Knicks: RJ Barrett Quietly Making Case for NBA’s Most Improved Player

Julius Randle has been the Knicks player in this conversation all season long, but RJ Barrett has also steadily improved.

The NBA regular season is almost over. And unless anything crazy happens, the Knicks should make the playoffs for the first time in eight years. The Knicks have improved across the board as an organization, but one of the biggest improvements has come from RJ Barrett.

Barrett entered this season with a lot of skepticism from fans. There were plenty who believed in him, and plenty who didn’t. Well, he has proved just about all the doubters wrong this year in terms of how much he has developed.

The per-game numbers for Barrett don’t tell the entire story. He’s averaging 18 points, 6 rebounds and 3 assists per game. Those are only a slight increase from last year. However, his shooting percentage has increased significantly. He is shooting 45% from the field and 38% from three. These are a five and eight percent increase from last season, respectively.

Barrett has had his dud games during the season, but has also showed us his true potential. He has scored between 20-29 points 23 times in 52 games, or 44% of the time. In his last 40 games, he is shooting a phenomenal 46% from three, something none of us expected from him. And in the last month (16 games), Barrett is averaging 20 points a game.

Coach of the year candidate Tom Thibodeau has the Knicks playing hard every game, and it’s showing in Barrett’s in-game performance night after night. If you have been watching the Knicks this season, Barrett’s impact on the team speaks much louder than his box score often does.

The Barrett-Randle Connection

While Barrett is quietly making his case for Most Improved Player, the Knicks already have a favorite to win the award. Julius Randle is among other top candidates to take home the award. Randle is averaging 23 points, 11 rebounds and 6 assists a game this season and earned an All-Star selection. Him and Barrett have played the most minutes on the Knicks.

It’s been a breakout year for a lot of players in the NBA, and Barrett is on that list. Barrett, Randle and the Knicks are playing competitive basketball. In fact, they have been doing so pretty much the entire season.

I think that is what has enhanced Barrett’s game the most this season. Being in those close games during the final minutes. Experiencing the clutch moments. That is what ultimately helps you grow as an NBA player, not being down 30 in the third quarter.

Coming out of Duke, Barrett was used to playing competitive basketball every single night. He experienced the opposite his rookie year on the Knicks. But now things are better, just look at how his numbers have improved.

While Barrett is no Zion Williamson or Ja Morant out of the gate, he has proven himself as a quality NBA player and future star. He handles the New York media gracefully, something that is definitely not easy for a 20-year-old.

The Knicks have established Barrett and Randle as their top two players, and now just need to keep building on that and playing the way they have been as the playoffs approach.

Bottom Line

As of now, the Knicks are the eight seed in the Eastern Conference. However, the East is still tight, as New York is only two games back of the four seed. They’re a lock to make the playoffs thanks to the play-in format for the lower seeds, so all this hard work Thibodeau and the Knicks have put in will pay off in a playoff berth.

What Thibodeau has done with this roster is incredible, and the Knicks all of a sudden look like they have a future to build on. With around 20 games left in the season, it would be great to see Barrett and Randle finish strong and lead the Knicks to a first-round win.

Barrett playing in the playoffs, in only his second season, at 20-years-old, is something no Knick fan expected. Yet here we are. Barrett is improving rapidly alongside the entire team, and the sky is the limit for him.

While he won’t bring home the Most Improved Player Award this season, he has definitely entered the conversation. And if this improvement continues Barrett will be a favorite to take it home next season, and maybe even earn some All-Star votes!


  • Thomas Senerchia

    Lifelong sports fan fulfilling a childhood dream. I'll talk sports all day. Passion and hot takes are my thing... there's always a story. Yankees. NY Giants. Knicks. Texas Longhorns.  Yes... being a Knicks fan is rough, but my time will come (hopefully). Senior at Quinnipiac University in Connecticut.

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