RJ Barrett attended a Puma event last week to unveil his first “player edition” shoe. Called Fusion Nitro RJ, the right shoe is blue, the left red.
A maple leaf on the tongue represents Canada. Red is also for his native land. Blue represents Duke. A Maple Mamba badge, also on the tongue, represents his high school nickname – in deference to Kobe Bryant.
Barrett said he will be unveiling a Knicks-specific shoe soon. The Knicks would rather he could unveil an All-Star shoe one day.
“I’m ready to be part of the conversation, to show what I can do,” Barrett said onstage when KnicksFanTV host Casey Powell asked about All-Star aspirations. “Every year I get better. No better time than now.
Barrett’s four-year contract extension that begins in 2023-24 will net him $24 million in the first year. The deal adds a $107 million guarantee with bonuses ranging from $1 million to $1.2 million each for All-Star, All-NBA or All-Defense nods.
If he becomes All-Star, it’s good business for the Knicks. Otherwise…
“I wouldn’t be surprised if this contract ends up looking like an overpayment,” an NBA staffer said. “But I don’t blame the Knicks for signing him for an extension. Expectations aside, he’s become a solid NBA starter who can attack. I don’t think he’s good enough to make your team’s top three. But some opinions of him are colored by expectations as the No. 3 pick in the draft.
Barrett, despite averaging 20 points per game, still has holes in his game, as evidenced by his low efficiency stats (his 46.6 effective field goal percentage is low).
He’s a career 69.7 percent free throw shooter — a modest number that has Knicks brass concerned because of how often he goes to the line.
Working this offseason in Los Angeles with coach Drew Hanlen, Barrett has been heavy with the fundamentals to further develop a pull-up midrange game off the dribble. He also worked on a more efficient finish on the rim.
“I’m making free throws this year,” said Barrett, who said team manager Allan Houston had been his main mentor. “I’m going to the basket so much, I’m bound to be fouled.”
Another scout said Barrett’s best attribute is his confidence, that he can have a terrible game or a terrible half and come right back and never lose an ounce of bravado. In addition, the New York scene does not scare the Canadian, whose mother is from Brooklyn.
But there’s a reason Barrett has been highlighted in Donovan Mitchell’s trade talks. Coming out of the draft, the worry was that the southpaw was only going one sided and his 3-point shooting would never come close to All-Star quality for a wing.
“He’s a dominant southpaw and he has to do a bit more – play defensively and not just wait for an opportunity to get the ball,” the staff man said. “He was never a guy I ever worried about. When Barrett got the ball in the corner for a 3, I wasn’t on pins and needles. Or even stopped play and isolation. We are comfortable being able to keep him.
Its durability is another often overlooked asset in budding prospects. Barrett has missed just 21 games in three seasons, having played 71 of 72 in the Knicks’ 2020-21 season 41-31.
“He’s a 22-year-old guy, but I don’t know if he’s good at anything,” the staff man said. “I don’t know if there’s anything he’s elite at. But he’s a guy who shows up to play, doesn’t miss games and is reliable.”
“Trying to figure out value and value, it will come down to whether he can improve to a point – his 3-point shooting, defensively, making plays for his teammates – that he is good enough to be your third best guy [on a top playoff team]. Then it will all be worth it and justify his project position and compensation. But it will never be a 1 or a 2.”