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Ready or not, here comes RJ Barrett

RJ Barrett Knicks
RJ Barrett
Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports

Maybe it’s time to remove the first word of the term “consolation prize” when talking about RJ Barrett. 

Sure, the Knicks lost out on Zion Williamson and Ja Morant when they came away with the No. 3 pick in the 2019 draft — and the unordinate pressure that so commonly falls on young draft picks’ shoulders around this part of town were heaped on a then-19-year-old out of Duke whose game admittedly needed some refining to succeed at the NBA level.

Yet here is Barrett, the No. 3 pick of 2019 in Year No. 3 of his NBA career, and it’s all coming together.

The 21-year-old poured in 32 points in the Knicks’ dominating 108-85 victory over the Dallas Mavericks on Wednesday night; a solid answer to a 31-point outing on Monday against the San Antonio Spurs.

He’s now the youngest player in franchise history to post 30-plus points in consecutive games, providing further indication that a slow start hampered by the flu and COVID was just an anomaly and now, he’s ready to take Madison Square Garden over. 

Over his last seven games, Barrett is averaging 24.6 points per game while shooting 48.5% from the field and nearly 43% from three-point range. 

“I stayed aggressive,” Barrett said while trying to describe his recent run of star form. “I tried to read what the game was giving me.”

But it’s also what Barrett is wrenching from his opponents. 

The swingman continues to up the aggressive style of play that headlines his game when he’s at his best: A slashing, driving force to the hoop that exhibits his ever-improving strength and finish near the rim.

[ALSO READ: RJ Barrett adds signature moment in magic Knicks comeback]

Over his last seven games, Barrett has averaged 8.6 field goal attempts from six feet or less away from the basket while shooting at a 51.6% clip. In his previous seven games, he was averaging only five attempts from close range with a 45.7% success rate.

“RJ is steady, never gets too high, never gets too low,” Knicks head coach Tom Thibodeau said. “He’s putting in a lot of extra work right now, coming back at night to the gym. That’s a big factor.”

It’s no coincidence that the Knicks have won four of their last five, too, as Barrett continues to provide the most steady offensive presence for a team that is now back at .500 and a game out of a playoff spot at the halfway point of the 2021-22 season.

“There is no ceiling on what he can do,” guard Evan Fournier said. “When he scores on all three levels, he becomes less predictable, so that allows him to do what he does best, which is be aggressive and drive… When he plays like that, he makes the job easier for everyone because he draws a lot of attention, so hopefully, he keeps it going.”

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