RJ Barrett is off to another slow start to the season. But, like always, the Knicks’ young star will find his way eventually.

Opening night was supposed to belong to RJ Barrett.

The billing was the New York Knicks versus the Memphis Grizzlies. In reality, it was Barrett versus Ja Morant, the pair of top-three draft classmates from 2019 going at it. Morant showed out with a 34-point, nine-assist night in a Grizzlies win. Barrett, on the other hand, struggled to find his range, scoring just 11 points on 3-of-18 shooting.

The following five games have not been as rough. Barrett has scored at least 20 points in three games, with a few stinkers– opening night and this past Sunday in Cleveland, in which he scored 15 points on just ten shot attempts in 32 minutes–but the stat line does not look as bad as it feels: 17.7 points, 5.8 rebounds and 2.2 assists per game. 

The three-point percentage (21.9%) is probably the only true red flag, however, that feels more like a function of Barrett trying to hammer down this new pull-up three from the top of the arc more than anything.

Perhaps Barrett has some Goku in him and likes to start the fight by trying some new moves before he gets comfortable. Last year it was the spinning floater in the paint and this season it looks to be the aforementioned pull-up three from the top of the arc.

This slow start could alarm some. It is year four for Barrett, and yes, he should be hovering in the 20 to 25 points per night range on a nightly basis. He has relinquished control of the offense to Jalen Brunson, and has had chances – he has put up the third most shots on the team.

The reason for his slow start remains a mystery, however, it is not out of the ordinary for Barrett. Those who know Barrett intimately know that he is a second-half player in every sense of the word. 

He can be a bit of a wild card, which is ironic given he is one of the team’s iron men. From a performance standpoint, however, you never really know which Barrett you will get night to night–particularly near the start of the season.

Through his first four years, Barrett has been consistently inconsistent. His offense always seems to start the season like a car trying to start in the dead of winter.

The good news is, how he starts his season is never how he ends it.

Last season was the most extreme example of “two RJs”. Until the calendar turned over to 2022, Barrett left a lot to be desired, to say the least. 

He started the season as a glorified Bruce Bowen, languishing in the corner on offense as Kemba Walker, Evan Fournier and Julius Randle handled the bulk of the offense. The end product was 15.0 points per game on 40/32/70 shooting splits.

The year before that, he averaged 16.5 points per game through the first 30 games on 42/30/74 shooting splits, before bumping that up to 18.3 per game in his final 42 games. As a rookie, he averaged just under 14 points per game before settling around the 15-point mark.

Once 2022 hit, though, it felt like Barrett hit a new level. He resembled the rising star so many in New York need him to be. 

In his final 41 games of the season, Barrett took control. Tom Thibodeau tossed him the keys and Barrett kept his foot on the gas, getting to the rim at all, which ended with made baskets or many trips to the free throw line. The newfound aggression resulted in Barrett reaching a career milestone, finishing the season as a 20-point-per-game scorer, as he averaged 23.6 points per game on 41/35/71 shooting splits.

Now Barrett will have to replicate his turnarounds this season. He has more help than ever. Brunson’s arrival has been a godsend, as he looks up to the task of answering the near-quarter century question mark at point guard. Obi Toppin continues to shine and his longtime teammate Cam Reddish has solidified himself a rotation spot. And Quentin Grimes still has not played a game.

There will undoubtedly be bumps in the road early on. Whether it is bad shooting nights, or growing pains with Brunson, Barrett will put up a forgettable performance sporadically. But as he has proven, he is constantly working and constantly attacking.

History is our greatest teacher, and RJ Barrett’s history suggests he will figure it out. The only difference is this time his annual second-half leap can put the Knicks higher up the conference totem pole.

Random Ramblings

Point God Prayers Have Been Answered 

Has it finally happened? Have the Knicks found a long-term solution at point guard? That is sure what it feels like watching Jalen Brunson thus far. The scoring punch Brunson would provide was expected. The way he uses his small frame to get under defenders in the paint is a joy to watch. 

And his ability to drop dimes was massively undersold.

Put simply, JB is that guy the Knicks have been so desperately looking for. Brunson already has 43 assists on the season. The next closest person is Immanuel Quickley with 24. The distribution skills, matched with early signs of being that guy, have made Brunson an instant hit.

Play That Man

Setting aside Tom Thibodeau’s idiotic position that playing Julius Randle and Obi Toppin together won’t work, there has to be a way for them to see similar minutes.

This is far from a slight at Randle, he deserves every minute he is getting; this is about finding more minutes for Toppin. Any test the team could have possibly given Toppin he has aced. He is currently second on the team in made three-pointers, and number one in percentage at 50.0%, with the eye test confirming that the jumper is worth buying into.

That is on top of doing the many things that made him fun to watch in spurts. If this team is going to reach its peak performance, Toppin has to be near the top of the food chain. Right now, Toppin ranks ninth in total minutes played. Ninth.

Reddish Reborn

Life is easy when you lean into your strengths. There was always a role for Cam Reddish on this team. A 6-foot-8 forward who can guard four positions will always be an asset.

Reddish followed up one of the most disheartening preseasons for a guy on the bubble with a hell of a season opener. Quentin Grimes’ injury left spare minutes and Reddish took full advantage. 

With Barrett struggling on opening night, Reddish came up big off the bench, scoring 22 points to go along with five rebounds, three steals and one block in nearly 30 minutes of court time. Reddish proved that when he is under control, he can be a force of nature,and now finds himself comfortably in the Knicks rotation.

When Grimes does return, Thibodeau will have to cut someone’s minutes, and right now Reddish has done all the right things to keep his name out of consideration. His growing chemistry with major foundational pieces like Toppin and Quickley, along with his existing chemistry with Barrett, only strengthens his case to hold onto his role no matter who is available.

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