The NBA season got underway on Tuesday, with the Raptors receiving their championship rings, and beating the Pelicans to start their title defense without Kawhi Leonard. With the beginning of the season, I’ll start with a recurring article I’ll call player rankings. With this article, I’ll review a few players seasons, see if they’ve lived up to potential, what they’ve done so far and more. These may not be the most popular players, but ones I’ve watched that I find extremely interesting and could be valuable to their team. Let’s start it up with New York Knicks forward RJ Barrett.
1. RJ Barrett, F, New York Knicks
You may know RJ as the player who was the backup to Zion last year. I saw writers complaining that RJ was trying to ruin Zion by being a ball hog multiple times throughout the year. There were games it appeared true, but I never thought he was on the right team. Before his college season there was talk of “tanking for RJ.” He’s an athletic wing, with some range who can get to the lane, he’ll just need spacing. He played slightly out of position at Duke, playing more PG than he ever had before. He still averaged 22.6 PPG (as much as Zion) on a team that didn’t fully fit his skill set.
Now he’s with the New York Knicks after being selected in the first round. While this team isn’t crafted around their #3 pick yet, there’s more spacing on the floor for RJ to work with. Check out this YouTube video: RJ Barrett Game 1 Highlights. With 1:15 in, Barrett takes Bryn Forbes off the dribble and makes a lefty floater with some contact. Barrett shows what he’s able to do with space on the floor, as he blows by Forbes and finishes lefty with some finesse. While there are many highlights of Barrett going to his dominant left-hand, at the 3:00 mark, he gets past Derozan in transition, drives and finishes with his right-hand. Going forward, Barrett will need to keep defenses honest with a balance of driving left and right. For now, Barrett is able to get past defenders with his lanky frame, but a short first step. As defenses evolve, Barrett will need to continue to develop his game and mix in a quick, but longer first step to consistently blow by some of the better NBA defenders.
The last thing I noticed was how much Barrett was around the ball on defense. He was credited with 2 steals, and could have gotten many more with his frame, quick hands and high awareness. At 0:40 in, he comes down to help on a double-team with LaMarcus Aldridge. Aldridge is a 13-year veteran so this isn’t the first double-team he’s faced. However, when he attempts to pass out to Rudy Gay, Barrett is able to get a finger on the ball and come up with the steal. There were multiple times when RJ used active hands to either tip the ball or come up with a tipped pass. Barrett’s defensive awareness was really impressive for a rookie. At 0:56 in, Barrett slides off Forbes, who drifted out of the play, to provide assistance on an Aldridge pick and roll. I was impressed with Barrett’s recognition of the situation to make a play on the ball. Barrett needs to continue to be as active on the defensive end, even when the Knicks are 15-47 in March.
My prediction: RJ Barrett will win rookie of the year as Zion misses 2 months with injury.