Duke Freshman Season
When R.J. Barrett showed up at Duke he was the number 1 recruit and the favorite to go number 1 in the draft. He also joined a stellar class with two other prospects rated in the top 3. The weirdest thing happened at Duke. Not only did R.J. Barrett live up to expectations, leading the ACC in scoring as a freshman which is pretty unprecedented. His ability to score at the college level on a Duke team with two other players capable of leading the team in scoring was down right impressive. The problem was Zion Williamson. Somehow scouts saw Zion play in high school but didn’t realize how good of a prospect he was. Maybe it was the fact that Zion played in a small private school league that wasn’t filled with NBA talent or even division 1 level talent. Whatever the case scouts really missed on Zion and they didn’t realize that his athleticism was once in a lifetime not just a big kid dominating his high school league. Even still R.J. Barrett was the leader of the team. Coach K trusted R.J. to take all the major shots and he initiated the offense more times than not. The problem with last season was that even though R.J. was dominating the competition and leading Duke in scoring he became somewhat of a scapegoat. Zion was efficient and never had too many games where he missed a lot of shots. Zion might have had the most efficient season of any freshman but lost in that dynamic was that Zion made a lot of his points on plays R.J. set up. It was easy for fans to just think R.J. was the reason that Duke didn’t win a national title but if you look at the team they didn’t have enough shooters to play off R.J. and Zion and coach K didn’t really have his best season coaching. If you doubt R.J ‘s talent take a look at the tape when he played Syracuse. This guy was going one on the Syracuse zone and winning. The crazy part about it the zone didn’t have to stay home on defense to respect shooters and they knew R.J. was going to the rack but they couldn’t stop him.
When the NBA draft came scouts where all on the Zion hype train and had even dropped R.J. to the third spot because of the rise of Ja Morant. Due to Zion and Ja’s athleticism scouts really looked at R.J. as an afterthought. What they missed on R.J. is that he is a plus athlete but his game doesn’t rely on athleticism. He like Lamelo lets his game be based on change of pace. When he is on the court it seems as if he is in full control. Not only that he has ice in his veins. There is a reason they call him the Maple Mamba. This dude can miss 20 shots and still will have no problem taking the next shot. That confidence right there is the difference between superstars and the rest of the NBA. Whatever the it factor is this guy has it. When we all look back we aren’t going to look at the Knicks as losers for getting R.J. but probably as time goes on people will realize the Knicks found a franchise corner piece. In the summer league early on he struggled which fed into the R.J. haters but as summer league went on he continually improved. He is not the first top prospect to struggle in summer league. Derrick Rose is just a recent example of a player to struggle in summer league only to win rookie of the year. Don’t be surprised if R.J. is the next rookie to struggle in the summer league and win rookie of the year.