Knicks' Tom Thibodeau on RJ Barrett's hot streak: 'His confidence has come from his preparation'

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Alex Smith
·3 min read
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RJ Barrett pushed the ball up court vs. Thunder
RJ Barrett pushed the ball up court vs. Thunder

After Thursday’s dreadful 33-point loss to the Milwaukee Bucks, the Knicks desperately needed a win over the Oklahoma City Thunder on Saturday.

Though they got off to a bit of a slow start overall, the Knicks relied on their top scorers, Julius Randle and RJ Barrett, to lead the way in what turned out to be a 119-97 win.

Randle recorded his second triple-double of the season with 26 points, 12 rebounds, and 12 assists, becoming the first Knick since Mark Jackson in 1987-88 to record multiple triple-doubles in the same season. It was just the latest example of the All-Star’s all-around stellar play this season.

But for Barrett, Saturday’s game was his best as a pro, as the second-year guard finished with a career-best 32 points on 12-of-21 shooting (3-of-6 on three-pointers), while adding five rebounds and three assists.

It was Barrett’s third straight game with at least 20 points, dating back to the Knicks’ final game of the first half.

“We just wanted to come out and be us. We felt like in Milwaukee we didn’t play our style, so today we came out, we played hard, made winning plays, and we got the job done,” Barrett said after the game on the MSG broadcast.

“Honestly, [I’m] just trying to be more consistent, really. Just trying to be more consistent and do whatever the team needs me to do every night. Just trying to pride myself on being a guy that the team can count on. … Just trying to do all the little things.”

Asked about Barrett’s recent hot stretch, head coach Tom Thibodeau pointed to all of the hard work that the Duke product has been putting in behind the scenes.

“The extra work that he’s been putting in for quite a while now, it carried over the break for him. He did a great job over the All-Star break, getting away but he worked on his game every day, and I think his confidence has come from his preparation,” Thibodeau said. “He’s shooting the ball really well, he’s getting downhill, he’s finishing well. He made a great play, a great rim read on a spray out to Julius in the corner. So, he’s reading the game really well.”

Barrett undoubtedly had a lot on his plate as a rookie last season, but he still put up decent numbers with 14.3 points, 5.0 rebounds, and 2.6 assists per game while starting 55 of the 56 games in which he suited up.

His numbers are up across the board this season, but even beyond the box scores, Barrett looks like a noticeably more comfortable player in his second year, pulling up for jump shots with confidence and attacking the rim with a vengeance.

According to Thibodeau, all players take time to develop, and Barrett is a player who will only get better and better over time.

“For any young player coming into the league, and I’ve mentioned this before, I think we tend to measure them against other players, and you can’t do that. There’s always a progression to this, and trial and error is a big part of learning, so I think going through last year he learned a lot,” Thibodeau said. “I think he moved it forward. He had a good summer, and he continues to grow. He’s a great worker, he’s got a great approach, a great attitude, and those are usually the type of players that will continue to improve.

“When you look back at the great players in the league, there’s a progression to it. They don’t just all of a sudden start out being great. I’ve had several players over the year that each year they’ve gotten better, and I think RJ will be one of those guys.”