The New York Knicks struggle on offense. They rank No. 23 in points per 100 possessions and No. 22 in field goal percentage while attempting the second-fewest 3-pointers in basketball. Were it not for NBA All-Star Julius Randle, averaging 23 points on 46.8 percent from the field and 41.9 percent on 3-pointers, they would hardly be able to score at all.
But after blowing an 18-point lead and scoring only 20 points in the fourth quarter of Wednesday's loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves, the Knicks didn't turn to Randle for a chance to win on the final possession. They went to second-year guard, and former No. 3 overall pick, R.J. Barrett, who missed the winner for New York:
According to Timberwolves rookie Anthony Edwards, this was the plan. After the game, he revealed that Barrett was the player Minnesota wanted to shoot, taking a shot at the second-year Knick in the process.
"We told Jaden [McDaniels] try not to let [Julius] Randle catch the ball, we're gonna make somebody else beat us," Edwards said. "Gladly, R.J. Barrett caught it, and if he would've made the shot, we would've lived with it. I mean, because that's who we wanted taking the shot. We didn't want anybody else taking it."
By almost every measure, Edwards was correct. Barrett is shooting 44.3 percent from the field and 33 percent on 3-pointers this season, both inefficient marks. His field goal percentage falls to 42.1 percent in the clutch, and on the mid-range jumpers that tend to dominate late-game situations, Barrett has hit only 36 percent of his attempts. Minnesota was justified in preferring him to Randle in that situation.
But to hear a rookie call out another player like this is fairly rare, especially since Edwards has struggled himself at times this season. He shot only 37.1 percent from the field in his first 33 games, but has since improved to almost 41 percent in his past 15 while scoring nearly 24 points per game. As a rookie, Edwards is scoring in higher volumes than Barrett was a sophomore, though he is doing so less efficiently.
New York and Minnesota aren't traditional rivals. Playing in opposing conferences makes such an arrangement difficult. But who knows, after this game, two recent top picks suddenly have a reason to go at one another.