Struggling RJ Barrett has defensive superlative among Knicks goals

By his own admission, RJ Barrett is off to another slow start to the season.

The third-year Knick has had a pair of rough shooting nights through the first three games, but it’s not just offensively where he is aiming high.

“The biggest part I’ve been trying to work on is my defense. I want to be first-team all-defense,” Barrett said Monday after the Knicks practiced at their training facility. “I want to be that guy for this team. So just looking at that, can’t give up anything easy. Try to make every night a struggle for anybody I’m guarding.”

That’s likely music to the ears of his defensive-minded coach, Tom Thibodeau, especially coming off a loss to the Magic in which the team’s defensive intensity was not where it needed to be. Thibodeau preached the importance of being able to contribute even when shots aren’t falling, as Barrett’s were not in his 5-for-17 shooting performance Sunday, including 1-for-7 from deep.

“I’m not worried about RJ. He’s a terrific player,” Thibodeau said. “There’s gonna be some ups and downs. We have to figure things out and get better. But I think he has confidence in who he is and it’s come from his preparation, which is important. We are asking him to do more this year, but I think he’s ready for that challenge.”

Coming off a sophomore season in which he made big strides, Barrett is averaging 12.7 points on 38.9 percent shooting and 21.1 percent from deep through three games. But the former No. 3 pick did not think his increased focus on the defensive end should impact how much he can give offensively.

“Not at all,” he said. “You look at any of the great players. Jimmy Butler’s a great example. His defense doesn’t take away from his offense. Michael Jordan was great defensively. I have the stamina, I have the ability to do it. It’s just a matter of doing it.”

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