Devils’ career. The Knicks drafted him with the No. 3 pick in 2019 behind Zion Williamson and Ja Morant. The general feeling was that while Barrett had talent, nobody really knew what to expect of him. His pro comparisons were all over the place and his NBA career would very much be what he made of it.

Barrett’s rookie season basically confirmed as such. Raw talent, but clear holes in his game that coaching could fix. Cue the COVID-19 pandemic and the Knicks’ season ending early, which probably helped RJ Barrett’s development more than we realized.

Think about it. Instead of the slog of finishing out a losing season, he got back in the gym and worked on the holes in his game. New York hiring a no-nonsense coach in Tom Thibodeau added extra motivation to stay focused. This certainly helped him establish himself as the Knicks’ No. 2 scoring option in the team’s surprise 2020-21 breakout.

Cut to last season, when the Knicks notably regressed, and Barrett was really the team’s one consistent force. He stayed locked in and continued showing why he’s the future of this franchise.

Forget Kemba Walker being a poor fit. Julius Randle’s odd behavior was another distraction that’s now in the rearview mirror. Derrick Rose was also injured practically all of last season, leaving the young Knicks without a leader.

Do you know what RJ Barrett did while his team’s season eventually collapsed in on itself? He averaged a career-high 20 points per game. Yes, his overall field goal and three-point percentages were down, but Barrett still maintained a true shooting percentage (TS%) of 51.1%.

It doesn’t matter that aside from scoring, Barrett’s numbers either plateaued or dipped in his third season. The Knicks once again didn’t have a leader at point guard. Furthermore, quickly regressing to the mean after making the playoffs in 2021 definitely affected the team’s overall energy and play.

Not RJ Barrett. He kept his focus and continued developing as a player. He’s still just 22 years old and probably nowhere near finished.

So, will Barrett and the Knicks “shock the world” like he’s promising? Probably not in the grandest sense. New York has a long road ahead to building off of last season, and the East is tough this year. The Brooklyn Nets are fully loaded with Kevin Durant coming back and Kyrie Irving free to play without vaccine restrictions. The Philadelphia 76ers are also a force and the Boston Celtics are the defending Eastern Conference Champions.

Thus, can the Knicks really pull off another surprise season? Probably not, but don’t tell that to RJ Barrett. He’s going to break out this season, and probably at shocking levels to even himself.

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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.