Many pros have gone to FIBA and come back stronger. Here’s how this summer’s tournament can help RJ Barrett take the next step.
Every season and every off-season, we have the same conversation about what Rj Barrett needs to develop to become the star that we all want him to be. He has always had ups and downs including rough starts to the season but this year, RJ gets to play for his country in the off-season. This not only gives him a chance to develop and be ready for the regular season but also the opportunity to represent his country on the biggest stage.
The fifth year of the Maple Mamba’s career is an important one to show that he can be the player the Knicks need and live up to his draft status and contract. The FIBA World Cup gives Rowan an opportunity to come into the season in game shape and have a different role on Team Canada.
Team Canada is coming into the World Cup as Vegas’ second-favorite team after Jalen Brunson’s USA squad. Even without Jamal Murray, it is a loaded team, with MVP Candidate Shai Gilgeous Alexander and $90 million man Dillon Brooks joining RJ to represent their native land.
In Canada’s warm-up game against Germany, Barrett had 12 points, scoring eight in the second half as part of Canada’s failed comeback. He hit two threes along with a couple of strong takes to the rim and one rousing alley-oop finish. This was a good look into what his role can be on Team Canada and what we can expect to see throughout this tournament.
RJ ALLEY pic.twitter.com/0DkdK4aEYW
— The Knicks Wall (@TheKnicksWall) August 9, 2023
Areas of Development:
When looking at development, rhythm and flow is an important part of the game. Rowan has had high highs and low lows, and the issue has always been consistency. Slow starts and rough patches have plagued Barrett’s career in New York and have kept him from being the All-Star he has the potential to be. The jumper has been the most inconsistent so far in his early career – if he can shoot the ball consistently, it will unlock other portions of his game offensively. He is a career 34% shooter on five attempts per game since being drafted by the Knickerbockers. He shot 2-4 from beyond the arc in his first game with Team Canada and that is a very positive sign for the Knicks. Not only was he hitting from deep, but he was also hitting transition corner threes that are replicable in the Knicks system. Playing off-ball from SGA should help with the idea of playing off-ball with Jalen Brunson.
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and RJ Barrett had a shooting competition at Team Canada practice 👀
— Dime (@DimeUPROXX) August 1, 2023
Not only is it important for RJ to hit open looks for his home country, but the more pace he can play with, the better it is for the Knicks. The fast pace style is not what Tom Thibodeau is necessarily known for, but it is a great way to utilize the lefty’s athleticism. Watching how Team Canada uses Barrett in transition will be interesting to compare to the Knicks. RJ will undoubtedly be looking to grow and develop in his transition offense as well as his half-court game.
The physicality is something else to monitor for Knicks fans. RJ made significant growth last season in finishing at the rim and has shown the ability to pressure the rim as well as anybody in the NBA. In a more physical game, it will be important to see RJ continue that growth trajectory by getting downhill and attacking. Barrett showed significant improvement in the playoffs, especially against the Cavs when he got whatever he wanted against their vaunted front court. The World Cup environment should be conducive to the more physical downhill style of play. It would be nice for the Knicks faithful to see RJ continue that pathway and dominate at the rim during the World Cup.
"We're allowed to be more physical on ball and ball screens. I've been playing the FIBA game since I was 14, so I'm used to it." – RJ Barrett on the key adjustments from playing NBA to FIBA hoops
— Knicks Fan TV 🏀🎥📺🏁 (@KnicksFanTv) August 3, 2023
Defensively, there are fewer questions about Barrett’s development, but what would be nice to see is for him to turn defense into instant offense. The soon-to-be fifth-year Duke Blue Devil is a good defender, but seeing him build off that could unlock the next layers of his games. Transition buckets coming from pushing the tempo off of a steal or rebound is something that SGA excels at in OKC, and playing with him should help RJ thrive in those areas. The backcourt, with a pair of Alexanders (Gilgeous and Walker respectively), should be an elite defense-to-offense unit throughout the World Cup. Seeing Barrett in a different environment has many benefits, maybe none bigger than on the defensive side of the ball.
While Barrett has had the luxury of playing under an elite defensive coach in Thibs, it is nice to see him play for an offensive-minded coach. Kings assistant Jordi Fernandez, who is partially responsible for the high-octane offense in Sacramento, replaced Nick Nurse for Team Canada going into the World Cup. Watching RJ learn how to turn his defense into fast-paced offense will be one of the best possible development tracks throughout the World Cup.
There are many different areas in which we can see RJ thrive in this environment. Seeing him in a new role with a different coach and teammates will show us a new side to the Canadian wing. However, seeing him play in high stakes important moments is the best possible thing for his development.
While Team USA does have Josh Hart and Jalen Brunson both, every Knick fan should be cheering for Canada to make a deep run. After watching Barrett play some of the best basketball of his career in the playoffs, it is of the utmost importance for him to continue playing at that level and to play at the highest level of competition.
For a player notorious for his slow starts in nearly every season of his career, a summer of high-level basketball can be of the utmost importance to have him ready come October. If RJ can succeed for Canada, fans should have even more confidence going into this season with the hope that his long-believed-in leap is finally coming.