Projected to be a top pick in the NBA Draft ever since he was a high school freshman, RJ Barrett's pro preparations have been in the works for years, and after all that hard work he's ready to see his dream realized.
Not many players have had a pedigree like Barrett's.
His father is Rowan Barrett, a former standout at St. John's and professional player in Europe, who is now the Executive Vice President and Assistant General Manager of Canada Basketball. His mother was athletic as well - a collegiate sprinter and long jumper at St. John's. Steve Nash, the most accomplished Canadian player of all time, is Barrett's godfather.
Groomed for basketball success since a young age, everything Barrett has done has been pointing towards an NBA career. In elementary school, he played up in age groups to compete with older players. Instead of using his height to dominate smaller players in middle school, he played point guard to develop his ball skills on the perimeter. He went to high school basketball powerhouse Montverde Academy in Florida to cut his teeth against the best teenagers in the world. Finally, he went to Duke, the most storied program in college basketball, to display his talents under the brightest lights possible.
With that upbringing, he's as prepared for the NBA as any prospect we've ever encountered. Whether it's the media obligations, the gruelling 82-game schedule, or the physicality of heightened competition Barrett has been made ready for it due to the journey he's travelled. The seasoning he's gone through playing for the biggest programs in the best leagues at every age was all to prepare him for the day he enters the big leagues and with that time coming soon, expectations are rightfully high.
Barrett has ideal size for an NBA wing at 6'7" with a 6'10" wingspan, and his physical maturity will help him adjust quickly to the highest level.
While his game isn't predicated on overpowering smaller opponents, he does have the size to physically dominate some matchups and punish teams for switching smaller guards onto him. With so many teams switching screens in the NBA these days, you need players that are able to pick on mismatches and Barrett could make a living taking smaller guards off the bounce and burying them under the rim.
Fundamentally sound with the use of jump stops and pivots, he has a game off of two feet that is extremely polished. Collecting with a jump stop and using pivots or reverse pivots to create space is a lost art and Barrett uses them like a 10-year veteran to shake defenders and get easy buckets or kick-outs to shooters. Barrett is lethal with hop steps and euro steps in the lane and those skills are extremely translatable to the NBA as opposed to players who rely on straight line drives.
Complimenting his immaculate footwork is an array of finishes at the rim including finger rolls, floaters, and scoop shots that give him the ability to score on all types of rim protectors. When he wants to go strong, he's got the bulk and body control to cradle the ball like a running back before bouncing off a shot blocker and then finishing.
Barrett's marquee skill is his ability to create advantage situations with the bounce.
When in isolation, he's proficient at changing direction and speed which often leaves defenders on their heels and in a vulnerable position. Very decisive when attacking closeouts, he can get into the paint at will and force help to come before making a pass. Duke was one of the worst 3-point shooting teams in the country last season and that meant a condensed floor that didn't fully showcase Barrett's playmaking side but NBA offences should unlock his game even more and that could make him a dangerous man.
With switching being a mainstay of modern basketball, teams are going to like Barrett's size and length as he can guard up and down the lineup. He does a really good job of containing smaller, speedier guards by using his length to cut off angles and when he's switched onto a big he can usually compete, though he'll need to add more muscle to his lower body.
Constantly pressuring defences whenever he has the basketball, Barrett could be a tough cover when playing with elite shooters and that offensive upside is going to be extremely enticing to teams.
There is much to like about the things Barrett brings on offence but he's also got some issues particularly when it comes to his shot selection and decision making.
He unnecessarily forced the issue in a lot of circumstances this past year and ended up putting up a lot of inefficient shots, particularly of the pull-up midrange jumper variety. While the pull-up jump shot is in his arsenal and will have value as an option in late-clock scenarios, he went to it early and often and that often resulted in a lot of bad shots and empty possessions.
As an example of his inefficiency, he averaged the identical amount of points per game as his teammate Zion Williamson (22.6) but he did it on 18.5 field goal attempts versus Williamson's 13.2. While his 4.3 assists per game showed his vision, his 3.2 turnovers showed how he often played out of control.
A lot of value Barrett brings offensively comes from work with the ball in his hands but as a secondary option playing without the rock, he isn't anywhere near as much of a threat. He shot a ton of threes, 6.2 per game to be exact, and only hit them at a 30.8% clip which is extremely concerning especially considering the low trajectory and inconsistent spin on those attempts. His jump shot is going to need reworking and the amount of his game predicated on volume shooting from the midrange could scare off some front offices. To suggest he's going to be a good scorer from anywhere other than around the hoop is to suggest he's going to start hitting shots he wasn't hitting in college and that could be a tough sell for some scouts.
Barrett's game is all about beating his man and forcing help to come and for his to realize his potential as a slasher he'll need to improve going to his right. Most of his game flows to his dominant left hand, and while that's enough in a lot of situations, if he's going to take the next step he'll have to improve going to his right as well as finishing with his off-hand at the rim. His ball handling could also use work and improving his off-hand confidence would really help.
With as high of a ceiling as it gets, Barrett definitely has some star potential, but he's a player that needs the ball in his hands to be effective and if teams don't see him as someone who can dominate with the ball he might fall down their big boards.
Projected NBA Draft Range: 2-4
Projected NBA Role: Playmaking wing.
NBA Comparison: Rudy Gay