Knicks rookie RJ Barrett has been on a tear the last six games, improving over his previously lackluster season performance. Could the headband be the source of his power?

The legend of Headband R.J. Barrett has been born. In a perfect hero genesis story, Barrett said he decided to don the armor during Sunday’s game against Miami because he needed a haircut. And after beating the team with the third-best record in the league, R.J. brought it back, this time in orange, for a showdown against the team with the best record in the league, the Milwaukee Bucks.

Though he’s only been rocking the headband for two games now, his stretch of play over the past six games has been headband-worthy. At home against Miami, he dropped 23 points on an efficient 7-of-10 from the field, to go with five boards, three assists, two steals, and one vicious snarl.

Then he followed it up, leaving orange streaks through Milwaukee with a 22-8-3-1-1 line, in which he hit five of his seven threes and five of his six free throws.

He’s averaged 19 points, six boards, and more than a steal a game, but most encouragingly, Barrett is shooting 46% from the field and 78% from the line during this stretch. This is in stark contrast to his play through the early portion of the season, which was so stunningly awful that some Twitter accounts had to be muted.

Every rookie has ups and downs, though. Barrett’s first five games were incredible! Then he started to force action and couldn’t buy a jumper for the next 20 games or so, and now he’s hot again. In young guys, you look for flashes and trust that those will become more sustainable with proper development.

Despite missing their best player in Marcus Morris for the past five games, the Knicks’ offense has been humming with Barrett at its center. Letting him unabashedly run the show, handling the rock, moving it off the defensive glass, and surrounding him with more shooters has resulted in him playing as freely as ever, showing off his strength and passing ability, as well as the improved efficiency.

He’s been taking advantage of smaller guys, which is something a good coach would have him doing more. In his limited sample, he ranks third in the league in post-up efficiency.

R.J.’s court awareness has stuck out from day one in the league. Under pressure in the teeth of the Miami game, he remains calm through the trap and is able to find the open man to keep the offense moving. 

We already knew these to be strengths of his coming into the league, but to see them translate so seamlessly has been great. He’s already stronger than most NBA guys at his position, and it has shown in his ability to get to the rim, where he takes 48% of his shots, which is impressively in the 90th percentile among all wings. And his ability to see the floor will make him a valuable distributor at his height, already registering an assist percentage at almost 12, which ranks in the 63rd percentile at the position.

Despite Barrett’s miserable efficiency to start the season, the fact that his other strengths shine so brightly on the court portends positive things for his career trajectory. His rookie numbers also grade out pretty similarly to Brandon Ingram’s, if you’d like a statistical comp.

Though R.J. is hot right now, the truth is that the NBA is really just a make-or-miss league. Barrett is not doing anything all that differently over the last few games, it just looks a lot different because Morris is out of the lineup and the shots are just starting to fall.

Hey, maybe it’s the headband.


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