by Deb Seymour
As we draw nearer to the second anniversary of the Covid-19 pandemic’s impact on just about everything, one thing we’ve learned is that adaptability is key. Key to every day survival; key to maneuvering through a maze of information and disinformation; and key to trying to find at least a few occurrences every week that feel like “normal life” — occurrences that might even make us excited and distract us for a little bit. And while the Knicks’ season has been anything but normal (true for all sports teams these days), there have been some moments that just cried out “this is great hoops! We’re actually playing well!”
Of late, the Knick who’s most been providing those moments is RJ Barrett. A lot’s already been written and podcasted and commentated about Barrett’s recent hot streak; but his performance isn’t just about how he’s been playing to his projected capacity. It’s also about timing and leadership and most importantly, filling a void. Now, some of that void’s been due to the constant health and safety protocol player losses over the weeks. Some of it’s been due to player injuries. But a large segment’s been due to the Knicks coming out onto the floor several times a week and having no player who’s played consistently since Derrick Rose’s ankle surgery. Evan Fournier’s had several excellent offensive games against the Boston Celtics; Immanuel Quickley’s been pretty consistent with the minutes he’s been given; Mitchell Robinson’s been a bit of a revelation of late. But have the Knicks had one player who’s been the anchor and kept them in it just about every game? Until Barrett’s recent run, that’s a definite no.
We know this year’s Knicks aren’t a championship caliber team the way they’re currently constructed. But with a few more moves by the front office, a little more experience by some of the younger players, and a few solid draft choices, they might be able to push for a run deeper into the playoffs than last year’s one and done. Key to any potential for a deep playoff run, however, is consistency from some of the current players. And if RJ Barrett can keep doing what he’s been doing the last couple of games, the Knicks start to have a nucleus around which to improve. Derrick Rose and Kemba Walker when healthy bring experience and leadership to the team, but they’re both on the downward slope of their careers at this point. Julius Randle seems a question mark this season. There’s a spot ripe and ready for Barrett to fill — and at least for now, he’s filling it.
Here are Barrett’s abbreviated game stats since December 31st:
Against the San Antonio Spurs and the Dallas Mavericks, he was outstanding. Now Barrett’s role isn’t to be the most prolific three-point shooter on the team; it’s to bring the points and the assists however he can — and to be able to shoot from the field and do it successfully. If no one else on the Knicks with his proportion of playing minutes is going to have a consistently high field goal percentage, at least Barrett’s been doing it the past two games. Barrett’s said he’s feeling more comfortable now than earlier in the season. Let’s hope it lasts.
We’ve seen some exciting plays by Obi Toppin and even Deuce McBride and Quentin Grimes this season. There’s power in youth; a team’s youth is its future. But at least for now, these aren’t starting players for the Knicks — and it’s unrealistic to start what would be the reserves every game just because your starters aren’t getting the job done. That’s a symptom of a team that lives at the bottom of the standings and stays there. For better or worse, Rose won’t be back any time soon. Walker’s knee seems questionable. Fournier’s been hot and cold. Randle’s been an enigma. So if RJ Barrett’s ready for the spotlight, it’s ready for him. And fans couldn’t be more pleased for him.