The Knicks were in Indiana last night (Wednesday) to take on the Pacers, the second game of a three-game road trip which concludes tomorrow night against the Toronto Raptors. They had a solid 121-109 win on Tuesday versus the San Antonio Spurs, ending a three-game losing streak and getting back to .500 at 12-12.
RJ Barrett, who has gone through a tough stretch over the past month, broke out of a slump scoring 32 points, including making seven of eight three-pointers. The 6-foot-6 21-year-old’s struggles are a microcosm of the Knicks’ uneven season and their laborious pursuit of positive balance. After finishing as the No. 4 in the Eastern Conference at 41-31 entering the playoffs, the Knicks were sitting 11th in the 15-team East following their victory over the Spurs.
Barrett was the Knicks’ second leading scorer behind Julius Randle—who was averaging 19.9 points before facing the Pacers—at 14.8 ppg when the Knicks tipped off last night. His numbers in points and assists (2.1) are down from a year ago while he was rebounding (5.8 per game) at the exact same rate. Barrett ended the 2020-’21 regular season at a clip of 17.6 points, shooting 44% overall and 40% on three-pointers. He went into the Pacers game with a 40.7 shooting percentage and converting just 34.7% (42-121) on three-point attempts.
The Duke product is also playing less minutes—31.3 this season compared to 34.9 last season. Barrett’s 2,511 total minutes played a season ago was second in the NBA, trailing only Julius Randle’s 2,667.
“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 on Saturday at Madison Square Garden, where the Knicks fell to the Denver Nuggets 113-99. “I’ve been in shooting funks before and not too worried about it.”
Knicks head coach Tom Thibodeau took a pragmatic view of Barrett’s shooting regression. “It’s similar to last year. I have a lot of confidence in him being able to work his way out of it,” he asserted. “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 get back in the gym, get back to grooving your shot. Shoot a lot of threes and you’ll start making more.”
The Knicks will host the defending NBA champion Milwaukee Bucks at the Garden on Sunday ahead of taking on Stephen Curry and the Golden State Warriors at MSG next Tuesday.