Tom Thibodeau’s greatest achievement as a manager could be turning RJ Barrett into a triple threat in attack. Barrett is expected to become the ultimate playmaker by showing the ability to score in the paint, score in the perimeter and distribute the ball to his teammates.
Barrett has already shown an innate ability to find his teammates. Mitchell Robinson was often the recipient of some nice Barrett alley-oop passes. He has a vision of finding shooters in the corner for the three open. His 2.6 assists / game only remind fans that he hasn’t yet scratched the ceiling to become a great playmaker.
Barrett’s assist rate of 12.7% ranks in the bottom percentile among the starting NBA guards and approaches the level of marginal starters and bench guards. Yes, Barrett shared the word with Elfrid Payton and Julius Randle, two players who cannibalized the number of assist opportunities available. Yes, Barrett also played with Marcus Morris for much of the season. However, it is imperative that Thibs maximize RJ’s vision and ability to find passing lanes.
A simple area for improvement is resisting tunnel vision. Barrett often fell victim to bad habits by driving in the paint and not making the kickout pass. Teams easily plan the game for Barrett, knowing his main goal was to score rather than pass. Once Barrett learns how to find open shooters, defenders will need to respect his directing skills. This will also allow him to drive in the paint more efficiently and draw fouls.
Thibs took advantage of the training of shooting guards who had a modicum of directorial skills, whether it was Jimmy Butler or even Zach LaVine. Barrett offers him another opportunity to nurture a wing playmaker. As silly as it sounds, Thibs should consider setting an assist goal for Barrett. Average at least 4-5 assists / game or rate the metric based on assists percentage. An ambitious goal of doubling his assist rate to 25% could help the Knicks win far more games than in years past.