Knicks Blog: Is RJ Barrett worth a max contract?

New York Knicks have important decisions to make going forward. The NY franchise will have to decide if RJ Barrett is a max player at some point during the upcoming season or the next offseason. Moreover, they’re seeing a chance to acquire Utah Jazz superstar Donovan Mitchell, but the Utah’s asking price has blocked a potential deal so far. Barrett will be eligible for a contract extension this season.

Barrett is eligible to sign a rookie extension following his first three seasons with the Knicks in which he posted 17.5 points, 5.6 rebounds, and 2.9 assists in 33.5 minutes per game with the franchise in 198 appearances. This isn’t an easy decision. If the Knicks want to avoid committing at least $193 million to Barrett through 2028, he’ll become a restricted free agent next summer.

Barrett has also been referred as a candidate in a potential package for Donovan Mitchell. If the rumors are true, then, the Knicks would like to avoid the decision on Barrett and leave the Utah Jazz to figure it out. Barrett has made strides as a defender and scorer the last two seasons after posting a respectable 14.3 points, 5.0 rebounds, and 2.6 assists as a rookie.

He has improved those numbers in each of his two subsequent seasons, capping off his best season as a professional this past year, when he scored 20.0 points per game to go along with 5.8 rebounds and 3.0 assists in 70 appearances. Ja Morant and Zion Williamson are the only members of Barrett’s draft class to average more points through their first three seasons than his 17.5 per game.

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It’s clear that the talent is there, but the numbers might have been boosted by the fact that the Knicks were bad during the 2021-22 season. In addition to that, the Canadian star shot inefficiently, making just 40 percent of his shots from the field and 34 percent of his attempts from beyond the arc. Barrett reportedly believes he’s a max player and he’s expected to demand a lucrative deal.

In a recent report, Marc Berman of the New York Post wrote that there is a belief around the NBA that Tom Thibodeau would prefer to include RJ Barrett in a deal instead of Quentin Grimes because he is a better defender and three-point shooter. Quentin Grimes has been on his rookie deal and has two more years in it.

Those kinds of reports show the Knicks are not so sure about Barrett status, and that’s pretty concerning. If they believe that a trio of Mitchell, Brunson and Barrett cannot be enough to field a champion team, then the Knicks have not much to go on as an organization, especially if they give up all of their draft assets to Utah.

Barrett Knicks
Photo: Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports

Giving max money to Barrett

As of July 1st, Barrett was eligible to sign a rookie extension which could be worth, if he was given a maximum deal, $185 million over the next five seasons. That deal would begin next summer (the start of the 2023-24 season) with an annual salary starting around $32 million per season. This will be the perfect scenario for Barrett.

It’s no guarantee that Barrett will be given a max contract, however. Even with the production to date, there are still holes in his game. He’s still not even an average jump shooter with a true shooting percentage that ranked at the bottom of the league. Sean Marks of ESPN claimed Barrett sees himself as a $181 million player.

After that, reports about finding “common ground” between the two sides emerged before the Knicks get involved in the Donovan Mitchell sweepstakes. When rumors about Mitchell potentially being on the trade block began in July, SNY’s Ian Begley reported the Knicks had “no interest” in moving Barrett in any deal.

The same was reported for the Utah Jazz, who will move to a full-blown rebuild and they might not be willing to pay Barrett. As of now, the rumors suggest Quentin Grimes has been the primary target in a potential Mitchell deal. Grimes has two more years in his current deal, which is much cheaper than keeping Barrett.

In a world that the Knicks acquire Mitchell and offer a lucrative max deal to Barrett, then the team ties $119 million of the available $150 million of the salary cap threshold to four players. The available financial flexibility to field a competitive and complete team will be very limited considering that the Knicks also paid Mitchell Robinson this offseason.

RJ Barrett Knicks
Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images

What Barrett brings to the table

Barrett turned 22 two months ago and just averaged 20.0 points per game. He’s a 6’6 (1.98 m) swingman with a modest 6’10 (2.08 m) wingspan and was battle-tested in a win-now environment the last two seasons. After the All-Star break, Barrett averaged 24.2 points, 6.2 rebounds and 3.8 assists per game with one of the highest usage rates in the league.

He was one of the most aggressive players getting in the paint as only 14 players took more free throws than him; 13 of them made the All-Star team, while the lone exception was Harrison Barnes. Despite getting to the paint, Barrett was inefficient in the restricted area shooting just 54 percent and having the second-worst percentage in the league only behind LaMelo Ball.

The Canadian forward showed flashes of his ability to make plays for others in his first three seasons. Assist Percentage (14.9) was up from his first two seasons and his TOV% went down to 9.9 despite having a usage rating of 27.6. Barrett also saw some strides as an on-ball defender this past season however he’s still away from being officially an effective two-way player.


Obviously, the Knicks are not in a hurry to sign their young star to a contract extension right now, as they try to figure out a deal with the Utah Jazz on Donovan Mitchell before making any decision on Barrett. However, there are many ways things can go. There’s also a scenario New York does not find common ground in Mitchell’s situation and they walk away from the negotiations.

It’s possible New York can put together an offer that doesn’t include the former Duke star, but after getting all those draft picks for Rudy Gobert, Danny Ainge and the Jazz may want a valuable player in return in the next blockbuster trade. If the Knicks signs him to an extension, he will be ineligible to be involved in any trade deal for the next year.

The NBA moves fast and the Knicks will face important decisions in the coming months. There’s a chance no extension puts a sour taste in Barrett’s mouth and the Knicks lose the former No.3 pick from another NBA team with ample space to offer a max deal. Phoenix’s devolving relationship with Deandre Ayton from last season is a cautionary tale in that front.






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