Knicks head coach Tom Thibodeau talks RJ Barrett's development entering Year 3: 'The sky is the limit'

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RJ Barrett Knicks vs. Hawks Game 1 2021 passing
RJ Barrett Knicks vs. Hawks Game 1 2021 passing

Knicks head coach Tom Thibodeau heaped praise on RJ Barrett on Tuesday as the 21-year-old continues to develop ahead of his third NBA season.

Barrett emerged as one of the better young players in the NBA last season.

As the second option on a Knicks team that snagged the No. 4 seed in the Eastern Conference, Barrett averaged 17.6 points and 5.8 rebounds while shooting a shade over 44 percent from the field in 72 games

"I love RJ," Thibodeau told reporters on Tuesday. "He has a lot of pride, he's put a lot of extra time in. Comes in at night -- he's really improved I think as a practice player, and just his understanding of the NBA game. He comes in each day with a very upbeat, positive attitude, and he's a very good worker. And so he's gonna benefit from that.

"Those were all the things that Coach K told me about him prior to me getting here. So I knew the type of person we were getting. And then once you get to spend time with him and see who he is as a person, as a worker, as a competitor, those type of guys usually continue to get better."

Thibodeau noted that the Knicks' veterans -- including the newly-acquired Kemba Walker and Evan Fournier -- can help Barrett as he continues to ascend.

"I think their experiences can help RJ. They've been through a lot of things, and so they're sharing with each other the different things they've been through," Thibodeau said. "We have really good veteran leadership, and I think that's a huge positive. And I think when you look at RJ's age and see the way he's worked and what he's done, I think the sky is the limit for him.

"He's just gotta continue to grow, challenge himself each day. Come in ready to practice, to learn, to grow, to get better, and that's usually what he does every day."

Oct 5, 2021; New York, New York, USA; New York Knicks guard RJ Barrett (9) shoots a jump shot against the Indiana Pacers in the third quarter at Madison Square Garden.
Oct 5, 2021; New York, New York, USA; New York Knicks guard RJ Barrett (9) shoots a jump shot against the Indiana Pacers in the third quarter at Madison Square Garden.

Thibodeau explained that when it comes to how Barrett develops, he doesn't want him to focus on the stat sheet.

Instead, Thibodeau wants Barrett looking at the overall picture and the impact he can have on winning.

"I don't want him to measure himself statistically in terms of 'OK, the scoring, what does it look like?' I want it to be more of being an all-around player," Thibodeau said. "The thing that I like about what he did last year is he averaged almost 18 points a game on a playoff team. It wasn't a guy on a bad team getting empty stats. They were meaningful. He contributed to winning.

"I think he wants to grow. He's challenged himself to be an all-around player, to read the game. The game tells you what to do. I think the more pressure you put on people, he's gonna get double-teamed more, he has to be ready for that.

"And any time you get double-teamed, don't fight pressure with pressure. Just make the right read, move the ball. ... I think getting to that mindset, understanding how he could impact the game in a lot of different ways -- with his rebounding, running the floor hard, getting downhill, making the rim read, putting pressure on people. Those are things that impact winning. And then guarding people -- not only his individual defense, but his team defense."