Ian Begley, SNY.tv | Twitter |
If this Knicks season is over, RJ Barrett will finish with averages of 14.3 points, 5.0 rebounds, 2.6 assists and 1.0 steal per game.
Those numbers may not put Barrett in the Rookie of the Year conversation, but they've left a strong impression with some NBA evaluators.
"Everyone is going to talk about Ja (Morant) and Zion (Williamson), for obvious reasons," one Western Conference executive said. "But I like RJ a lot. I think he can have a long, successful career in this league if he stays healthy."
Barrett impressed the Knicks with a steady mental approach and an ability to impact the game in diverse ways. Among rookies to play at least 20 minutes a night, Barrett is fourth in rebounds per game and second in steals.
Knicks interim head coach Mike Miller often cited Barrett's unshakable confidence and attention to detail when talking about the rookie.
Some opposing teams noticed the same traits. "The games where he wasn't scoring, he seemed to rebound well or defend -- do something else that contributes to winning," one scout said.
The Knicks obviously haven't done much winning in Barrett's rookie season. But scouts and other evaluators believe the 19-year-old can one day play an important role on a winning team if, like all other young players, Barrett can refine his strengths and address some weaknesses.
Below, some evaluators offer their thoughts on Barrett:
Western Conference executive: "We all talk about his shot, but I think that will come because, by all accounts, he's a worker. What I liked about RJ this season was how comfortable he was on the floor. He didn't seem to be overwhelmed by anything on the court - and that's big, especially in a market like New York. Teams started to play his left hand a lot -- so he's got to work on going right -- but he was still effective going left even though teams had that scouted. He still got to the rim. But he also seemed to get tunnel vision at times -- not passing enough for my taste. Maybe that had more to do with the guys he shared the floor with? Whatever it was, I think his passing will improve with time. He's showed that he can distribute the ball and has strong vision. So I think there's a lot to build on."
Barrett's numbers show that he was able to get to the paint as a rookie. Only Morant has averaged more points in the paint among rookie guards. Barrett has also done well in transition. One stat that seems to support that: Only Morant and Coby White have averaged more points off of turnovers among rookie guards.
Bobby Gonzalez, former Division I head coach, current freelance NBA scout: "I think he's proved, so far his first year, that he's a young rising, possible star for the Knicks. He's aggressive, he's fearless in taking it to the rim. I think the biggest thing for him -- the difference, to me, from RJ Barrett going from a good player to and a promising rookie to a great player and possibly an All-Star someday -- is his shooting. He's such an aggressive player that attacks the rim and he's unorthodox, so he gets fouled so much so he's got to improve his free throw percentage. That's going to be a big, big deal for him. He's got to be able to get his free throws up into the 70s, even 80s someday."
Barrett has shot 61 percent from the line this season. He has hit 40 percent of his field goal attempts (32 percent from beyond the arc). Barrett has also hit 27 percent of his pull-up jumpers and has shot 37 percent on drives. So while he has gotten to the paint regularly, he hasn't converted at a high rate. He has also made 32 percent of his 3-point attempts.
Gonzalez: "In general, his shooting is just too inconsistent. Some people think it's just three-point shooting, extending his range. But I think he's got to get more consistent first from 15-17 feet and then, of course, extend it. My thing with him is, you're going to have to lock him into the gym all spring and summer and he's just going to have to put the time in and reps. Look at a guy like Lonzo Ball who changed his shot and improved a lot because he put the work in. I don't think RJ's mechanics are that bad. I don't think he's that far away. But I think he needs 500 shots a day for like three months. He just needs to dedicate himself to putting in the time, putting in the work and getting a ton of reps.
"Of course, he's going to have to improve defensively but a lot of that is going to come with coaching, style and system and time. Because rookies usually struggle defensively. But I think he's got a real chance. I think the shooting is going to be the question. If we're seeing the same thing (with his shot) two-to-three years from now -- that he's still an inconsistent shooter -- then he's kind of like Rodney Hood or Kent Bazemore. But he's got a chance (to be an All-Star). His upside is really big if he can become a consistent threat from the outside. To me, that's the one thing that could hold him back."
Bryan Oringher, who worked as a scout for the Wizards and now runs the 'Scout With Bryan' media platform: RJ has had a very solid season overall -- I just basically have the same opinion of him that I told you before. He's very solid, high IQ, plays hard, defends, can pass, go left. But I just don't see a superstar ceiling. Everyone lost it when I comp'd him to Joe Ingles predraft. But again, Joe Ingles is a damn good NBA player. He's not an All-Star, so if RJ is never an All-Star is he a bust? Some probably might think so, but if you can get a consistent third/fourth starter that's not atrocious value for a third pick. I just think fans might be setting themselves up for disappointment if they really think he's gonna blossom into a superstar -- I just think again he isn't a great 3 level scorer. Doesn't have a midrange game really. Much better going left to rim. And obviously the 3 needs a lot of work. Again -- about what I expected from him. A more athletic Ingles is a really good player. I'm just not sure he's a star."
Barrett's effective field goal percentage and true shooting percentage are in the bottom five of the 17 rookies who have played at least 40 games and averaged 20 minutes a game, so the concerns about his shooting are supported by statistics. But people around the Knicks and Barrett say that the rookie's work ethic and drive to improve are remarkable. So there's no reason to think he won't reach whatever his full ceiling is as a shooter.
And, as mentioned earlier, Miller and people around the Knicks were impressed by Barrett's steady approach to the game. Win or lose, they say he was the same player. That's an important trait in the New York market.
Gonzalez: "He's showed that he can handle the Garden and New York, which I think matters for the Knicks. He was a phenom in high school, went to Montverde (prep school), went to Duke. He got a lot of hype and he didn't shy away from it. So you could tell that the lights didn't bother him this year because he was used to it."