On a day where the Knicks had one of their worst performances of the season, the team got back their third-year forward, RJ Barrett, from an illness. However, the 21-year-old has continued to struggle offensively.
In the Knicks’ 113-99 loss to the short-handed Denver Nuggets, Barrett scored just 13 points on 38% shooting and an abysmal 1-of-7 shooting from three. This has been a year-long struggle as the former first-round pick is averaging just 14 PPG on 40% shooting, down from 17 PPG and 44% shooting from a year ago.
While those numbers may be concerning to Knicks fans, coach Tom Thibodeau and Barrett are not worried about the offensive struggles.
“It's similar to last year. I have a lot of confidence in [Barrett] being able to work his way out of it,” Thibodeau said after Saturday’s game. “When you throw in he's been sick, and to me you get rhythm when you work. Last year, he got going when he started coming in every night to shoot. So there's no notion that you (work on your shot in the gym at night) sometimes, you got to do it all the time. So get back in the gym, get back to grooving your shot. Shoot a lot of threes and you'll start making more.”
Was Thibodeau criticizing Barrett publicly when he said "So, get back in the gym?" If you read the quote, it certainly seems like Thibodeau was critiquing Barrett. Even Thibodeau’s tone at the end of his answer made it sound like a criticism.
I’d like to note one thing here: I’ve covered Thibodeau for a brief time in New York. I’ve asked him dozens of questions why a player was struggling in a particular area of the game. In response to these questions, Thibodeau nearly always talks about the team as a whole instead of addressing the individual player. And even when he talks about an individual player, he almost always does so in positive terms. Prior to Saturday, I hadn’t heard him single out any player and publicly criticize him.
So, based solely on my brief time covering Thibodeau, I think he may have misspoke when answering the question. Or his answer may not have come off in the way he intended it to.
I’m sure Thibodeau and Barrett will be asked about it on Monday or soon thereafter.
So we’ll find out then if Thibodeau meant to publicly question Barrett’s work ethic. But, just based on my experience with Thibodeau, I think he may have misspoke. We’ll see.
As Thibodeau pointed out in his answer, Barrett has been under the weather recently.
Barrett missed the Knicks’ loss to the Chicago Bulls on Thursday for a non-COVID illness. The game prior, Tuesday against the Nets, Barrett tried to push through but only played for eight minutes.
“I was messed up. In the Brooklyn game I kept running back [to the locker room] and throwing up and going back out to try and play,” Barrett said. “I had to shut it down for a couple of days and I feel a lot better.”
But Barrett won’t attribute his poor shooting performance on Saturday to his sickness. Instead, he believes it’s the overall team trying to incorporate what worked well for them last season and mesh it with new players like Kemba Walker and Evan Fournier.
“I think we’re at the part of the season where we’re trying to figure it out,” Barrett explained. “Who we’re going to be, what we’re going to do every night and whoever we’re going to be we have to figure it out quick and make sure we stick to it and win some games.”
When asked why he’s been in his own personal “shooting funk,” Barrett couldn’t give a specific reason, but says that he understands how in the beginning of the year he and the team were trying to figure out the shots that he would get with new players.
But he now knows what he has to do to fix it.
“I’ve kinda figured that out now and I’ve just been working on the shots I’m going to get and certain other shots,” Barrett said. “I’ve been in shooting funks before and not too worried about it… Going back to the basics which you know works. After that, everything will figure itself out.”
Barrett and the Knicks’ next game will come in San Antonio against the Spurs on Tuesday night.