I distinctly remember the first time I heard of RJ Barrett. It was July 2017 and I got a notification on my phone that Team Canada was beating Team USA in basketball. Frenzied, I tuned in to see it was the U19 competition . As I watched the game, two players stuck out. The first was Grant Shephard, a 6’10 center that I’d seen play a couple of times in British Columbia. I never got to play against him, but he was a Provincial Championship and won the Tournament MVP in 2016.
However, one player in particular caught my eye. He was pretty tall and athletic, a good ball handler, and was just pouring in buckets on the American team. I never thought I’d see the day where Canada beat the USA in basketball, but this guy made it happen. I checked the box score to see just how dominant this #6 had been: 38 points, 13 rebounds, 5 assists. My eyes scanned across the page to find a name: RJ Barrett.
From there, I followed the rest of Barrett’s amateur career very closely. It was so cool to see the consensus #1 high school player – and projected first overall draft pick at the time – be from my home nation as well as my age. Though Duke did not do as well as expected in March Madness, Barrett still had a fantastic year and wound up being drafted 3rd overall by the New York Knicks. Barrett will have a lot of pressure on him to produce playing in New York. While he’s very talented, there remain some questions that need to be answered. Here’s a deep dive into RJ Barrett.
Simply put, RJ Barrett knows how to put the ball in the basket. He can get into the paint seemingly at will, and is strong enough to finish around the rim. While he’s no Zion, he’s tall and athletic, enabling him to finish over smaller players and throw down whenever he gets the chance. Many forget it was Barrett, not Zion, who led that Duke squad in scoring at 22.6 PPG. While he is not a one dimensional player, scoring is Barrett’s claim to fame.
People often overlook Barrett’s passing. His 4.3 APG in college is pretty good for an off-guard. Standing at 6’8, he has a height to see over the defense and find the open man. Judging by the options he had available to him at Duke vs what he should have in New York, expect that number to increase, even in his rookie season.
I wouldn’t say that Barrett is a stalwart defender, but at least he makes an effort, and that’s usually good enough for rookies. He’s a good rebounder (7.6 RPG in college) and he had plenty of highlight plays of defense turning into offense. With his speed and length, he should be adept at jumping in passing lanes and getting deflections, much like James Harden. I don’t think he’ll become an elite defender during his career, but he won’t be a negative on that side of the ball, so that’s something.
Speaking of negatives, there are some facets of the game where Barrett struggles. As the college season wore on, it became evident that RJ was heavily left-handed, so much so that he almost exclusively went to his dominant hand. As someone who’s played basketball his whole life, I know the importance of being able to use the off hand when it comes to dribbling and finishing. If Barrett only goes to his left, he will be very easy to stop. He needs to get better with his right hand in order to keep the defense guessing and to avoid awkward finishes at the rim.
Tied into his handle, Barrett also needs to improve his decision making. The combination of his predictable moves and poor choices often lead to untimely turnovers. Often being tasked with creating offense for his team down the stretch, it is imperative that he tightens his handle and increases his basketball IQ to avoid mistakes that take his team out of games.
Finally, the biggest knock on Barrett is his inconsistent jumpshot. He shot 30.8% from three and 66.5% from the free throw line in college, both somewhat concerning numbers for a shooting guard. In today’s league, it’s hard for a guard to be an effective scorer without being able to shoot from beyond the arc. Additionally, with all the contact he’ll get attacking the rim, he’s going to need to convert at the charity stripe. If he can become respectable from deep, it can open up the floor for both himself and his teammates. His form needs a little bit of tweaking – Lethal Shooter? – but hopefully he becomes more consistent with his jumper, especially since he can shoot over most guards and wings.
Overall, I believe RJ has the ability to become a star in the NBA. He seems like the type of player who could one day average 25+ points on a contender. If I had to compare him to a player, I’d say he’s a poor man’s James Harden. He’s bigger and more athletic than Harden, but not as good of a shooter (yet). I expect him to get out to a slow start to his rookie year, but gain steam as the season goes by and end up with a solid campaign.
Stats Predictions: 15.3 PPG, 5.4 RPG, 5.3 APG, 1.2 SPG, 0.7 BPG, 43.4% FG, 34.1% 3FG, 73.5% FT
Accomplishments: All-Rookie First Team, 3rd Place in Rookie of the Year Voting