To Max or Not to Max?
RJ Barrett has made "The Leap." Does that mean he's worth the Max? A deep dive into Rowan's next contract.
Good morning! Very excited to see what y’all think of today’s piece, which I’ve been working on for quite a bit. It is also not my first or second or third bite at the RJ extension apple. Maybe fourth time is the charm for me. But first…
🏙 Game Night 🏀
Who: Knicks vs Hornets
When: 7:30 pm
Who’s out: Quentin Grimes remains out for the Knicks, and it sure sounds like Derrick Rose’s season is over. For Charlotte, only Gordon Hayward is out.
Halftime: click here to enter.
🗣 News & Notes ✍️
🏀 I’m leery to put anything in here that I haven’t been able to confirm myself or didn’t come from a reputable source, but there was an unsubstantiated report from WFAN’s Craig Carton yesterday that Julius Randle was so fed up after the Bulls game that he said he wants out. His body language as the final buzzer sounded certainly lends credence to the report.
Many, many more trade ideas on how to get Randle out of town to come in the next several weeks.
💰 To Max or Not to Max? 💰
Last Tuesday night, a few moments after the Hawks game (and, effectively, New York’s season) officially ended, Marc Berman sent out a tweet that made me absolutely lose my mind.
I’m not sure what exactly it was about the tweet that sent me over the edge. It was probably the fact that Berman has gone full wresting heel on the Knicks as the season has gone down the tubes and this one touched a nerve. Or maybe it was that he conveniently ignored Barrett’s strong start to the game to focus only on the negative. Also, it’s Berman. Do I need a reason?
Mostly though, I was bothered by Berman’s ultimate implication: that Barrett, despite elevating his game so thoroughly since the calendar turned to 2022, wasn’t deserving of a max rookie extension this summer. As a reminder, since New Year’s Eve, RJ is at 24.1 points, 6.2 rebounds and 3.5 assists. The other players to hit those same marks in that time: Joel Embiid, LeBron James, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Luka Doncic, Kevin Durant, Jayson Tatum, Nikola Jokic, and Karl-Anthony Towns. So basically half of this year’s All-NBA roster.
And the fact that I of all people would be bothered by this speaks to just how far RJ has come since his rookie year.
In case you’ve forgotten, I haven’t always been the biggest Barrett fan. Following his first season, in a line that many will never, ever allow me to live down, I named Caris LaVert as my favorite comp for RJ, noting that “everyone should be pleased if Barrett tracks his growth over the next few years.” LeVert, notably, was about to begin a 3-year, $52 million extension that he’d signed the previous summer.
At the time I wrote this, LeVert had just completed a season in which he averaged 19, 4 & 4 and was positionally ranked in the 92nd percentile for usage, the 35th percentile for efficiency, and the 77th percentile for assist rate for a barely under-.500 team. Currently, Barrett is three decimal points away from averaging 20, 6 & 31, with 91st percentile usage, 23rd percentile efficiency, and 80th percentile dishing for a (slightly worse than) barely under-.500 team.
Even with these similarities though, there are some key differences. For one, at the time I made the comp, LeVert had just completed his age-25 season, which was also his fourth as a pro. He was also a starter only two thirds of the time, and had the luxury of playing with the best version we’ve seen of Spencer Dinwiddie and, for 20 games, Kyrie Irving.
Barrett has had no such high level point guard to speak of, let alone two. He’s also 21, and in a notable difference we’ll explore more in a moment, is nearing the end of his third season. When you factor that stage of his progression with his 27.3 usage rate for the year (up to 29.9 since December 31) it puts Barrett in some pretty exclusive company.
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