As the Knicks were starting to make their way this season the one alarming note was that RJ Barrett, who coach Tom Thibodeau needed to emerge as a solid sidekick alongside Julius Randle, was having some early-season issues, to put it lightly.
After what seemed like a breakout opening night, converting 11 of 15 shots, including 3 of 3 beyond the arc, Barrett went cold from long range. With Randle becoming an All-Star, Barrett misfired on his next 21 attempts from three-point range. After 11 games, he had converted just 18% from beyond the arc, not exactly the sort of wing that Randle needed to be able to kick the ball out to to ease the double and triple-teaming defenses.
But after shooting 12.5% from three in December, Barrett picked it up to 35.1% in January and then connected on 47.4% in February.
"It’s just work," Barrett said. "Working every day, getting shots up every day. Get shots up at night. Always shooting, always making sure so I can be in the game and knock them down when my team needs them."
What he has shown most is that, at just 20 years old, he has grown and there may be room for much more growth. After being selected third overall in the 2019 NBA Draft and then enduring a harsh rookie season in which he went through two coaches - both gone now - and took his share of the blame for a 21-45 season, he has embraced his role and the work this season.
"I’d say that everybody is really engaged, everybody is really locked in on winning," Barrett said. "I think as a team we all really support each other, are always happy for each other. Whoever’s night it is we’re always cheering. We really like each other off the court, too, so I think everything’s just moving in the right direction."
For Barrett, that has been a long way from the start of the season and an even longer way from where it all began, on the same court he took last night. The Knicks opened the 2019-20 season in San Antonio and the head coach at that time, David Fizdale, inserted him in the starting lineup at point guard. He gave up that position, but never gave up the starting role.
"It feels like forever ago," Barrett said. "But I do remember it. It was a great night, a night I’ll never forget. And now I’m just going to try to come in tonight and get a win. That’s the only thing."
Obi Toppin was officially named to the slam dunk competition for All-Star Weekend, competing against Anfernee Simons and Cassius Stanley. Julius Randle was added to the skills competition as the NBA filled the skills and three-point contest with players who were already scheduled to participate in the All-Star Game.