Knicks

Rebuilding Around Barrett Next Step for New York

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RJ Barrett and the New York Knicks blew another game on Sunday.

In the opener of ESPN’s Sunday Showcase quartet, New York held on to the Sixers for roughly three-and-a-half quarters before descending into tanking mode: they were outscored 34-20 in the fourth frame; they gave Jericho Sims 18 minutes on the floor; they allowed Joel Embiid to shoot a preposterous 27 free throws during the afternoon.

All told, it was actually a solid matinee at the Garden. With five-straight losses, the Knicks have primed themselves for a crucial juncture in the rebuilding journey. Over their final 21 games of the season, RJ Barrett gets the ball. RJ Barrett leads the line. And RJ Barrett is the focal point of the offense.

In his first two games after the All-Star break, RJ has scored 70 points with 14 rebounds and eight assists while shooting 50 percent (22/44) from the field. No Knick aged 21 or younger has ever scored that many points in a two-game span. Barrett just did it after missing four games due to an ankle sprain.

Of course, the RJ Renaissance is yet to take full effect. For one, the team doesn’t fully revolve around Barrett. For two, small sample sizes can make fools of us all.

But to watch Barrett perform the way he has against solid defensive teams in Miami and Philadelphia is quite a good sign.

Better yet, Barrett is beginning to act like a superstar– in a good way. After the loss to Miami on Friday, Barrett lamented his eight missed free throws. His effort on the court seems to have ballooned, and his weakest attributes have improved. His playmaking has improved and he’s shooting more threes at a higher clip (42.1% this month). That I-have-to-be-the-best mentality can be critical to the makings of an NBA star and Barrett is on the right track.

Even Jimmy Butler heaped praise on Barrett, saying he will be “the face of the Knicks.”

Barrett probably is the face of the Knicks at this very moment, but that’s not saying much. At this moment, the Knicks are very bad, tumbling down the standings with relative ease. They currently hold the ninth-worst record in the NBA and the fourth-toughest remaining schedule.

As it should be, the tank is alive in New York. That wasn’t the goal before the season for a 2021 playoff team, but Thibodeau’s magic has worn out and Julius Randle‘s all-star rise has plummeted. Thus, New York is staring at an offseason of change.

The Knicks cannot afford to run back the same roster next season and expect better results– even with an improved Barrett. A top-five pick in this year’s draft could work wonders for the perpetual rebuild. Thibodeau has been more willing to practice tanking measures of late: he’s played Jericho Sims more and did the same with Quentin Grimes before his knee injury; Immanuel Quickley logged 26 minutes on Sunday.

These are good signs. The baby Knicks need to get their minutes, especially with Barrett on the floor to showcase potential chemistry in the future. The future of a successful Knicks squad is clear: surround RJ Barrett with the right pieces, draft shrewdly and attract some quality free agents.

No, not Evan Fournier, someone better. Someone who can help RJ take the leap and improve the squad around him. That’s a lot to ask, but the tanking clock is ticking for now. Hopefully, for Knick fans, it ends with a prospect as bright as Barrett and more joyful matinees in midtown.

About Elijah Ackerman

Philadelphia-born Knicks fan and mid-range jumper specialist.

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