Knicks push back on scathing ‘middle’ critique

by NEW YORK DIGITAL NEWS


BOSTON — As the NBA world awaits and compels the Knicks to raise their “middle” ceiling with a blockbuster trade, RJ Barrett seems comfortable with being doubted.

“First we were never going to be good. Now we’re good and now we’re not good enough, the forward said. “ I think we do, for not having the best player, we do very well for ourselves.”

Barrett’s comment Friday followed a pointed critique from TNT analyst Kenny Smith, who declared his hometown team’s biggest issue is it doesn’t have the best player on the court in matchups against the seven other top squads in the Eastern Conference.  

“This is why the Knicks are going to stay in the middle. Every game they play, they’re going to have the second-best player,” Smith said on a recent TNT broadcast. “You play Boston, you got the second- or third-best player. You play Orlando, with (Paolo) Banchero, they don’t have a player that’s better than Banchero. Milwaukee, we know they don’t. Philadelphia, they don’t. The Indiana Pacers, Tyrese Haliburton is the best player on the floor. If you play the Miami Heat, Jimmy Butler is the best player on the floor. You play the Cleveland Cavaliers, you have Donovan Mitchell. You don’t have the best player on the floor.”


RJ Barrett #9 of the New York Knicks handles the ball during the game against the Milwaukee Bucks
RJ Barrett didn’t seem concerned with Kenny Smith’s Knicks take. NBAE via Getty Images

The Banchero reference might be off a bit at this stage in the power forward’s career, but Smith’s point still resonated.

Despite a respectable 12-8 record before Friday’s game in Boston, the Knicks have struggled against the upper echelon.

Their 0-4 mark against the Celtics and Bucks had reinforced Smith’s contention that the Knicks are “in the middle,” which is an upgrade over most of the last 20 years but still tough to swallow in the fourth season under the same front office.  

So the drum is beating louder on the Leon Rose and William Wesley, aka World Wide Wes, who’ve been sitting on top of draft picks and treading water while “monitoring” the star trade market. 

A big problem is there’s currently no clear target for them to currently chase.

They passed up on chances to acquire Mitchell, Damian Lillard, Jrue Holiday, James Harden and Bradley Beal.

The Joel Embiid chatter has died down with the Sixers thriving.

The situation is similar in Minnesota with Karl-Anthony Towns.

Mitchell was always a more realistic target in the summer, rather than mid-season.

Perhaps Zion Williamson will jar loose.


Jalen Brunson #11 of the New York Knicks is defended by Malik Beasley
Jalen Brunson has seen how far the Knicks can go in the face of doubters. Getty Images

Either way, the Knicks have to keep playing games and can draw upon experience in proving detractors wrong.

They have one All-Star — Julius Randle — and one potential All-Star — Jalen Brunson — and a wing – Barrett — capable of averaging 20 points. 

But they aren’t considered superstars.

None were in the top-30 of ESPN’s top players before the season.

“I remember at the beginning of the year last year, people were counting us out, and then at the end of the year, we end up making it to the fifth seed and winning the first round and moving on and being close to going to the conference finals,” Brunson said. “So it’s all about how you get better every single day. Whether people think you have it or don’t, it’s all about how you can be the best team at the end of the year.”

Barrett, in particular, understands the rollercoaster.

He joined the Knicks in 2019, right after they failed to sign Kevin Durant.

He was part of the trade negotiations last year for Mitchell that fizzled out.

He knows to keep his head down, focus on the season in front of him.

And if they win, the Knicks can elevate themselves from the midcard. 

“We’re okay, we’re in an okay position right now. Obviously we have to get better,” Barrett said. “Games like (in Boston) are very important. Figuring out how to win these games, especially on the road, will be very good for us. I think we’re in an okay spot right now but we have a lot to do to get to where we want to be.”





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