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Knicks' RJ Barrett wants to improve offense and have impact on defense

Knicks guard RJ Barrett dribbles the ball up

Knicks guard RJ Barrett dribbles the ball up court against the Magic during the second half of an NBA game at Madison Square Garden on Sunday. Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

GREENBURGH, N.Y. — RJ Barrett knows how to fight through a rough start.

Last season, he overcame a horrible shooting slump — at one point he missed 21 straight three-point attempts — and ended up having a breakout year.

Knicks fans can only hope that will happen again this season. Barrett again isn’t knocking down shots the way he would like. In three games, he’s averaged 12.7 points and made only 38.9% of his shots, 21.1% from three-point range. Sunday night’s loss to Orlando was his biggest clunker as he went 5-for-17, including 1-for-7 from beyond the arc.

"I don’t know why. It’s the third year in a row I started like this," Barrett said after the team’s practice Monday. "I’m a guy, I never give up. I never quit. Whatever it is, I will figure it out."

Coach Tom Thibodeau has asked Barrett to take on a bigger role this season. On many nights, he will be asked to guard the other team’s best player. One might think that having that kind of responsibility on one end of the floor could hurt his production on the other. Barrett, however, is up for the challenge.

"The biggest part is just my defense. I want to be first-team All-Defense," he said. "I want to be these things. I want to be the guy for this team. I can’t give up anything easy. I try to make every night a struggle for anybody I am guarding."

Barrett said a number of great players have done it offensively and defensively, and his goal is to be like them. "I have the stamina and ability to do it [at both ends of the floor],’’ he said. "So it’s just a matter of doing it."

Thibodeau said it’s natural for a player to go through some adjustments when his role changes.

"I’m not worried about RJ," he said. "He’s a terrific player and there’s going to be some ups and downs and we have to figure things out and get better. But I think he has confidence in who he is and it comes from his preparation, which is important. And we are asking him to do more this year. But I think he’s ready for that challenge and I think he’s gotten a lot better."

Barrett said he knows what he has to do to get better.

"I love basketball. Whenever I am struggling or even when I’m doing well, I like to go back and watch films," he said. "I’m on League Pass watching all the teams play. We have a great staff here and I just have to figure it out."

Notes & quotes: Thibodeau said Nerlens Noel has a "50-50" chance of playing in Tuesday’s game against the 76ers. Noel, who has been hampered by a leg issue, has yet to appear in a preseason or regular-season game. "He’s getting closer and feels a lot better," Thibodeau said.

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