The Duke Blue Devils were one of the most dominant teams in the nation last season with a roster featuring a slew of star freshman. This talented group was headlined by Zion Williamson and R.J. Barrett, each of whom is a consensus top 3 picks in the NBA Draft on June 20.
Williamson is projected to go 1st overall, a pick that belongs to the New Orleans Pelicans, and it has been that way for a while. It is pretty much a done deal. Just ask the heartbroken Knicks fans, foolishly unsatisfied with the 3rd overall selection. The other Duke star mentioned, R.J. Barrett has publically stated that New York is “the place I want to be.”
Unlike superstar free agents that are choosing between New York City and Brooklyn, Barrett wants to be a New York Knick. With how the Knicks have operated for years, that statement alone should give them absolutely no second thoughts.
That being said, each of these players possesses the tremendous talent to star in the NBA but, who is the better NBA prospect?
High School Phenoms
There was a time when R.J. Barrett was actually ranked higher than Zion Williamson when the two were high school recruits. Barrett is Canadian-born and was the #1 high school recruit while he attended, Montverde Acamedy in Florida. Zion, on the other hand, stayed local for school and starred at Spartanburg Day School, where he was ranked #2 by ESPN right behind his future teammate.
Barrett generated a lot of buzz by playing at a while known prep school and attending other major events like acing the NBA sanctioned circuit during All-Star weekend. Williamson was no secret either. Similarly to LeBron James, Zion has been known for his ridiculous athletism and highflying highlights since he was young. Most notably being on the cover of SLAM magazine as a 16-year-old and having celebrities, like Drake wearing his high school jersey while he was still playing at Spartanburg, taking note of his abilities publicly.
Each of these young stars chose Duke University, with R.J. coming in as the #1 recruit but, it was Zion that had all eyes on him.
Duke’s Dynamic Duo
Williamson and Barrett each put up huge numbers as freshmen in 2018-19 as Duke teammates. Williamson was superior, putting up a stat line of 22.6 PPG, 8.9 REB, 2.1 AST, on an incredible 68% shooting from the field. He was a tremendous defender as well averaging 1.8 blocks and 2.1 steals per game.
Barrett was sensational offensively too, averaging 22.6 PPG, 7.6 REB, 4.3 AST on a less-efficient 45.4% from the field. On a team with so much firepower, each of these guys showcased their ability to not only make outstanding players but, also play selfless basketball.
The Blue Devils finished the regular season 32-6 and reached the Elite Eight only to have their NCAA Title hopes come to an end at the hands of Michigan State. The two 18-year-old phenoms declared for the NBA Draft immediately after the season came to an end.
The Better NBA Prospect
Although many people may believe that Williamson has greatly eclipsed Barrett and will be the best player out of the upcoming draft, there is still a chance that Barrett winds up being the superior NBA star. Zion’s combination of never before seen power and athleticism on the court is undeniable and will allow him to have a lot of success at the next level. He relies on this athleticism a lot considering that his ability to knock down shots greatly decreases the further away he is from the basket. When Zion infamously shredded through his Nike PG 2.5 and injured his left knee it sent a minor shock through the sports world. With the physicality that comes along with the NBA and Zion being slightly undersized at 6’7, he will need to improve his outside shooting in order to make up for his lack of size and to keep himself healthy and effective on the court.
The league is continuing to change, teams mostly play small-ball and fire away from deep, big men do not dominate the way that they used to. R.J. Barrett’s game fresh out of college to is more shows he could potentially be more accustomed to the present day NBA.
There is no doubt Williamson will be a tremendous player but, Barrett may have a quicker path to stardom. He is a ball-dominant scorer, that can score from anywhere on the court. Similarly to Zion, he stands at 6’7 but, will be playing more of a small forward, perimeter role in the NBA as opposed to Williamson who will be a power forward and small-ball center. His height and length will contribute to his success as a two-way swingman.
The one major question surrounding Barrett is his efficiency and consistency as a shooter but, with the opportunity to evolve his game and train as a professional will allow him to improve rapidly. Especially if he lands in NYC, there will be plenty of opportunities for Barrett to be consistently featured as a rookie.