It’s undeniably been a rough season, and things hardly look like they’ll be changing. But at least we can take solace in the young guns of the roster beginning to take shape as impact players.
Quentin Grimes has been a standout candidate for a 25th overall pick, as our own Mikey Murphy details, Immanuel Quickley has found his groove again, and Miles McBride and Jericho Sims have had spot instances of fun basketball for an otherwise deprived roster.
But most importantly, the Knicks’ third overall pick in 2019, RJ Barrett, has shined brighter and brighter as the year goes on. Sadly, he fell to an ankle injury that has kept him out for a few games now, leaving the Knicks with a 25-34 record heading into the All-Star Break.
Have no fear, though, as his return is imminent, and could be the difference between a lottery bound team and a play-in sensation.
Maple Mamba Mania
Barrett has not played since February 8th, when he hurt himself late in a blowout against the Nuggets.
Prior to that, however, he’d been making headlines all season, particularly after an outstanding month of January in which he averaged 21.8 points, 6.0 rebounds, and 3.2 assists on shooting splits of .436/.402/.681, bringing the team to a 7-8 record on the month.
His efficiency took a hit to start February, but he was making the most of what he could get against teams with solid defenses and posting good scoring performances. Barrett is now up to an average of 18 points per game on 41.2 FG% and 35.4 3PT% in 5.6 attempts, the most of his career thus far.
He, unfortunately, missed the All-Star game, though even if he wasn’t injured, I’m not sure he’d be considered as a replacement given the talent in the Eastern Conference. Nonetheless, he’s begun to build a repertoire as the Knicks’ fighting spirit, even receiving praise from LeBron James who, I’d say, most people should be more than grateful for.
Revenge of Rowan
Ultimately, Barrett should be hungry for wins once he’s back.
The Knicks have the fourth hardest strength of schedule for the rest of the season, per Tankathon, and they’ll need Barrett’s continued aggression if they hope to succeed. Julius Randle has had his moments with and without Barrett, but he needs RJ’s help keeping this team afloat, regardless of how anyone feels.
You might remember this from a while back:
Despite having a shaky game, and without a track record of hitting these kinds of shots, Barrett iced the Celtics, and his legend only grew from this point forward. Slowly but surely, the Knicks have instilled in Barrett a game-clinching spirit, he just has to further let that loose.
There are 23 games left to do so this season. Barrett’s greatness has come and gone all season, but it seems he’s found a bit of consistency of late, and when he’s fully recovered from this injury, we can only hope he picks up where he left off.
CBS News recently reported Barrett should be returning after the All-Star Break, news I’m sure most Knicks fans was eager to hear.
Making something out of nothing
Circling back to the rest of season expectations, if nothing else, we can take away from this team that Barrett was able to combat an atrocious slump by having major performances against some of the better teams in the league, narrowly missing a chance at victory at each stop.
As a Knicks fan, you hate to settle for moral victories, but that was typically the case in seasons where this team would win less than 20 games.
They’ve had a rough go of things, and I’m sure Leon Rose and company are regretting some of the offseason moves that took place, but that doesn’t mean the Knicks are at a complete loss.
We finally got a chance to see a heroic Barrett at work, and younger players thrive in a Tom Thibodeau led system, albeit at the bare minimum. If this season was a learning experience to gauge what more they need to be the best, so be it.
The Chicago Bulls, for instance, have been one of the best teams all season, and have even been compared side by side to the Knicks when discussing postseason moves relative to this year’s success.
Admittedly, the Knicks have not been good, and we as fans tend to heighten expectations, especially after the best season in nearly a decade. That said, I would like to see what more Barrett can do to bring this team back to the postseason, saving us from utter embarrassment.
The Knicks are not far off from a play-in spot, though that should have never been something the fans settle for. Nonetheless, though we are not Sith, we must deal in absolutes. Everything is “on the table,” so to speak.