Knicks guard RJ Barrett puts up a layup against the...

Knicks guard RJ Barrett puts up a layup against the Denver Nuggets in the first half of an NBA basketball game at Madison Square Garden on Saturday, March 18, 2023. Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

The RJ-aissance might be upon us, and not a moment too soon.

In a season marked by frustrating and diminishing returns, RJ Barrett appears to be realizing his promise. He went into Monday’s game having scored at least 21 points in six of his last seven games and, most notably, playing to his strengths: attacking the basket, getting back on defense and not getting too cute with his perimeter shots.

“When he attacks the basket, he’s hard to guard,” Tom Thibodeau said. “It’s get downhill, the second, third defender comes, spray the ball.”

Barrett took a total of only three three-point attempts in his previous two games — a sign, perhaps, that he’s leaning into his makeup. Against the Nuggets on Saturday, he scored 21 points, shot 8-for-13 from the field and continued to show signs of improvement on defense.

“When he keeps it simple like that, he’s very effective,” Thibodeau said. “Stay away from the fadeaways, keep attacking the rim.”  

Thibs a fan of Pitino

St. John’s fans weren’t the only people celebrating the newest hire.

Thibodeau, who, as an assistant at Harvard, used to travel to Providence to learn from Rick Pitino’s coaching style, was pleased at his mentor’s decision to lead the Red Storm.

“Just really, really happy for him,” Thibodeau said. “I think he’s been a great coach wherever he’s been. So he’s a good man, great coach, and I know he’ll do a great job at St. John’s.”  

Brunson OK after return

Thibodeau said Jalen Brunson had no ill effects after Saturday’s 24-point game — a performance that marked his return from a foot injury that sidelined him for five of the previous six games. Brunson is making a case for himself in the Most Improved Player conversation, averaging 23.8 points and 6.1 assists a season after averaging 16.3 points and 4.8 assists.


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