RJ Barrett knows Knicks ‘haven’t done anything’ yet

MIAMI — The statement was mocked, laughed at and dismissed.

In late September, on the first day of training camp, RJ Barrett said he felt the Knicks had the potential to “shock the world,” which drew derision considering their over-under for victories was 38.5. 

Five months later, the fourth-year wing isn’t looking so crazy.

In fact, he seems downright prescient.

Reminded of that statement he made, and given a chance for a victory lap, Barrett wasn’t ready to say the Knicks have proven their detractors wrong. 

“We haven’t done anything. We have 18 games left,” he said following shootaround, before the rampaging Knicks (38-27) beat the Heat, 122-120, on a last-second 3-pointer by Julius Randle. “We’re really just worried about getting this win.” 

The Knicks have been one of the biggest surprises in the NBA.

RJ Barrett
RJ Barrett isn’t getting ahead of himself.

They were just a game in the loss column behind the fourth-place Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference entering play Friday despite being picked to be a sub.-500 team that would be fortunate just to qualify for the play-in tournament.

Following a slow start, they took off in early December after coach Tom Thibodeau cut his rotation down to nine.

Since Dec. 4, they are 27-14 over half the season and look like a lock to reach the main draw of the playoffs for the second time in three years. 

“We believe in each other. We believe in ourselves,” said Barrett, who scored 17 points in the win. “It doesn’t matter if people say we’re the best team in the league. We believe in us and who we are and the work that we put in to go on that court every night.” 

Much has gone right for the Knicks, from health to Randle’s bounce-back season to Jalen Brunson’s star turn.

Part of Barrett’s preseason confidence involved Brunson. He could see in workouts what a difference the point guard was going to make. 

RJ Barrett scores during the Knicks' win over the Heat on March 3.
RJ Barrett scores during the Knicks’ win over the Heat on March 3.

“I watched him in the playoffs, too. You know he’s nice,” Barrett said. “We knew he was nice and just coming in, he’s helped so much.” 

Thibodeau has repeatedly said that a major factor during the Knicks’ extended stretch of strong play has been the selfless nature of the team.

Players, Barrett included, have pushed their egos aside for the betterment of the group.

Barrett hadn’t been closing games of late, replaced by newcomer Josh Hart in those situations, but he hasn’t publicly complained about it. He did close out Friday’s Knicks’ win.

Nor have his teammates. Derrick Rose preferred to serve as a mentor than seek a buyout.

Evan Fournier has been repeatedly praised for handling his demotion so well. 

“Because we want to win. It’s also a thing where you have to put your pride aside,” Barrett said. “What’s better than winning? If you win you get to go to the playoffs and then everybody eats off that. It’s not everybody has the best numbers, the best this, the best that. People get into the All-Star Games, get big contracts by being a winner, being a good team guy.” 

RJ Barrett drives to the basket during the Knicks' win over the Heat on March 3.
RJ Barrett drives to the basket during the Knicks’ win over the Heat on March 3.

When asked specifically about his own changing role, Barrett said: “I just play basketball. We’re winning, so I just play basketball.” 

Winning, it seems, is all that matters to the Knicks.

Brunson has refused to even discuss the playoffs until they arrive.

And Barrett had no interest in bragging about his preseason prediction, either, or reminding the experts how wrong they got his team. 

“We really don’t care honestly,” he said. “We have a close, really close-knit group. The guys in the locker room, everybody [is just] working, trying to be the best version of themselves, to put that together with the team. That’s really what we care about.”