Let’s take a look at RJ Barrett, the 20-year-old sophomore on the New York Knicks.
Barrett has been a top 125 player in fantasy basketball this year, basically about as valuable as Kelly Oubre, Jr. (they’re both 90% rostered in ESPN leagues). Over the past month, though, Barrett’s been better: he’s #92 on the player rater the past 30 days.
After a dismal shooting December, Barrett’s efficiency improved. Since February 1st—the Knicks are 15-12 (same record as the Lakers)—RJ’s 3PT% went from sub-35% to nearly 40%.
Since the end of January, RJ’s averaging 17+ points per game, 5+ rebounds per game, 3 assists per game, and 39.8 3PT% shooting on 3+ 3PA per game. On the season, only 13 players are matching or exceeding those numbers: Steph Curry, Kevin Durant, Zach LaVine, Nikola Jokic, Jaylen Brown, Nikola Vucevic, Karl-Anthony Towns, Julius Randle, Paul George, Khris Middleton, Tobias Harris, Gordon Hayward, and Kyle Lowry.
Needless to say, RJ’s having a good stretch. Is this the new baseline for the young, promising wing? His true shooting percentage has definitely gotten better since his rookie season, but it’s still a little bit less than league average. Progress is progress, though. Barrett’s also cut down on his turnovers, while increasing his assists, which is lovely to see, and while his usage remains about the same as it was last year, his overall efficiency has jumped up, including on catch-and-shoot threes (40 FG% since February began; under 30 FG% prior). All of these are good indicators of an upward trajectory.
RJ Barrett put up his fourth double-double of the season— NBA Fantasy (@NBAFantasy) March 26, 2021
24 PTS - 5 AST - 10 REB - 49.5 FPTS pic.twitter.com/IkHb2Fc6Na
One area RJ could improve, and most likely will as he grows into his body, is on drives. Barrett drives to the bucket 13 times per game this season (the same as Kawhi Leonard). 24 players drive 13+ times per game in the NBA. RJ has the fourth worst field goal percentage on those drives—44.6 dFG%. Now, Darius Garland and Fred VanVleet have worse dFG% than RJ, but they have much better free throw rates: 89 FT% and 85 FT%, respectively, versus Barrett’s 76.5 FT%. In fact, RJ’s free throw percentage is sixth worst out of that group of 24 players, and his assist percentage on those drives is also fourth worst. Basically, he’s not sinking shots when he drives, he’s not sinking free throws efficiently when he gets fouled on those drives, and he’s not making passes on drives that lead to points. However, given that he’s still only 20-years-old, all of those things should improve over the next few seasons, especially his dFG%.
Barrett’s played the second most minutes on the Knicks this year. He’s a featured starter on one of the most important teams in the NBA, but the pub around him has been very quiet this season. Julius Randle has received most of the attention for the Knicks this year, but you can see their tandem forming into a nice core for a future Knicks contender (Randle’s an All NBA player this year, I think). You can see why New York wants an impact point guard, someone who can help take the burden off of Randle and orchestrate the offense to a better, more potent, degree, but the Knicks don’t have to rush that. Young point guards take time to develop, and older ones are expensive.
Regardless, RJ Barrett has undoubtedly improved as a player this year, with or without a strong distributor to help him along. His defense has improved, his shooting’s improved, and his ball-handling’s improved. Excellent green lights flashing.
There’s good reason to keep your eye on him for next year’s fantasy drafts. He’s 20 years old and he may be a top 100 player this year, and there’s no reason to believe that A) his shots or role will diminish in the future, B) that his efficiency gains will be lost, or C) that his body won’t continue to develop into Elite NBA Athlete levels.
RJ’s already highly rostered, but he may be a little bit underrated right now. Keep your eye on him, and maybe take him a few picks or a round early next draft season, just in case next year is when he really pops. On the other hand, if he continues to do well, maybe he’ll crack the top 75 this season?
Honestly, if you have Oubre on your fantasy team, wouldn’t you rather have RJ?