Ian Begley, SNY.tv | Twitter |
RJ Barrett has been training for several weeks ahead of Thursday's NBA Draft. And the workouts, with trainer Drew Hanlen, have prioritized two area's of Barrett's game: shooting and the ability to shift directions off the dribble to elude defenders - aka wiggle.
Scouts mention those two areas when discussing things Barrett - who the Knicks will likely select at No. 3 on Thursday if he's on the board and Ja Morant is not - needs to improve upon at the next level.
In a phone interview last week, Hanlen discussed some of the things that Barrett's been working on ahead of the draft:
Barrett has moved his right hand on the side of the ball for a smoother release, and turned his stance to allow for a more fluid shot. He's also spread his shooting hand, so the backspin on his shot spins tight and lowered his base so he has better rhythm, Hanlen says.
"His pocket slipped up and moved in front of his left eye, so we moved it over and moved his elbow out so he has a good vision triangle," Hanlen said of Barrett, who shot 30.8 percent from beyond the arc last year at Duke.
Hanlen will sometimes ask him to make a certain amount of shots at the end of the workout. Barrett often asks Hanlen not to count one of his makes.
"He'll say, 'I didn't do it perfect' or 'don't count that one it didn't feel right.' Or, 'Hey I need some extra reps because I don't feel like I've mastered it yet.' That's a huge sign of maturity."
SHIFT DIRECTIONS OFF DRIBBLE/WIGGLE
Barrett has tightened his dribble and worked on shifting defenders laterally instead of just being physical in recent workouts, Hanlen said.
"I put him on the exact same shiftiness program that I put Bradley Beal on a few years ago, and it really helped Brad turn into a playmaker," Hanlen said. "With Brad, it was really a two-summer process. We put RJ on it in the pre-draft. It takes time to get shifty and get your body moving, get it to more fast-twitch movement and everything like that. But he's definitely progressing well in both the shooting and the shiftiness categories. We'll keep working all summer to get him as ready as possible for his rookie season."
Hanlen said Barrett has worked with his physical therapist/strength coach to help improve his movement.
"He's definitely moving more fluidly and he's definitely addressed some of the weaknesses that we saw in his game," Hanlen said.
Barrett has also worked on his approach in the mid-range, working on his pace so he's less sped up and doesn't force things, according to Hanlen. He's worked on side-steps, step-backs, and fades so he can improve his efficiency in the half court.
"Like all 19-year-olds, he has a ton of room for growth," said Hanlen, who trains dozens of pros, including Beal and Jayson Tatum. "But I think he was one of the most over-criticized players in college basketball history. He put up numbers that no freshman in the history of the game has put up, and still was criticized because everyone was kind of caught up in the hype."
In a general sense, Hanlen and others say that Barrett is well aware of the areas he needs to improve upon to succeed in the NBA.
"He just wants to be special. He already is special," Hanlen said. "He knows that he has a ton of room to grow and he knows that he's going to have to be more efficient and effective if he's going to be the player that he knows he's going to become in the NBA."
COMFORTABLE IN MSG
If his approach during Duke's win over Texas Tech is an indication, Barrett won't be overwhelmed by the atmosphere at Madison Square Garden. After scoring 16 points in Duke's victory, Barrett said he enjoyed playing on the MSG stage.
"He was like, 'It's electric here, this is great,'" said NBA/NCAA trainer David Zenon, who spoke to Barrett after the game. "It wasn't like the stage was big for him. He was like, 'Alright, I'm just hooping. I'm just feeding off the crowd. I'm just feeding off of Zion (Williamson) and the guys next to me.'"
Zenon, who spent time with Barrett and Williamson at Duke regularly this season but is not Barrett's personal trainer, said the 19-year-old wasn't overwhelmed at all by the idea of playing at the Garden.
"There was never a moment where it was like, 'Oh my first game at Madison Square Garden.' It was like, 'I'm focused and I'm ready to go, '" he said.