R.J. Barrett: Defense

Our scouting grades represent the composite opinion of at least three different scouts. Each category is graded based on how we view a player’s current ability level relative to NBA players at the same position (guard, wing, forward or big). A grade of 1 indicates replacement level, a grade of 5 indicates NBA average, and a grade of 10 indicates historically elite. Our composite scouting notes help provide context for our grades.


On-ball defense

When defending on-ball, Barrett has active hands and tends to position himself well early to ward off dribble penetration. Using his strength and wing span, he has the capability to guard NBA wings, when he is engaged. He does have problems opening his stance early and will sometimes concede driving lanes as a result. Limited lower body strength may limit his switchability, however he has a solid frame and NBA strength and conditioning should allow him to add strength in that area.


Off-ball defense

Like many freshman, Barrett is an avid ball watcher. He tends to lose track of his man and off-ball actions while keeping his eye on primary attacks. He can be disengaged and doesn’t provide much resistance when his man doesn’t have the ball. Whether his disinterest is a result of a low basketball IQ or more related to his motor, he will need to improve to be league-average in this area. He does use a majority of his energy on the court on the ball, he may need to improve his conditioning in order to become a more effective and engaged off ball defender.


Help defense

He has generally good instincts when tagging the roll man or digging down on a drive, but he can get too focused on the on-ball action making the recovery more difficult when his man relocates. When focused, he closes out well with good positioning, stance, and active hands. Too often, however, he loses focus and misses an easy rotation or switch. He has more often been the recipient of help defense from Duke’s formidable back line than the player sliding over to aid on a drive, so perhaps with more time he can develop into a sturdy help defender.



As with so many other defensive categories, the story of RJ Barrett rises and falls on his effort. When he is intent on shutting down opponents, he can switch 2 through 4, using his upper body strength to contain offensive players. However, he isn’t a great communicator and can often be passive in switches, seemingly trying to offer token resistance without fouling. With better effort, and perhaps a lower offensive workload which fatigues him, he has potential to be above average. But for now, he is still missing some vital pieces.


High impact plays

He has okay defensive habits but hasn’t showcased significant impact on this side of the floor yet. His lack of impact plays may be partially due to scheme and also due to the safety net he has behind him with teammates like Marques Bolden, Zion Williamson, and Javin DeLaurier ready to challenge shots at the rim. Still, regardless of any mitigating circumstances this area is of genuine concern. Most strong NBA players at least flashed the ability to make high impact plays in college, so this deficiency may have implications for his long-term potential.