Duke basketball great beginning to flirt with NBA stardom

Duke basketball (Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports)
Duke basketball (Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports) /

Former Duke basketball phenom RJ Barrett appears to be figuring it all out.

By limiting 3-point attempts and focusing on his strengths, RJ Barrett has served up consistent production in recent games. In churning out stat lines similar to his consistently prolific days as a Duke basketball one-and-done, the second-year New York Knicks guard — the No. 3 overall draft pick in 2019 — is now exhibiting the clear potential to one day become a perennial NBA All-Star.

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Between the past four outings, with his 22 points in Monday’s 91-84 home win over the Orlando Magic, Barrett is averaging 20.3 points, 7.5 rebounds, and 3.3 assists. Now, for the season, those numbers are 17.1, 7.6, and 3.4, respectively; in other words, he’s boosted his scoring as of late without at all shelving his penchant for snagging boards and finding open teammates.

In fact, with Barrett’s 10 rebounds versus the Magic, the 6-foot-6, 215-pound lefty has notched the first back-to-back double-doubles of his pro career (he had 19 points and 11 boards in a 30-point road win over the Boston Celtics on Sunday).

Plus, Barrett has put up these lofty stats without launching more than four threes in a game. Considering the 20-year-old missed 21 consecutive shots from deep during one four-game stretch in December, his newfound discipline beyond the arc is extra impressive.

Across this latest four-game stretch, which began after his dismal 5-for-18 shooting night in a 21-point road loss to the Charlotte Hornets on Jan. 11, Barrett is a combined 28-for-57 from the field (49.1 percent) and 20-for-22 from the foul line (90.1 percent).

Slicing. Dicing. Always attacking. That’ll work.

The impact of the Duke basketball product’s enhanced play

Even against opponents with a combined winning record, the marked improvements from Barrett have coincided with New York coming within striking distance of a four-game win streak. Two close losses aside, the suddenly hopeful franchise has won two straight and is one victory away from being .500 while sitting sixth in the Eastern Conference with a 7-8 record.

Talking to the media after the W against Orlando, first-year Knicks head coach Tom Thibodeau summed up his appreciation for Barrett’s positive effect on the squad in six words:

“I love the way he competes.”

Thibodeau continued:

“His attitude has been great, and he’s in a good place. People talk about his shooting, but he’s doing other things — rebounding well, great rim reads, high assist numbers. I feel his shooting will come around. He’s in a good rhythm now, and the sky’s the limit for him. He’s learning, as most young kids do.”

RJ Barrett and the Knicks — including another former Blue Devil guard in Austin Rivers, who has primarily come off the bench to average 8.7 points, 2.8 rebounds, and 2.5 assists in his first campaign with New York — begin a four-game road trip when they face the Golden State Warriors (7-6) at 10 p.m. EST on Thursday.

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