New York Knicks rookie RJ Barrett starred in his first game as a professional basketball player, as he finished the outing with 21 points.
The New York Knicks lost their season opener to the San Antonio Spurs 120-111, falling to 0-1 to start the new campaign. Despite this, fans should be excited about how well rookie RJ Barrett played during his first taste of NBA regular-season action.
Barrett has received quite the fair share of criticism from NBA media and fans alike since being drafted third overall by the Knicks in June. Particularly during the Summer League, he struggled to score with efficiency and at times he was careless with the ball in his hands.
All of Barrett’s early growing pains are now behind him and his terrific NBA debut serves as proof that he is oozing with star potential.
In 37 minutes of play, he scored 21 points, grabbed five rebounds and came up with a pair of steals. Barrett converted on nine of his 13 shot attempts and he even managed to knock down a triple in the process.
At just 19 years old, he is the second-youngest rookie to ever score 21 in an NBA debut, with the youngest being none other than the great LeBron James, who was just 18 when he accomplished the feat.
Barrett was able to have an efficient scoring night due to the fact that he was relentlessly getting to the paint. San Antonio assigned Bryn Forbes and Derrick White, both of whom are very solid defenders, to guard the former Duke Blue Devil on most possessions.
They failed in keeping Barrett away from the rim due to the size and strength advantages he possessed over the two Spurs. He simply got to the hoop whenever he pleased.
Barrett showcased his already elite footwork when taking his defenders off the dribble. His first NBA bucket stemmed from a gorgeous Euro step against Trey Lyles in transition.
Barrett knows how to finish through contact and over rim protection, as throughout the game he evaded the length of Jakob Poeltl and got high percentage looks by knifing his way through the Austrian big’s contests.
As was mentioned before, one of the biggest concerns regarding Barrett’s offensive game was his negligence that he played with at times, but this was not a problem that arose during his first game as a pro.
Emphasized by his 9-of-13 shooting on the night, the 6’6″ forward did a great job of taking care of the rock, as he did not allow himself to get stripped by the defense on his drives. Unlike during his college days, Barrett did not force shots and he did not look to attack the rim unless there was a lane for him to do so.
He seems to be a significantly smarter basketball player than he was just one year ago, which is quite encouraging considering he has just scratched the surface of his full potential.
On the defensive side of the ball, Barrett used his quick hands to swipe at the ball and ended up with multiple deflections, which in turn led to fast-break opportunities and easy baskets for the Knicks. If he can consistently pressure the ball and force errant passes and turnovers, it would do wonders for a New York offense that is not exactly filled to the brim with elite offensive talent.
Barrett’s historically superb rookie debut should have Knicks’ fans tremendously thrilled about the youngster’s potential. He has a unique skill set for a player of his size and position, which points to the notion that he could be the franchise cornerstone for one of the world’s most famous sports teams.
Drafting the 19-year-old was a smart move by New York, as he is the kind of player who can lead the franchise back to relevancy sooner rather than later.