“RJ kinda boring .”
That’s what I told myself while watching him play an excellent game against the Houston Rockets Sunday night. You are probably confused by my statement. I just called RJ Barrett “boring” but “he played an excellent game.” That might seem like a misnomer but it really isn’t when you think about it for a minute. There is nothing about Barrett’s game that will serve as a highlight reel on “NBA Twitter.” He is not explosive or dominant as his peers Ja Morant or Zion Williamson. He is not a quick trigger lethal shooter the way that Tyler Herro or even Duncan Robinson. Barrett could be described in one word: “poise.” Yes, that is how I view RJ Barrett when watching him play. The kid plays with such poise and it works wonders to his advantage.
Before the 2019 NBA Draft there has been massive knock on Barrett as a prospect. Some believed he peaked in high school and would struggle to develop an outside shot creation. Others felt that he lacked a good shot IQ and probably would be an inefficient scorer for the duration of his career. There were even scouts who felt that someone like Jarrett Culver would have a higher upside and better usage as an NBA wing than Barrett. The lack of faith in Barrett’s ability to improve went on and on. Nobody thought he was good enough. They put a cap on his career before he even had a chance to step on the hardwood floor in the NBA.
Luckily Knicks General Manager Scott Perry ignored those doubts and took a chance on the kid. It is now paying off in dividends.
“Scott kept saying: We have to pick him, we have to pick him,’’ an NBA source told Marc Berman of The New York Post.
One thing that Perry and me others — myself included — liked about Barrett was that he had an undeniable work ethic. While there were lazy comparisons to Andrew Wiggins just simply because they were high lottery prospects who were guard/wing players from Canada there was a massive difference to their games. Wiggins is a solid role player but never really had that possessive drive to constantly improve his game. Barrett has that. He cares…a lot! That mythical “Kobe Bryant Killer Instinct” mentality that NBA Twitter harps on is what Barrett possesses. He was called the “Maple Mamba” at one point for a reason.
“The Knicks saw his intangibles, his mental toughness, strong belief in himself, and his work ethic,’’ another NBA executive said to the Post. “He also showed the ability to bounce back from bad plays or bad games with a short memory, perseverance. Those were all important qualities that good NBA players have demonstrated over time.’’
Ever since the All-Star break, Barrett has averaged 19.2 points, 5.2 rebounds, and 3.2 assists. He has a True Shooting percentage of 56.2%, an improved free-throw shooting of 74.4%, and three-point percentage of 42.3%. These are signs of a rising All Star. Barrett also fits the type of player head coach Tom Thibodeau likes: a large two-way wing player who has an undeniable work ethic, can play with physicality, get to the rim, and take smart shots.
Hmm? A large two-way wing player who has an undeniable work ethic, can play with physicality, get to the rim, and take smart shots? One can’t help but feel like Thibs has a coached a player like that before.
This is pretty much Barrett’s ceiling. If he continues to improve he could emerge into something akin to Jimmy Butler or even Paul Pierce.
The similarities between the two are too obvious to overlook, even if Butler is a decade Barrett’s senior, and they shoot the ball with different hands. Both are 6-foot-7, burly wings weighing between 215 and 230 pounds, possess elite strength but lack elite vertical athleticism, and are hindered by unreliable jumpers (though RJ’s recent progress in that department suggests he may surpass Butler as a shooter). Butler has neared maximization of that particular skillset, reaching perennial All-Star status and having led his team to the Finals just a year ago. So how does RJ progress from promising youngster to that kind of player? RJ, self-aware as always, explained it himself postgame by citing two of Butler’s greatest attributes: foul-drawing and playmaking. — Benjy Ritholtz
That’s RJ Barrett in a nutshell. Butler’s game isn’t flashy or special but it works. The same applies to Barrett. He’s a boring player and isn’t a human highlight reel. It is unlikely you will see him get mentioned on ESPN’s The Jump anytime so soon. He gets the job done and can emerge as a winning player. And that’s more than enough.
*additional information from The Steipen, The Strickland, NY Post, Heat Nation, Basketball Reference, Z. Highlights