When RJ Barrett listed the areas he wants to improve on this summer, Obi Toppin chimed in.
“Free throws,” Toppin said, as he waited to start his own news conference after the Knicks’ practice on Tuesday.
“My free throws are fine,” Barrett replied. “I had a little flop in a couple of games, but other than that, my free throws are fine. He’s probably been shooting over 80 [percent] since the All-Star break, Obi.
In fact, he’s shooting 75.4 percent from the break, but that’s beside the point. Before that interjection, Barrett had mentioned two areas in which he will spend the summer trying to improve. The demise of him, particularly once he enters the painting. And I throw it at him, particularly from the corners. He knows what he wants from the next five months.
Barrett had six assists in the Knicks’ win over Orlando on Sunday, close to his season high, and sees the performance as something of a template.
“You know me, I’m stubborn, I go to the hoop,” he said. “I am a stubborn child. I go to the rim and even if there’s a 7-footer down there, I can score over him.”
No one will criticize Barrett for his confidence. But, he acknowledges, he could make more of the right plays in those situations.
“For me, I’m really thinking about those reads when I get to the paint, just increasing my assist totals,” he said. “I want to be able to involve my teammates more while still doing my thing.”
As for his shooting, Barrett’s 3-point volume has improved this year, if not his percentage. But a look at his shot chart shows he’s taking his 3s from the top of the arc at a much higher base than the corners, where the distance is shorter. Plus, he’s shooting about 31 percent when he takes shots from there.
“Find my shot,” he said. “Number one, find my shot in the corner.”
Barrett, 21, has become a budding face of the franchise this season, averaging 20.1 points and 5.9 rebounds. It is clear that he loves the role. It’s been clear since the night he was recruited.
Despite his age, he has also carved out a leadership role for the Knicks.
“He’s the first to get here, one of the last to leave and we always see him there working,” Toppin said. “That’s the first thing, lead by example, and he is very eloquent. He is talking to everyone, telling everyone what they need to fix or what they need to do to help the team.”
Barrett doesn’t feel the pressure from New York. Good or bad, he hugs him. He wants to lead the Knicks back to the playoffs next season for the second time since 2013, and listen to the Garden’s adulation well into the spring.
“I think he’s been through great stretches before,” Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau said. “Playing at Duke prepared him for this. And he is connected in a certain way.”
This summer will mark the opportunity to put your future on paper. Next season is the last on Barrett’s rookie deal, and he could end the speculation by signing an extension during the offseason.
“[Of] Of course, I’m interested to see how that will end and how it will work out,” Barrett said. “For now, I’m still in the moment.”
He deflected a few more questions about an extension. But one piece of the puzzle is unambiguous.
“I love everything about being a Knick,” Barrett said. “Yes, 100 percent, [this is] the place where I want to be.”