RJ Barrett out to make believers in second NBA season with New York Knicks

RJ Barrett says he is using failing to make either the first or second All-Rookie NBA teams this past season as motivation heading into his sophomore campaign.

"It bothered me a lot," Barrett said Tuesday as the New York Knicks opened training camp. "Not going to lie. It bothered me a lot. I really don't understand why I wasn't on it. But it was motivation, motivation for next season. It was good to have an extra chip on my shoulder and just prove myself even more."

Barrett, the third pick in the 2019 NBA draft out of Duke, averaged 14.3 points, 5.0 rebounds and 2.6 assists in 56 games last season, but shot dismal percentages from every level -- 40% from the field, 32% from 3-point range and 61% from the foul line. As a result, he ranked last among 128 qualifying players last season in both effective field goal percentage (44.5%) and true shooting percentage (47.9), per ESPN's Stats & Information.

Still, when asked about those shooting woes, Barrett expressed confidence in himself -- specifically pointing to his free throw shooting's improvement as the season went along. After going 46-for-90 (51.1%) from the free throw line through the end of December, Barrett improved to 110-for-164 (67.1%) over the remainder of the regular season.

"Especially from the free throw line, I started off really bad, and that's what kind of got me to the percentage that I had," Barrett said. "Over the course of the year wasn't terrible. It was those first one or two months ... I'm actually encouraged to know I kind of started at a really low point, so the only way to go is up. The only way to go is up.

"[I'm] not really worried about that stuff at all. Whether it's shooting from the field, some NBA superstars in their rookie years, they didn't shoot well from the field. I shot better than some NBA superstars shot in their first year. So that doesn't bother me at all."

Despite entering just his second season, Barrett is all but certain to carry a heavy load. The Knicks don't have a single player over 30 years old on their roster, and Barrett is assured of being one of the team's primary ball handlers.

That has put him in a position where his new coach, Tom Thibodeau, expects big things from him and wants to see growth from his game overall -- not just improvement in his shooting numbers.

"Whatever slights that may have occurred -- whether it's the All-Rookie team or any of those things -- usually when you win, you get recognized," Thibodeau said. "So to focus on the winning part of it and not to attach, like, just scoring. I want him to be an all-around player.

"I want him to focus on his defense, his playmaking. I think the scoring is going to come. He's got a big upside to him. But also be a leader. How you practice, how you conduct yourself each and every day. How unselfish you are. Those are important parts of winning. And also to understand when to shoot and when to pass. I think that's a challenge for the entire team. And of course that's a big part of winning."

Meanwhile, Thibodeau -- not exactly one known for showering anyone, and especially young players, with praise -- was very complimentary of Obi Toppin, the No. 8 pick in last month's NBA draft.

"We're real excited about him." Thibodeau said. "He got in immediately. We sort of followed him in his draft preparation. His energy, his skill set, his ability to shoot -- I think offensively he's about as ready as a young guy can be coming into the league. Defensively, he's got to learn, he's got to grow, as most young guys do. But we think he's a great fit for what we're looking to do."

That said, Thibodeau -- well-known for being a hard-driving coach -- made it clear he won't be doling out minutes to the team's young players unless he believes they have earned them first.

"There's a lot that goes into development," Thibodeau said. "Oftentimes people say, 'Well, you have to play them in a game. And you do. But you also have practices, which is where it starts. You have to get that part down first. Then you have to have film study, meetings with your coaches and you also have to have the opportunity to use the G League.

"There's a lot of different ways to develop but also understanding the importance of winning and how important that is. Things are going to be earned. They're not going to be given to players. That's the way I think we have to approach it."