Knicks guard RJ Barrett controls the ball against the Cavaliers...

Knicks guard RJ Barrett controls the ball against the Cavaliers in the first half of an NBA game at Madison Square Garden on Jan. 24. Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

In the weeks leading up to Thursday’s naming of the NBA All-Star reserves, every question to Tom Thibodeau about the case to be made for Julius Randle and Jalen Brunson was  answered, but with an addendum, the Knicks coach adding a third name into the list of players on the team deserving of consideration.

RJ Barrett.

So it may have seemed odd Tuesday night when Barrett was left on the bench for the final 6:51 of regulation and the entire overtime session in the loss to the Lakers. And maybe it did seem odd to Barrett, who in rare form, refused to speak to the media after the game. The normally talkative Barrett shrugged off the coaxing of Knicks media relations staff and instead shouted across the room to Cam Reddish, asking him to affirm that the team should be happy not to have him speak on that night.

Thibodeau dismissed the benching that night as simply a case of going with the group that was playing well. And Thursday he said there was no need to talk to Barrett about the situation.

“No, just come in and get ready the next day,” Thibodeau said. “We know he’s a critical part of our team. We need him to play well. But we’re always going to put the team first and we thought the group that was out there gave us the best shot. Most of the times he’s finishing the game, so just get out there and play. I don’t worry about missed shots as much as just help in any way you can.”

Barrett was back in his usual place in the starting lineup Thursday and recorded the first points of the game for the Knicks after starting 1-for-9 in Tuesday’s loss. Without Jalen Brunson available, a late scratch because of a non-COVID illness, Immanuel Quickley who had taken Barrett’s minutes Tuesday, was in the starting lineup at point guard.

No hard feelings?

Reddish has not appeared in a game since Dec. 3, when he got a quick hook with a lackluster effort on both ends of the floor. SNY’s Ian Begley reported that before the Knicks win the following night — which started his absence from the rotation — Reddish expressed displeasure to an assistant coach  with how Thibodeau was using him. 

“Nah, that stuff is,” Thibodeau said, pausing and adding, “Cam and I are fine, so I don’t know where that’s coming from. But I have an idea.”

League sources have indicated that the Knicks have shopped Reddish openly ahead of the Feb. 9 trade deadline, hoping to acquire a player on a similar rookie contract and a draft pick.

Old acquaintances

Facing the Miami Heat for the first time this season gave Thibodeau a chance to face Jimmy Butler, whom he coached in Chicago and Minnesota.

“Jimmy is Jimmy,” Thibodeau said. “I look at him and I don’t think his stats – even though his stats are good, they don’t reflect the true value he has to a team. He’s the ultimate competitor. That transcends everything. He finds ways to win, whether it’s a matchup, a game, a situation. Really, really smart. The way he sees the game is his greatest strength. Playmaking ability. Ability to draw fouls. And create high-value shots for the team. And then of course being a two-way player and the fact that he can guard all five positions. “

The Heat entered the game in sixth place, two games ahead of the Knicks in the Eastern Conference playoff race. And one reason they have underachieved from preseason predictions is that Butler had played just 37 games before Thursday.

“Probably their health, more than anything,” Thibodeau said of the team’s struggles and the 17-8 record they compiled over the last 25 games. “They're playing great defense, as they always do. But just getting Jimmy back and their overall depth is very strong.”


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