If all reports are truthful, the Knicks will draft RJ Barrett with the third overall pick next Thursday. Get to know the Duke prospect with a detailed breakdown of his game.
The Knicks Wall is setting a spotlight on the top prospects in the 2019 NBA Draft. Follow along with weekly features on the draft and players. We’re almost there: next up is the much-discussed Duke swingman R.J. Barrett.
On June 20, 2019, the New York Knicks will select third overall in the NBA Draft. It’s the highest selection the team has had since it drafted Patrick Ewing first overall in 1985, and a spot that has churned out some truly prolific players.
Barring a trade or drastic change in strategy, the Knicks will select R.J. Barrett—one of the best players in college last season and the emerging face of Canadian basketball. Barrett was the consensus top pick heading into the season before Zion Williamson and Ja Morant stole the show.
Despite the demotion, Barrett pieced together a stellar season in his own right. He led the ACC in scoring (22.9 points per game), ranked seventh in assists per game (4.1), 10th in rebounding (7.6 per game), and was named USA Today’s Player of the Year.
Normally a fan base would be ecstatic to be in such a position.
Some Knicks fans have embraced the “Maple Mamba” with open arms. But others have reacted with disdain, with some going as far as labeling him a bum. While Barrett is no bum, he is also no Zion. Not landing Williamson is the main source of the R.J. hatred.
The Knicks won just 17 games last season, and fans who watched all or most of those games did so with the belief they were paying their dues for brighter days with the most dominant prospect since Anthony Davis. While R.J. is not the earth-shatterer that Zion is, nor the Houdini Ja Morant is, he is still pretty freaking good.
His Duke experience will serve him well in New York, especially with his game under constant scrutiny. Aside from Duke, Barrett has had to bear the weight of being the face of Canada’s national team. The son of former St. John’s player Rowan Barrett, and godson of the legend Steve Nash, Barrett is basketball royalty.
“I’m built for this,” was Barrett’s response when asked what he would bring to New York. His confidence is his shield and his weapon. He is not going to single-handedly save the Knicks, but he is certainly a crucial building block.
There is a star within R.J. Barrett. The question is: can the Knicks bring it out of him? Let’s see what we’re working with.
Tale of the Tape
Age: 19 (by June 20)
Weight: 208 lbs
Jalen Rose Comparison*: Lefty Andrew Wiggins
Realistic Comparison: Michael Redd, DeMar DeRozan
2018–19 per game: 22.6 points, 7.6 rebounds, 4.3 assists, 0.9 steals, and 0.4 blocks
Shooting: 45.4 FG%, 30.8 3p%, 66.5 FT%
Scoring: The knock on Barrett is he’s not a beast at any one thing, like Zion’s defense or Ja’s court vision. Scoring is the closest skill one can point to when arguing on Barrett’s behalf.
Coach K relied on Barrett a lot last season. He was the Blue Devils’ iron man, appearing in every game and playing 30-plus minutes in each of them. In addition to playing with the starting unit, he was often tasked with carrying the second unit. His efficiency suffered—more on that later—but his production did not; he averaged 25.7 points per 40 minutes.
R.J.’s greatest asset is his confidence. It’s unwavering, and shines through in his scoring attack. He’s as relentless as a Dothraki screamer and finds his shot in a myriad of ways.
A large portion of his success was at the rim, but there were flashes of NBA-level self-creation.
Good morning ?? pic.twitter.com/9pvBGRoRfx— Evan Cole (@EvanCoIe) May 17, 2019
In transition he can shift gears like Brian O’Conner and finish with a bang.
His explosiveness is slightly underrated, surprisingly enough—most likely because he shared the court with the greatest leaper since LeBron. But trust me, Barrett has some pop.
His strong rebounding and ability to push the ball will serve him well. The Knicks are at their best when the pace is cranked all the way up. Barrett will thrive in that role.
While he mostly finishes with his left hand, according to R.J., he is more than capable of finishing with his right. Doing so will help lessen the predictability of his attacks and force the defense to consider more than straight line drives, a common gripe against him.
Hopefully next season he can tap into his post-ups. R.J. only posted up 23 times at Duke, but scored 23 points, ranking in the 86th percentile at 1.00 point per possession, per Synergy.
He would benefit from playing at the guard position more than playing the 3, as it would give him the chance to use his large frame and physicality to generate easy buckets.
The final phase of Barrett’s offensive game we hope to see more of at the next level is cutting off the ball. Barrett is a smart player; unfortunately he had the ball in his hands more than he didn’t in college, so plays like this were few and far between.
If he is lucky enough to share the floor with a Kevin Durant and/or Kemba Walker, or even Dennis Smith Jr., their gravity will free him up for cuts to the hoop. Often times at Duke it was his gravity that created opportunities for others.
Playmaking: One major misconception about Barrett is that he is a ball hog. That is simply false. Anyone spewing such a narrative either did not watch him, or is in desperate need of social media engagement.
Don’t take my word for it—you better listen to his godfather.
