RJ Barrett's strong shooting a silver lining of Knicks' recent rough stretch

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Ian Begley
·3 min read
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RJ Barrett holds follow through for Knicks
RJ Barrett holds follow through for Knicks

The last 10 days have been rough for the Knicks.

They’ve lost five of their six games in that span, falling under .500 and dropping in the Eastern Conference playoff race.

The latest loss came on Wednesday night in Boston, where New York couldn’t hold on to a fourth quarter lead and struggled again in the clutch.

If you’re a Knicks fan who is desperate to see the club snap a seven-season playoff drought, these last 10 days have been your worst nightmare.

New York has dropped several winnable games in this stretch and had most of the weaknesses on its roster exposed.

But if you’re a Knicks fan who thinks that the club is playing with house money this season and is looking solely for improvement from some of the young players, this 1-5 stretch has had a different feel to it.

That’s because RJ Barrett, the club’s No. 3 overall pick in the 2019 draft, has been shooting incredibly well.

Entering Wednesday’s game in Boston, Barrett had been shooting 50 percent from beyond the arc in his last five games. He then went 6-for-6 on threes against the Celtics, recording one of the best shooting performances of his young career.

Head coach Tom Thibodeau cites Barrett’s work ethic as one factor in his strong shooting of late.

"When we've been home, he usually comes in every night to shoot and get extra shooting in. He's really worked hard improving a shot and I think he's gotten real comfortable behind the line," Thibodeau said. ". ... I'm very pleased with his overall progress and I think he'll continue to grow."

Shooting was one of the areas of biggest concern for Barrett coming into the season.

He shot 40 percent from the field (32 percent from beyond the arc) and 62 percent from the line as a rookie last year. This year, Barrett has improved those percentages significantly (45 percent overall, 36 percent from beyond the arc and 74 percent from the line).

"I think he learns from each situation. I think, you know, a big part of learning is trial and error (and) I think his preparation has been very good," Thibodeau said. "He watches a lot of film. He's watching film of his opponents he's watching film after each game. He's studying, he's getting ready. He's put in a lot of extra work in.

"So I think when you do those things, you'll improve. And he's a terrific worker."

DOUBLE-TEAMING TATUM

Marcus Smart knocked down a back-breaking three late in the fourth quarter that broke a 93-93 tie. Reggie Bullock came over to help on Jayson Tatum on the play, leaving Smart open from beyond the arc. Smart drilled the open three-point shot.

Thibodeau was asked about the sequence and doubling Tatum in his postgame press conference.

Here’s what he said: "Well any time you commit to putting two on the ball, you’ve got to understand what you’re willing (to give up). You’re going to be vulnerable in another area. You don’t want to give up open shots (but you will be vulnerable when you double team).

"And so, they have two dynamic scorers in Tatum and (Jaylen) Brown and when Kemba (Walker) plays they have a third. So you go in with your game plan and you know that, particularly in the fourth quarter, you have to be committed to putting two (defenders) onto them, so that’s part of it."