Before the 2019 NBA Draft arrives, Peachtree Hoops will break down more than 75 available prospects with an eye toward what the Atlanta Hawks may look to do in late June.
This breakdown focuses on Duke wing R.J. Barrett.
It’s been a long and winding road for R.J. Barrett as an NBA Draft prospect. The 6’7 wing was originally scheduled to enter the college ranks in 2019, but Barrett re-classified to the high school class of 2018 and, shortly thereafter, became the consensus No. 1 recruit in the country. With that came lofty expectations as the Canadian standout arrived at Duke but, while Barrett was insanely productive during his time in Durham, Barrett was surpassed by teammate Zion Williamson and, for many, Ja Morant in sliding to No. 3 in the 2019 NBA Draft in terms of the overall consensus.
Along the way, Barrett’s strengths and weaknesses were magnified, with many latching on to his well-publicized competitiveness and “alpha dog mentality” and others choosing to focus on his shortcomings in the areas of shooting and defense. Still, the entire package is one of great intrigue, even if Barrett’s widely projected marriage with the New York Knicks at No. 3 overall comes to fruition.
From a production standpoint, Barrett was tremendous at Duke, averaging 22.6 points, 7.6 rebounds and 4.3 assists per game. Given that he wasn’t the best player on his own team, numbers like that jump off the page and Barrett is relatively young, standing to play his entire NBA rookie season at the age of 19.
In examining his underlying numbers, however, things take a bit of a dip. Barrett produced a 53.2 percent true shooting in college and, while that isn’t awful, it isn’t overwhelmingly positive. Much of that inefficiency stems from his shooting, where Barrett struggled to 30.8 percent from three-point distance and just 66.5 percent from the free throw line. Positively, Barrett was willing to take threes (including some suspect looks) and generated a lot of free throw volume along the way, but he’ll need to shore up both areas in order to reach (or even approach) his NBA ceiling.
Barrett enters the league as a projected primary option, at least in the way that he presents himself offensively. He accumulated 32.2 percent usage at Duke and, again, that number is relatively jarring on a team that included Williamson, Cameron Reddish and 2020 draft hopeful Tre Jones. In short, Barrett is not shy about looking for his own offense, generating the belief in some circles that he acted selfishly at times, with poor shot selection and a default mechanism to rely on himself over others.
Still, there is a lot to like about Barrett’s offensive skill set. He is a good, not great, athlete, but Barrett presents quality size (6’7 with a 6’10 wingspan) when compared to NBA wings. He changes speeds effectively, plays with craft and presents intriguing passing ability when he chooses to unleash it. Barrett has been described by many as a “natural scorer” and, if his brand of physical “bully ball” can translate against NBA athletes, there is real value in his individual shot creation.
Barrett’s strengths in terms of physical, confidence and overall fluidity are well noted but, again, his upside will be dictated by whether the ball goes in the hoop from the perimeter and whether his athleticism will carry over to the professional ranks. At present, Barrett needs to have the ball in his hands, as he isn’t a knock-down shooter and wouldn’t present a great deal of gravity. On the flip side, there is a concern that Barrett won’t be able to dominate offensively against better competition, leaving his downside as a player that might need to feast on second units, rather than acting as a primary scorer for a quality team.
There are reasons to believe in his translation, though, particularly if Barrett comes to grips with acting as something of a supporting piece. Barrett does play with quality vision and acumen at times, with his passing really glowing on tape. The question is one of mentality, with the fear that Barrett will channel his prospect hype as an unquestioned lead scorer, rather than simply filling in the gaps as a diverse player with scoring, passing, rebounding and the ability to make an overall impact.
Defensively, Barrett is also a mixed bag. He didn’t play well on that end of the floor at Duke and, like many college standouts, that was explainable with his usage and pedigree. However, Barrett won’t have that luxury in the NBA and he’ll need to improve his attentiveness and overall acumen to translate at the highest levels.
As a defender, Barrett’s ceiling could be limited due to his lack of elite athleticism, but he does have prototypical size for a wing. Throw in his clear strength and physicality and there is no reason that Barrett couldn’t be just fine on the defensive end, provided his motor improves considerably.
Barrett, who is the son of a long-time professional player, has been lauded for his work ethic and his drive to compete at all levels. That is unquestionably a positive trait and, for a team like the Knicks that does not presently employ a lead offensive engine, Barrett should have the opportunity to be the primary option, at least at times.
Through the prism of the Atlanta Hawks, Barrett does not project to be available for selection in the 2019 NBA Draft. Other than a stray rumor placing the Knicks and Hawks in potential discussions back in late May, most of the buzz with Atlanta has centered on Jarrett Culver and De’Andre Hunter, with the widespread assumption that Barrett will be gone and/or the asking price from New York would be too high. As such, it seems unlikely that Barrett will join forces with Trae Young, John Collins and company but, at the end of the day, Barrett is a (very) talented prospect that could excel in the NBA with a few key tweaks.