New York Knicks: Have we already seen the best of RJ Barrett?

RJ Barrett, New York Knicks - Mandatory Credit: John Jones-USA TODAY Sports
RJ Barrett, New York Knicks - Mandatory Credit: John Jones-USA TODAY Sports /

To paraphrase a popular saying, New York as a city serves as a key litmus test for how good someone is at something. When it comes to basketball, the Knicks sit squarely in the above-average territory, just a half-game behind Indiana for the 6th seed in the East despite the 8th-best net rating in the entire NBA.

Both Jalen Brunson and Julius Randle have answered the bell for the team, with Brunson in particular bringing his winning mojo from the Mavs to the Knicks. This has left former 3rd overall pick RJ Barrett to serve as the third banana on the team. His stats compared to last year are almost copy-and-paste, as Barrett is averaging 19.9 points, 3.0 assists, 5.5 rebounds, 0.5 steals, and 2.4 turnovers in 2022-2023, none of which is more than 0.3 away from any of last year’s averages.

Although he’s only 22 years old, Barrett is currently a fourth-year player in The Association, which is typically when NBA players make the leap from “pretty good” to certified stardom. Blake Griffin, Paul George, and James Harden all famously broke out and made their first All-Star appearance in the fourth season, alongside many other stars.

Are the Knicks holding RJ Barrett back?

Not exactly. So far, Barrett’s inconsistency has kept him from approaching his ceiling as a player. When he’s hot, he showcases the game-breaking scoring skills that are the hallmark of star players such as when he put up 44 points for the Knicks against Chicago earlier this year:

When looking at Barrett’s five highest career scoring games, there’s a noticeable trend: Barrett shot better than 50% from two-point range and better than 40% from three-point range in all five of his best performances. He also had at least six free-throw attempts in those games, which helped him get easy points in the flow of the offense.

For Barrett to take the last step to stardom, which is often the hardest to do, he’ll need to become a scorer that the Knicks can count on every night. Although he’s evolved into a dangerous driver toward the rim, he needs to add another elite element on offense to become an All-Star. That could be a reliable mid-range jumper, a punishing pull-up from deep, or an increased penchant at getting to the line.

Despite his apparent stagnation, all is not lost for Barrett’s development into an NBA star. Stephen Curry, DeMar DeRozan, and likely Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, amongst others, made their first All-Star game in their fifth season. Some have even made their debuts later.

To get there, it’ll come down to Barrett taking the talent he has and becoming a consistent scorer for the Knicks. If he can do that, not only could the Knicks become contenders, but Barrett could become a player who can put up much more than the 44 that he hung on the Bulls.

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Even though the Knicks already have two All-Star caliber players in Randle and Brunson, Barrett still has the highest ceiling of anyone on the roster. If he can ultimately make it happen in the Big Apple, then Barrett can truly make it happen anywhere.