Something needed to change for the New York Knicks.
Fortunately for head coach Tom Thibodeau, it appears that RJ
Barrett got the memo.
On Wednesday night, New York scored a decisive 108-85 victory
over Luka Doncic and the visiting Dallas Mavericks, giving the
Knicks their fourth win in the last five contests.
By virtue of the victory, the team improved to 21-21 and got
back to the .500 mark for the first time since early December. But
more importantly, the third-year swingman has made huge strides
Through the first 30 games of the season, Barrett struggled;
entering play on Jan. 4, he was turning in just 15.2 points per
game on 40.2% shooting from the field, including 32.7% from long
Across the board, his numbers were down from a sophomore
campaign that saw him emerge as a reliable second option to Julius
Against the Dallas Mavericks on Wednesday night, Barrett
excelled playing both on and off the ball and was decisive and
aggressive. The young Canadian ended the contest with 32
points and 7 rebounds on 13-for-22 shooting from the field,
including 4-for-7 shooting from three-point territory. The
performance was noteworthy in a few ways.
It was the third time Barrett scored 30 or more points in the
Knicks’ past five games, and it marked the first time in his career
that he’s scored 30 or more points in consecutive contests. He also
surpassed Kristaps Porzingis as the youngest player in franchise
history to score 30 or more points in two-straight games.
Throughout the early goings of the season, much of Thibodeau’s
team — including Randle, Kemba Walker and Evan Fournier — struggled
to find consistency. Recently, though, Barrett has come to
“RJ is steady,” Thibodeau said after Wednesday night’s contest.
“He never gets too high, he never gets too low. He’s putting in a
lot of extra work right now, he’s coming back at night and I think
that’s a big factor.”
The comments were particularly interesting considering that last
month, while Barrett was in the midst of his funk, the coach — who
rarely criticizes his players publicly — seemed to do just that,
suggesting that Barrett’s early-season struggles were at least in
part due to him spending less time in the gym than he did last
"Last year, he got going when he started coming in every night
to shoot,” Thibodeau was
quoted as saying at the time. “You got to do it all the time.
So get back in the gym, get back to grooving your shot. Shoot a lot
of threes, and you'll start making more.”
Considering Barrett’s reputation as a hard-worker, the comments
were certainly noteworthy. If nothing else, his recent stretch
shows how quickly things can change in the NBA.
Not too long ago, the Knicks were 13-17 and staring at the
prospect of their season getting away from them. They’ve since gone
8-4, with the last four wins coming in large part due to Barrett's
Suddenly, the Knicks are back at .500 and will enter play on
Jan. 13 tied with the Boston Celtics for the 10th-best record in
the Eastern Conference.
“There is no ceiling on what he can do,” Fournier said of
Barrett after his big night.
A throwback swingman who knows how to utilize his size and
strength when finishing in the paint, the marked improvement
Barrett made from three-point territory last season was noteworthy.
Barrett connected on 43.5% of his three-point looks after the
All-Star break last season, and he was instrumental in helping the
Knicks capture the East's fourth-seed after going 16-4 in their
final 20 games.
His ability to score at all three levels was seldom seen before
the recent stretch. But Fournier has seen Barrett come alive before
his very eyes.
“Like I said after the last game, when he scores on all three
levels, he becomes less predictable, so that allows him to do what
he does best, which is be aggressive and drive…" Fournier said.
"All the mid-range and shooting under screens for threes open his
drive, which is ultimately what he is best at. When he plays like
that, he makes the job easier for everyone because he draws a lot
of attention and he’s a willing passer, so hopefully he keeps it
As for Barrett himself?
He simply remains focused on what the victory meant for the team
and how they can keep the good times rolling.
“I think we’re gonna find success if we continue to do the
little things and just continue to work and be consistent through
the rest of the season,” Barrett said. “As long as we do that,
we’ll put ourselves in a good position."
As a unit, the Knicks may not be where they want to be, but
they’re certainly far from where they were.
That’s progress that the entire club can feel good about, but
perhaps nobody more than Barrett, who has quickly reminded us all
why New York made him the third selection of the 2019 NBA
One game at a time, he’s proving that he’s capable of putting
the team on his back. Right in the Knick of time.