R.J. Barrett is playing like the Knicks expected him to when they made the third overall pick of the 2019 NBA Draft.
“There’s no ceiling on what he can do,” Evan Fourner said after Barrett scored 32 points to lead the Knicks to an impressive 108-85 win over the Dallas Mavericks at Madison Square Garden last night.
Zion Williamson and Ja Morant were picked ahead of Barrett in that draft. Morant is a young superstar, Williamson has been a bust so far and Barrett is starting to show signs of justifying his draft status.
The 21-year old became the youngest Knick in team history to have back to back 30-point games as he scored 32 with 7 rebounds and two assists. It was ironic that Barrett broke a team milestone that was set by former Knick and current Maverick Kristaps Porzingis, who was not with the team because he is in Covid protocol.
The win snapped the Mavericks six game win streak. With the win, the Knicks got back to .500 at home (11-11) and on the season (21-21) and it was their 7th win their last 10 games.
The Knicks had a huge 54-39 advantage on the boards and shot 44% (12 for 27) from three.
After his 31 point performance in the win over San Antonio Monday night, Barrett completed the Texas two step with another strong showing against Dallas. The 21-year old was 13 of 22 and 4 of 7 from three.
In the last two games, Barrett is 25 for 42 and 7 for 11 from beyond the arc for a combined 63 points. When Barrett is the Knicks’ best player on the floor, the team has flourished. The Knicks are 5-0 this season when Barrett scores 30 or more points.
“He’s putting a lot of extra work in right now. He’s coming back at night and I think that’s a big factor,” coach Tom Thibodeau said after Barrett’s back to back strong games.
“When he scores like that on all three levels, he becomes less predictable so that allows him to do what he does best, be aggressive and drive,” Fournier said.
Fournier is starting to find his game. The free agent guard scored 13 points with 5 rebounds and 3 assists in an efficient 33 minutes, but it’s no coincidence that entire team is playing better with Barrett’s emergence.
“When he [Barrett] plays like that, it’s makes the job easy for everyone because he draws a lot of attention,” Fournier said after the game.
Mitchell Robinson was an absolute force inside. The Knicks center scored a season high 19 points, all in the paint, with 10 rebounds.
Barrett and Robinson are becoming a nice little combination. In the third quarter, the two combined for 19 of the team’s 28 points as the Knicks took an 84-66 lead after three. “Sometimes you literally just throw it up on the rim, you know Mitch is gonna get it, Barrett said. “I’m happy for him, he played great.”
All five Knicks’ starters were in double figures and combined for 91 of the 108 points.
Julius Randle had 17 points, 12 rebounds and 8 assists. The beleaguered Knicks forward got a break from the crowd torment as he looks to distance himself from the controversy from last week by playing well. “Julius is a pro,” said Thibodeau. “He’s navigated the ups and downs in this league for a long time.”
Dallas was playing shorthanded. Beside Porzingis, Willie Cauley-Stein is in Covid protocol, along with head coach Jason Kidd.
The Knicks did a nice job on Luka Doncic who shot 8 for 23 and 1 for 9 from three. Overall, the Knicks held Dallas to 8 for 37 from three (22%)
The Knicks have also picked it up defensively. In this last 10 game stretch, the Knicks are 7-3 and have given up 100 or more points only twice, while holding teams under 90 points, five times in that span.
Barrett knows how the Knicks need to play if they hope to maintain their recent success. “I think we’re gonna find success if we continue to do the little things,” Barrett said. “Just continue to work and be consistent throughout the rest of the season. As long as we do that, we’ll put ourselves in a good position.”