RJ Barrett (*yes, is my godson) is a next level playmaker at his age, 18, and size. Makes every read/pass. This is one skill that is easier in many respects due to the rules at the nba level but so damn valuable. Blown away at the reads and deliveries he made repetatively.— Steve Nash (@SteveNash) April 1, 2019
As the season progressed, Barrett evolved into Duke’s main playmaker. He had the ball in his hands a lot (30.2% usage rate) and learned to make the simple reads…
…as well the higher-risk reads:
Barrett, who has comically been compared to Andrew “averaged one assist per game at Kansas, despite playing with Joel freaking Embiid” Wiggins, averaged 4.3 assists per game, and averaged 5.0 per game when Zion was injured.
He may no longer have Zion to catch alleys from the clouds, but he will have Mitchell Robinson, who has a penchant for catching Hail Marys in his own right. David Fizdale should have no issue letting Barrett run the offense for stretches, especially if he starts out in the second unit.
During his international play we saw what he could do in space. To give you a rundown, it’s pretty good.
With the combination of added spacing, unlimited access to one of the greatest point guards ever in Nash, and progression of his handle, it’s rational to expect Barrett to remain a key playmaker.
The Gonzaga Game: This game is often cited in reference to R.J.’s deficiencies. Let’s find out what went wrong.
Up until this game, Barrett, and likely all of Duke, felt they had no equal. Gonzaga, led by Brandon Clarke, gave them quite the wake up call.
To be clear, Barrett was not a train wreck in this game. However, his weaknesses were put on front street. His defense all season was far from stellar. He shared the floor with three plus-defenders in Zion, Cam Reddish, and Tre Jones.
That insulated him from uglier plays, like this lackadaisical attempt at defense.
Knicks fans are no strangers to such defensive efforts. Defensive intensity will be a key for Barrett early. The hope is a lessened role on offense will allow him to disperse his energy more evenly.
It’s not the effort here, so much as lack of awareness. As locked in as Barrett is on offense, there’s no excuse not to keep that same energy on defense.
Here he makes this rotation too late, and Clarke gets an easy two points.
The last minute of this classic is where Barrett goes full Russell West-brick and tries to win the game by himself. He goes 0-for-5 with atrocious shot selection like this step-back three.
R.J. shot plenty of three-point attempts like this, which likely played a large role in his 30.8 three-point percentage. A big step in improving his outside shooting is taking his time and not forcing the shot when it’s not there.
And finally: the tunnel vision. The fact I could not decide which of the three attempts to use in final 15 seconds speaks volumes.
Barrett had DeLaurier wide open. Instead he took three defenders and was stuffed like a Build-a-Bear.
Barrett did have a few more instances of tunnel vision, which contributed to a less-than-stellar 45.4 field goal percentage. More shooting can help reduce instances of hero ball, especially if he’s on the floor with a presence like Durant.
For now, learning to kick the ball back out instead of repeatedly forcing layups over multiple defenders is a good first step.
Consistency: No doubt there is an Ally in Barrett. He does everything well, even defensively when he is engaged. The key for him is putting it all together on a consistent basis. Consistency is a theme for everything he does; his Jackson Maine, if you will.
Once he masters the little things—setting his feet before shooting, making the smart read instead playing hero ball, locking in on defense every possession—that All-Star caliber player, or even more, will start to reveal itself.
The Big Picture
Beyond the appeal of his pedigree, R.J. Barrett represents the greatest option for a summer that can break off into three different timelines. This upcoming offseason possesses an unrivaled randomness. Barrett’s selection keeps the Knicks insulated to whatever the offseason has in store.
He can be a tertiary scorer in a big three featuring Kevin Durant and another star. KD and Barrett both have close ties with Steve Nash, a nice common ground to build a student-teacher relationship.
Nevertheless, Barrett is arguably the greatest trade chip in a potential Anthony Davis deal, thanks in large part to Zion’s eventual presence in New Orleans when he’s picked first overall. And if no stars come to New York, Barrett holds the highest ceiling amongst the players available, too.
If the Durant arrival was certain, or at least half as certain as it was a few months ago, then an argument for the higher floor of Jarrett Culver had stronger legs. At the moment nothing looks like a guarantee. Barrett possesses a similar floor, albeit slightly lower given his volume scoring archetype, but also the higher ceiling.
The Knicks must know this as does Barrett. He worked out for the Knicks yesterday and told reporters this will be his only workout, in addition to saying this is where he wants to be.
R.J. Barrett won't be meeting with any other teams, and says that he wants to be a Knick:— SNY (@SNYtv) June 10, 2019
"This is the place I want to be, I hope they draft me" pic.twitter.com/E1i11C1C17
Hate him or love him, it looks like Barrett will get his wish. You better get to know him.
*Jalen Rose is one of the few good ESPN employees left. He is also the king of god-awful player comparisons usually reserved for the wastelands of Twitter. Every Jalen Rose Comparison pays homage to the most preposterous description of a player.