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RJ Barrett out ‘a week or so’: Who plays more and how will the Knicks respond?

RJ Barrett Knicks
New York Knicks’ RJ Barrett, right, drives past Brooklyn Nets’ Nic Claxton, left, during the first half of an NBA basketball game Wednesday, Nov. 9, 2022, in New York.
AP Photo/Frank Franklin II

After lacerating his finger two minutes into Tuesday’s loss against the Dallas Mavericks, RJ Barrett will now be sidelined for “a week or so” as he waits for the injury to heal. 

The injury comes at a poor time for Barrett, who was playing some of his best basketball, and the Knicks, who are also dealing with Jalen Brunson’s hip injury and Obi Toppin’s fractured fibula. 

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If Barrett were to miss a week, he would miss the next four games, against San Antonio (twice), Houston, and Phoenix. With Devin Booker also out for Phoenix, all four of those games should be winnable for the Knicks, especially as they try to regain the momentum from their eight-game winning streak. 

So how will the Knicks respond with Barrett on the sidelines? Who figures to see more minutes in his absence?

We got a taste of that on Tuesday night when Barrett left the game early. Instead of inserting another forward into the rotation, Tom Thibodeau played Immanuel Quickley for 51 minutes, Quentin Grimes for 48 minutes, and Miles McBride for 46 minutes. He also inserted Derrick Rose into the rotation for 12 mostly meaningless minutes. 

If Brunson returns for Thursday’s game against the Spurs, he will slide back into the starting lineup, which could shift Grimes to the starting small forward spot. Rose would likely go back to being out of the rotation, while McBride will still see a minutes bump in Barrett’s absence. 

There is an argument to be made that Cam Reddish should slide into the starting lineup as a true small forward. Quickley would then come off of the bench but still be able to play major minutes while Grimes moves over to forward for stretches. However, it’s becoming clear that Thibodeau has no intention to play Reddish since he hasn’t sniffed the court since playing nine minutes on December 3rd – before the Knicks began their winning streak. 

Reddish’s height (6’7″) and length would be useful on the glass but also as a perimeter defender. Especially when the Knicks face versatile hybrid scorers like Pascal Siakam and Luka Doncic. At just 23 years old, there is also potential for growth with Reddish, and if the team was going to give up a first-round pick for him less than a year ago, why not give him the chance now with the starting small forward out?

If Reddish remains locked on the bench, Knicks fans can expect to see more of the Isaiah Hartenstein-Jericho Sims pairing that has not worked too well of late. It will also mean that Julius Randle is the only true forward in the Knicks’ rotation. While Grimes can certainly play small forward, he’s just 6’4″ which has created some matchup problems against bigger, versatile forwards. 

The lack of forward depth also hurts the Knicks late in games when all of their guards have to play 30+ minutes while guarding aggressively on the perimeter, often against bigger and more physical players. The effects of that were seen directly on Tuesday when Grimes, Quickley, and McBride wore down late in the game. 

However, the offensive potential of Grimes was also unlocked with Barrett out of the game. Being forced into more of a scorer’s role, Grimes looked for his own shot and wasn’t afraid to fire at will from downtown. He was 7-of-16 from beyond the arc while notching 33 points to go along with six rebounds and four assists. 

Granted, Brunson was also missing from that game, and he will take back a lot of the playmaking responsibilities when he returns, but Grimes proved himself as a third scoring option for the Knicks, which is an important development. 

The favorable schedule and emergence of Grimes mean that the Knicks may not be as hampered by RJ Barrett’s absence as they could have been, but the injury comes at a rough time for Barrett himself. 

The lefty was coming into his own of late, averaging 23.5 points on 48% from the field over the last ten games. More importantly, he was shooting 46% from beyond the arc and starting to show the consistent shooting touch that he’s been working hard on in the offseason. 

At just 22 years old, Barrett’s potential growth as an inside-outside scorer is crucial to the long-term upside of this current Knicks lineup. It’ll now just be another week or so before fans get to see if that recent growth was for real or just a mirage. 

In the meantime, with both RJ Barrett and Obi Toppin unavailable, the other young Knicks will have to step up and fill the void. Perhaps one other young Knick will finally get himself another chance. If those things can come to fruition, New York could establish a depth that will make them a tough out in the playoffs or perhaps an intriguing trade partner at the deadline. 

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For more Knicks coverage, like this RJ Barrett story, visit amNY Sports

The New York Knicks recent drafts picks will need to step up with RJ Barrett out
Miles McBride, Quentin Grimes, and Jericho Sims of the New York Knicks