Rookie Watch 2019-2020: RJ Barrett
(photo cred: SI.com)
If you have read any of my work over the past year, you are well aware that I am an RJ Barrett truther. All journalistic ethics go to the wayside when writing about the third overall pick in last year's draft. I promise, however, I will tell you the good, bad and ugly when reviewing Barrett's year so far.
Boy, that hurt to say. So to put me in a good mood again, I will tell you about some of Barrett's highlights from his freshman campaign.
Want some to see those ethics I was talking about earlier? Barrett's pick and roll ballhandler numbers are atrocious. Throw up in the mouth type of gross. Yet, the eye test shows obvious potential. Plus, getting your pick and roll numbers to a respectable place while playing for the Knicks is a tall order.
Barrett's greatest strength may be getting to the rim. Does he have trouble finishing there? Yes. Still, it is clear that RJ inherited some vision from his godfather Steve Nash. Watch him get down hill on this pick and roll drive only to find Julius Randle hiding in the corner for a triple.
Let's gradually increase the degree of difficulty. This assist also comes via the pick and roll. In this next clip Barrett decides to throw a crosscourt dart with his offhand. Try this pass during your next pickup game if you think it is a routine NBA play.
This next assist comes off of a broken play but may the most impressive yet. Barrett makes something out of nothing by driving to the rim against a combined three All-Defensive team awards and arguably the best defensive trio in the game today.
Barrett takes advantage of Embiid's blocking prowess and baits him into thinking a shot attempt is coming. Ben Simmons and Al Horford come along too. Then, Barrett rifles a pass to Taj Gibson who takes care of the rest. Watch this clip and tell me when Barrett looks back to know Gibson is coming. Spoiler Alert: he doesn't. You can't teach this type of feel.
You can type "RJ Barrett point guard" into Google and figure out I may not be the only one thinking that the former Blue Devil could experiment with a position change. That will remain a fun question to monitor throughout his career. There are more pressing matters to ponder, however.
Throughout his first 15 games as a rookie, Barrett hit a respectable 36.2 percent of his 3.1 3-point attempts per game. Things went south in a hurry. Since then, Barrett has slightly upped his attempts but seen his percentage drop to 24.4 percent. What works and what doesn't?
Barrett has found only minor glimpses of hope when shooting catch-and-shoot triples. Although he is shooting only 32.4 percent on all C&S attempts, that number increases to 34.6 percent when launching them from the corner. Perhaps this is due to Barrett's need to be aligned with the hoop. Shooting from a smaller distance probably also helps his accuracy.
So, what happens during all of those misses? Fortunately, for both Barrett and curious fans alike, Barrett's flaws can be identified when studying his arm mechanics. Watch how far beyond a 90 degree angle his elbow takes during this attempt. Additionally, a keen eye may notice that his follow through extends too far upwards.
More of his shooting woes trace their origins back to the upper body. This video is slowed down so you can watch Barrett's shooting hand. Why does it kick out to the side during the follow through?
While he shoots, RJ does two distinct things that frustrate me. Firstly, he almost always dips the ball too low. Sure, some shooters have had success while doing this (see Smith, JR.) But this excess and elongated motion only allows for more things to go wrong during the shot.
Secondly, Barrett is no stranger to doing odd things with his guide hand. What does Barrett's guide hand have in common with an ex-girlfriend who said she wanted to stop by to pick up her sweats? They both awkwardly linger too long. You do not need to be a shot guru to know this needs to be addressed.
There are some signs of life, though. Perhaps Barrett's best 3-pointer of the year came off of the bounce. Although the dip is still exaggerated, the upper body mechanics look smooth and the shot comes off clean with a nice arc to it.
I mentioned the ugly earlier in this piece. What could that be? A once-over of Barrett's free throw numbers should make you shudder. His free throw attempt rate stats are noteworthy but Barrett cannot complete the plays. He is hitting below 60 percent from the stripe.
Getting to the line is almost required for players to reach superstardom. Barrett does a great job of that. Cashing in during these freebies is another story. As of now, RJ is taking a physical beating and not capitalizing. What's more, this low percentage does not bode well for his career perimeter shooting prospects.
Overall, Barrett's first year in the league is going as expected. The Knicks are arguably the worst team in the NBA. Surely, this has not helped polish Barrett's game too much. Tight closeouts on 3-pointers happen often and that certainly does not help his percentages.
Still, Barrett must work on finishing in the paint and converting at the line. His body is NBA ready and there is much to like about his shot selection. Will these shots start to fall? The rest of Barrett's rookie season, and perhaps his career trajectory, will depend on this question.