Why R.J. Barrett Must Be Drafted Second Overall
New York Post
We need to talk about Mean Girls, R.J.. Barrett and what it takes to be a top tier NBA player. Gretchen Wieners tried to make fletch work. I am going to make title-winning-talent work. Shoot, I’d settle for a TWT abbreviation.
By my count, there are eight TWT’s in the NBA - guys who can theoretically be the best player on a championship team. While this is up for some debate, my list includes: LeBron James, Kevin Durant, James Harden, Steph Curry, Kawhi Leonard, Joel Embiid, Anthony Davis and Giannis Antetokounmpo. Some of these guys have yet to reach a title game but, their talent ceiling is high enough to justify them being on this list.
Out of the 400 plus players in the NBA, only eight of them make the cut. That’s 0.02 percent, folks (and two of them are on the same team!) If you have a shot to get this player or someone who could develop into one then you have to go for it. Barrett has a minute probability of joining this list but, in the words of the fictional Lloyd Christmas, “So you’re telling me there’s a chance…”
To explain why I think Barrett has a sliver of hope to join this elite group, I have to briefly describe what these eight players have in common. They are as follows:
The ability to score efficiently and often in isolation
Giannis gets to the rim at will. Curry and Harden use separation moves to launch triples. Durant can shoot over anyone. Kawhi lulls you to sleep. Embiid and Davis beat you in the post or get fouled. LeBron does a little bit of everything. All of these guys are prolific, high-volume scorers who can get a clean look when it matters most.
The ability to weaponize their scoring prowess to help others score
Giannis drives and kicks, drawing the help defense and freeing others. Kawhi does too. Harden and LeBron can do this or manipulate the pick and roll. Same goes for Curry and Durant. Davis and Embiid makes advanced reads for big men. Because of their scoring talent, you have to help on these guys, and when you do they can make you pay.
Unique, imitable physical trait
Imitable. The biggest word I will ever use. These stars have something rare about their physical makeup. Giannis has length and strides. Joel moves like a ballerina. Davis does a bit of both. Harden’s core is a literal rock. Curry has the quickest trigger in the League. Kawhi has his klaw and Durant has a guard’s arsenal at 7-feet-tall. LeBron, well, LeBron is LeBron.
So, what comes next? Prepare to read about how R.J. Barrett has a puncher’s chance of meeting the criteria of these three categories. Do I think it will happen? Probably not. Can it happen? Maybe. Let’s dive in.
Isolation Scoring Ability
Inquirer Sports - Inquirer.net
Barrett’s propensity for getting to the rim is well known. He is quick with good burst, has herky-jerky motions and utilizes a variety of fakes. He shot 64 percent at the rim this season and took 262 attempts there. It is nearly impossible to keep the man out of the paint and when he is there, watch out.
I want to discuss his shooting ability, however. Specifically, his shot creation and efficiency. An indicator of touch and 3-point shooting, Barrett’s 66.5 percent free throw percentage is cause for concern. But, this does not preclude him from becoming an effective perimeter shooter.
Paul Pierce shot 60.6 percent from the line as a freshman and Michael Redd shot just one percent better. Carmelo Anthony shot 70.6 percent. Vince Carter hit 68.9 percent from the stripe. Richard Jefferson’s percentage dropped every year he was in college and dipped into the 60s. What’s the point? Although the odds are analytically stacked against him, Barrett still has a chance to become an average to above average 3-point shooter, just like all those other wings did.
But, can he do it off of the dribble? The ability to pull-up on the perimeter is something all of the wing players on that aforementioned list have in common. It opens the floor by making defenders have to guard them beyond the 3-point line.
Barrett did not do this often despite flashing sidesteps, stepbacks, crossovers, and hesitation moves. His shot creation package is evident, albeit underused and dependent on a reliable jumper. Given his notorious work ethic, a gambling man may bet that Barrett puts this all together, despite the odds.
Teams will look to take away his greatest strength: driving to the rim. When they do he must be able to create space for a pull-up jumper. The foundation and wiggle is there but, will Barrett’s shot be pure enough to consistently hit these shots?
Creating for others
Playmaking may not be Barrett’s greatest strength, but it is remarkably important. He demonstrated a knack for capitalizing off of double teams. When defenders collapsed on him during drives, he consistently found cutters, lob threats or shooters on the wings.
During 12 of his 38 Duke games Barrett assisted six or more times, hitting double digits twice. These numbers should have been higher, too. Against a rivalry game versus North Carolina, Barrett totaled 18 assist opportunities, many of which fell apart at the hands of poor Duke shooters. His eyes are always scanning and at 6-foot-7 Barrett can pass over plenty of defenders.
With the exception of Embiid and Davis, those eight players can all operate as facilitators out of the pick and roll. Barrett exhibits glimpses of this. Currently, he is a better pick and roll scorer than passer. In fact, he finished below the 50th percentile as a pick and roll passer. But Barrett’s vision indicates that he has the potential to become an effective creator in this area. Should this part of his game improve, it could accentuate Barrett’s talent as a pick and roll scorer as well.
Does he have a unique physical skill to take advantage of?
Barrett has the prototypical measurements for a wing. He has a strong, 210-pound frame with a wingspan stretching to 6-foot-10. Plus, Barrett is an exceptional athlete gifted with a combination of coordination, fluidity and power. But this league is full of wings who fit this description. Does he possess a playing style or characteristic that will separate him from the competition?
Perhaps you would like to argue that Barrett is one of five college players ever to average at least 22/4/7 per game. You may want to mention that he was the only freshman to do so, as the other four players were either juniors or seniors. Fine. This does not really qualify for this category, however. So, what does?
After watching Barrett’s game film there is one maxim you can walk away with. The man is truly outstanding at getting to the rim and finishing when there. What’s more, he hardly uses his right hand. When grows more confident with it, watch out.
A look at some advanced college stats fleshes out this elite, translatable NBA skill. According to college stats guru Bart Torvik, there were only eight players who took more attempts at the rim this past season than Barrett. His shooting percentage at the rim was better than five of them, including Ja Morant.
Additionally, Barrett was assisted on only 38.1 percent of these attempts. Compare this with Zion Williamson, an unstoppable force when headed to the paint, who was assisted on 47.4 percent of these shots. When Barrett is in the lane he utilizes fakes, strength and touch to convert. Even on misses he has quick-twitch athleticism to grab the board and put another shot back up. If Barrett is to separate himself from the pack, this will be the avenue he does it in.
We have to mention Ja Morant. I love his game. He makes sense in Memphis. But the odds of a non-wing player becoming a title-winning-talent is slim. There is only one player 6-foot-3 or under on that list, and it is the incomparable Steph Curry.
Barrett comes closer to meeting the physical traits required to make this list. Plus, he has shown flashes of the requisite skills needed to do so. Everything is dependent on his jump shot; a point which cannot be overstated. But if it starts to fall consistently…
What are the odds he becomes the best player on a championship team? I give him a 10 percent chance. Still, that’s about 9 percentage points higher than Morant’s chance. Barrett is a gamble, but one the Grizzlies should make.