There’s no denying that the Duke Blue Devils are the most dominant force in collegiate basketball at the moment. Duke Basketball is currently ranked first in the nation, has an overall record of 4-0, and beats their opponents by an average of 30 points per game. The Blue Devils have yet to look human while on the collegiate hardwood thanks to the performances of freshmen Zion Williamson, RJ Barrett, and Cam Reddish.
However, with Zion getting all of the attention from mainstream media and NBA front offices, are analysts and scouts counting out RJ Barrett as the possible higher NBA Draft prospect and overall better basketball asset?
Zion Williamson’s Incredible NCAA Performance
There’s a lot of evidence to support any basketball analyst’s claim that Zion Williamson will be picked first overall in the 2019 NBA draft. The 285-pound forward is currently averaging freakish numbers of 22.3 points per game while shooting nearly 75% from the field, 33% from behind the arc, in just an average of 23.5 minutes per game. Zion’s even impressed on the defensive side of the ball collecting six blocks in their 92-74 win against ARMY earlier this month and earning a total of five steals against San Diego State last evening.
Zion’s ball-handling skills up to par against collegiate level competition, he’s agile enough to push the ball up-court without needing to look for a guard to pass to and his insane vertical leap has turned him into a human highlight reel. So, why would any struggling NBA franchise pass up on an opportunity to draft a miniature prototype of what Lebron James would have looked like playing NCAA Basketball for the second fiddle on Duke in RJ Barrett?
RJ Barrett: The Slept-On Possible Number One Pick in the 2019 NBA Draft
In today’s NBA, if you don’t have at least one superior guard/wing player with elite ball-handling skills say goodbye to a deep run in the NBA Playoffs. For instance, the New York Knicks, Detroit Pistons, Cleveland Cavaliers, and Los Angeles Clippers all lack elite athletes at the guard position forcing them to play a slower and older style of basketball that most NBA coaches have made obsolete in today’s realm of pro ball. With RJ Barrett seemingly behind Williamson in depth ranking on this Blue Devils team, as basketball enthusiasts, we could be developing a false perspective of who’s a more valuable asset in today’s NBA.
Surprisingly, RJ Barrett is currently averaging higher numbers in points (24.0 points per game) and minutes (29.0 minutes per game) compared to Zion. Barrett has also been somewhat consistent and non-fearful of jacking it up from behind the arc averaging approximately 35% from three-point land.
RJ Barrett isn’t one of those combo guard/forward players who doesn’t solely rely on his athletic ability to impact a game. Barrett has a high basketball IQ and is one of the most dangerous athletes in NCAA Basketball with a full head of steam in the open court. He has the ability to get to the basket with ease utilizing either his speed or fundamental offensive skill set and knows how to create good floor spacing standing at 6’7. While Barrett’s individual strengths are exceptional, his ability to share the ball and pass effectively against opposing defenses is at an elite level as well.
With guards taller in today’s NBA, Barrett is the perfect prototype to matchup against some today’s longer guards and agile wing players. Barrett’s court awareness and knowledge of where to place his feet is at an elite level in comparison to his competition thus far. If Barrett can develop better defensive habits throughout his stint at Duke, he could possibly be the higher NBA Draft prospect come spring of next year.
What Zion Needs to Work on to Maintain his Overall Number One Status
Casual basketball fans are amazed at Zion’s dunking ability and how he’s pushed collegiate basketball into the forefront of fall/winter sports. But, with the NBA having veterans who know how to manipulate their opposition’s size and strength, his bully ball style of play may not be as easily adjustable to the professional league as RJ Barrett’s fundamental and overall style of play.
Standing only at 6’7, weighing 285 pounds, should Zion target the oversized power forward role? Or slim down to become more of a slasher? His conditioning hasn’t been problematic for the star forward thus far. But Duke has been trampling their competition with ease, Zion isn’t forced to play heavy minutes making it appear as if fatigue isn’t an issue for him. If he’s drafted first overall to a struggling team, he’ll have to play more amounts of minutes and make sure his endurance is up to par to match that NBA level of competition.
Not only will there be players who can match Zion’s strength, speed, and endurance at the professional level, he’ll also have to develop a more consistent jump shot from mid-range in order to become a better interior threat in the NBA. With a lot of Zion’s points coming in the paint or off of dunks, his insane field goal percentage is somewhat deceiving. If Zion decides to work on a soft jumper from both elbows of the court and knock that shot down consistently, he could become a large problem in the NBA sooner rather than later.
Zion Williamson has been providing the masses with amazing highlight clips and videos that are definitely watch-worthy early in this NCAA Basketball season. However, RJ Barrett does fit today’s NBA standard and needs better than the electrifying Williamson. With that said, if you were a general manager in the NBA and you had the first overall pick in the 2019 NBA Draft, who would you choose? Zion or RJ?
With that said, watch Duke’s dominant performance highlights against the San Diego State Aztecs below and be sure to catch both Zion Williamson and RJ Barrett take on the eighth-ranked Auburn Tigers tonight 8pm EST on ESPN.
UPDATE: The Duke Blue Devils defeated the Auburn Tigers, 78-72.