R.J. Barrett: Role

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Strengths

  • Elite body control

  • Legit NBA wing frame

  • Great end-to-end attack speed

  • Dangerous in transition

  • Relentless scorer with three-level potential

Weaknesses

  • Poor shot selection and can force the issue offensively

  • Spends a lot of time ball watching when not engaged as the primary defender

  • Inconsistent results lead to questions about his projection as an NBA-level shooter

  • Relatively weak at assessing half court defenses when operating as the primary initiator

Offensive role at Duke

Barrett often takes it upon himself to initiate Duke’s offense. He is prone to charging at the rim relentlessly which lends itself well to grab-and-go situations. And while his transition game is one of the best in the country, his half court creation yields mixed results. When he is stopped short of the rim, he sometimes lacks a backup plan. Barrett will occasionally make some nice passes out of drives and convert some tough floaters, but he can be forced into missing low-percentage shots if his drive is shut off. He is a “survival passer” when locked in on scoring, sharing the ball with teammates only to bail himself out. He has recently begun to trust his teammates more and seems to be willingly integrating into the offensive scheme. Freshmen tend to grow a lot between December and March, making this ongoing period critical to assessing his potential.

Offensive role projection -

On-ball scorer

Barrett is best suited to a secondary or high-end tertiary creation role. He is not tremendously efficient as the primary initiator on offense, nor is he a skilled passer who can create shots for teammates by using his own gravity and passing them open. However, he has shown promise getting into the teeth of the defense and using his length and strength to create baskets. The primary impediments to him thriving in an off-ball role are his questionable three-point stroke and willingness to play a complementary offensive role. He has been the primary creator at all levels so far (including international experience with Team Canada) but could become an efficient mid-usage player at the next level if he commits to moving off-ball, attacking warped defenses and closeouts, and shoring up his three-point accuracy. This may depend on him going to the proper environment to hone these skills. Some teams in the lottery will certainly want to plug him into that offensive focal point role right away, which may hamper his development into an efficient and effective player.

Defensive role at Duke

Barrett is a gamer on the ball. He takes on tough challenges and stays locked in while his man has the ball, using his size to make any sort of offensive progress difficult. While he has the willingness to get in a stance and engage his man on-ball, his effort comes and goes off-ball. His length allows him to guard a multitude of wings and guards, but his switching instincts have not developed sufficiently to allow him to switch onto multiple players seamlessly in the same possession. He isn’t a great communicator, something which merits watching as the season races toward the tournament and defense matters more. He will need to learn to talk his teammates through switches (especially when teams try to attack Marques Bolden) and recover quickly to prevent quicker teams from taking advantage of Duke's switching scheme.

Defensive role projection -

Hidden defender

Barrett’s frame suggests he could be a versatile defender at the next level with the ability to guard 1 through 4. His biggest immediate contribution will be his ability to stay in front of multiple types of players on-ball. This versatility should enable teams to hide him within their scheme, as the rest of his defensive impact will be a work in progress. He has not demonstrated the ability to read and consistently rotate off-ball. He will likely need a few seasons to learn to be an effective team defender; he will need to learn to communicate better and work between his man and the ball without losing focus.

Why Barrett will earn minutes as a rookie

Barrett will pop athletically even at the next level. His physical profile and relentless attacking style with the ball will vault him into the rotation wherever he is drafted. This team will likely also spend a good amount of draft capital on him and will prioritize his playing time. Developing him and seeing exactly what they have, as there are questions surrounding his NBA fit, will be important for his new team. Many teams love him for his on-ball contribution, but with the draft being so variable after No. 1, he could certainly find himself playing off of young point guards in a secondary role. Early on, he will be valuable attacking rotations and getting into the lane as a slash-and-kick style player, excelling in the open spaces the NBA game provides.

Why Barrett’s minutes may be limited as a rookie

Barrett is an interesting character. Early on it is very unlikely he would be relegated to a limited role, but he is in the mold of inefficient wings who can play their way out of the rotation within a few seasons if they don’t find their niche for contribution. He could be a tough short-term fit on a team that already has an established ecosystem in which he would mostly be asked to shoot and defend. If he is not seen as a complementary player to an established young star (e.g. Devin Booker, Trae Young), a coach might sit him for a player like Mikal Bridges who better fosters the development of the team’s primary creators. Similar to Dennis Smith in Dallas, his development could be de-emphasized in favor of a more team-centric prospect who provides value in a complementary role. With such a wide array of teams in the mix for his services, he will have to be more flexible than we have seen him this season. If he can adjust to a smaller role where he can contribute in efficient ways, it is hard to imagine him falling out of anyone’s rotation very early.