Knicks’ Tom Thibodeau not buying criticism of RJ Barrett’s defense


Tom Thibodeau doesn’t care what the stats — or a popular former Knick and current analyst — say. The Knicks’ recent defensive issues go way beyond RJ Barrett.

While the numbers aren’t fond of Barrett of late on the defensive end, and MSG Network’s Walt “Clyde” Frazier was critical of him during Saturday night’s overtime loss to the Clippers, the Knicks’ coach strongly pushed back in favor of the young wing before Sunday’s 108-97 victory over the 76ers at the Garden.

“Quite honestly, I look at some of those numbers and they’re meaningless to me,” Thibodeau said. “I haven’t seen a good ratings system yet defensively, and I think I’ve studied it pretty hard for a long time. I don’t buy into it the way some people treat it as gospel. You ask them what does it mean, and they can’t explain it.”

RJ Barrett defends Paul George on Feb. 4.

Barrett didn’t play Sunday against the 76ers due to a non-COVID-19 illness.

Barrett has struggled, according to the advanced stats, on the defensive end. His defensive rating on the season is 116.6, the second-worst on the team after Jalen Brunson. In January, it rose to 121.0 — nearly 12 points higher than his defensive rating in December — and the Knicks were outscored by 7.4 points per 100 possessions when Barrett was on the floor. As a primary defender, Barrett is allowing the opposition to shoot 46.1 percent from the field and 35.8 percent from 3-point range. As a team, the Knicks are holding opponents to 45.4 and 35.1, respectively.

In the loss to the Clippers after Barrett fouled Kawhi Leonard on a made shot, Frazier said: “Barrett has the distinction of being the Knicks worst defender, folks. They have all these stats now and he’s the worst guy.”

Tom Thibodeau isn’t buying the criticism about RJ Barrett’s defense.
Charles Wenzelberg/New York Post

Asked about those comments, Thibodeau said: “I usually don’t listen to the volume, to be honest with you. … It’s easy I think sometimes to pile onto someone. It’s not an individual sport.”

Now, the Knicks have not defended well of late, particularly since losing Mitchell Robinson to a fractured right thumb. Thibodeau has harped on the need for improvement from everyone, not any one player.

“The way it works, defensively, it’s five guys working together, and the people that are tracking things, there’s no context to it,” he said. “You don’t know whose responsibility it is to switch, you don’t know whose responsibility it is to show, you don’t know if there is a responsibility to stay down. You don’t know any of that.”

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