The Knicks had leaned upon Julius Randle through much of the early part of this season, as they did during his All-Star campaign a year ago. But the 26-year-old struggled on Saturday against the Pelicans, mustering only 10 points in 37 minutes.
RJ Barrett took that as a cue to grab the reins. The 21-year-old took over the game with his 35 points, eight rebounds and six assists. He converted 6-of-8 3-point attempts, including many down the stretch that sparked New York’s 123-117 win over the Pelicans.
All the while, a New Orleans star watched approvingly.
Barrett and Zion Williamson were Duke teammates before they both were drafted in 2019, after all. Williamson went No. 1 overall before the Grizzlies selected Ja Morant with the second pick and the Knicks selected Barrett at No. 3.
After the game, Barrett and Williamson briefly reconnected courtside.
Barrett shared more about that interaction with reporters during a post-game press conference.
“I saw him after the game,’’ Barrett said, via SNY. “He just said he was happy for me, stuff like that. But it’s cool. I can’t wait till he gets back out there on the court. It’s cool to just see him there, we don’t see each other often anymore because of the schedules.’’
Barrett Has Career Night vs Pelicans
Barrett’s 35 points against the Pelicans were a new career high, besting his previous high of 32.
Barrett, who averaged 17.6 points per game last season as a sophomore in the league, is averaging 17.2 points per game this season. He’s shooting 48.1 percent from the floor, up from 44.1 percent last season and 40.2 percent in 2019-20, when he was a rookie.
The Knicks improved to 5-1 thanks to Barrett’s late-game effort on Saturday. But the third-year rising star was quick to deflect any praise to his coach.
“That was Thibs,’’ Barrett said, referring to Knicks head coach Tom Thibodeau, per Berman. “He was running those plays for me in the end. That’s kind of reading the defense. That’s the type of player I am. I was happy I was able to show that today.’’
Thibodeau Weighs in on Barrett’s Big Night
Thibodeau, for his part, raved about Barrett’s performance – not just on offense, but overall.
“He was terrific — all-around game, start to finish, clutch shots, great hustle, great effort, rebounding the ball, tough shots,’’ Thibodeau said. “He got downhill. We needed it. They played hard as heck.’’
Perhaps Williamson’s presence had something to do with Barrett’s career night.
“I hope that’s not the case,’’ Thibodeau said with tongue in cheek, per Berman. “I love the way he approaches the game. He has a lot of pride. So whether it’s here or whether it’s in front of his Duke friends — Coach K watches a lot of his games and there’s a lot of Duke people in the league. He’s a busy guy. We’ll go with that. He did it because of Zion.’’