RJ Barrett Scouting Report: Is He Top 3 Worthy?

Browsing around a lot of the RJ Barrett scouting reports online, I saw a troubling sentence: Barrett may have peaked in high school.  In high school, Barrett was a prototypical offensive wing who could impose his will on any defense through his scoring prowess.  Prior to the start of the season, Barrett was the consensus number one pick, rated even higher than Ja Morant and his Duke teammate and now-consensus number one pick Zion Williamson. Yet, Barrett didn’t showcase much growth in his lone freshman season. Beyond marginally improving his outside shot (which still needs a ton of work, as he only shot 30.8% from 3) and showing off some playmaking ability, Barrett was mostly the same player that he was playing for Montverde Academy and in Nike EYBL.

When evaluating top prospects, it’s almost imperative to see steady improvement and growth.  After all, organizations aren’t drafting players for what they were, they are drafting them for what they think they can be.  This growth clearly can be identified for prospects such as Jarrett Culver, who made huge strides this season. Peaking in high school isn’t typically something you want to hear about a projected top 5 pick.

How Barrett stacks up in the NBA

Barrett is not James Harden. He isn’t DeMar DeRozan. He isn’t Tracy McGrady. Throw those outlandish comparisons out the window, because he isn’t anywhere near that good. Still, that doesn’t mean Barrett can’t be a really good pro. I’m not quite sure what the peaking in high school line means, either.  He still showcased some incredibly high-level play in college.  Not many come out of high school and score like he did as a freshman.  He did that all despite almost always being the youngest player on the court (he was originally in the Class of 2019).  If he had spent 2-3 years in school and really developed all aspects of his game, I have a strong feeling we’d be looking at him way differently.

The first thing that stands out about Barrett is his NBA frame. He unquestionably has that rare, physical build of a solid 2/3 who can switch 1-4, take the physicality of the game, do whatever’s asked of him, etc. Speaking of doing whatever’s asked of him: he was 3rd in the NCAA in minutes played.  In the games I watched, Coach K had a tendency to ride him into the ground, often playing him 37-38 minutes in pivotal games and just getting him a couple of minutes to breathe. To me, this is a good sign: I obviously trust Coach K tremendously when it comes to understanding what it takes to win. He viewed RJ Barrett as incredibly important to his team’s success, so much so that even as a freshman he could hardly afford to take him out of the game at all. Watching the film, you can understand this more and more. Barrett plays within himself. He rarely forces things. He makes the simple play offensively. He has a calm demeanor. He is probably the smartest help defender on the team, with very good awareness. He sees man and ball, is always ready to tag the roller, and makes multiple efforts defensively.

He stands out for his basketball IQ as well, particularly in his playmaking. It’s rare to find a scoring wing have multiple games with over 10 assists like Barrett did.  Though not considered a PG, I see a guy who can play some point forward at the next level, in the mold of a Joe Ingles or Nic Batum. He plays the game with a terrific pace, reads PNRs well, stays under control and makes the right, simple pass almost every time. In the pick and roll, Barrett recognizes late help early and can drop the pass into the roller’s chest with ease.  These reads got better as the season went on too. You can see the influences of his Godfather, Canada’s own Steve Nash, in his game.

Barrett can get out and run and finish in transition. In this regard, he operates in the mold of a grab-and-go rebounding wing who’s always looking to get out and push the pace.  He can operate as a secondary ballhandler/playmaker. He can knock down open shots, play out of some pindowns to his right shoulder (L hand). He’s not afraid to mix it up and go get rebounds with the bigs.

So what’s not to like?

rj barrett dukeWell, like a fellow Duke prospect, RJ can really only go one way. He’s TREMENDOUSLY left-hand dominant.  He shows little ability to get into any sort of gap with his right hand or finish with his right around the basket. Even when shown an open straight-line drive going right, he sometimes tries to go back to his left, exponentially increasing the difficulty of the shot.  He plays too upright. The phrase LOWER MAN WINS is one of the most true basketball axioms I’ve ever come across – and he frequently can’t get past his defender to the rim because of how upright he is and his mediocre handle, and gets burned on defense some because of the inverse of this. I can’t think of many NBA players who can pretty much ONLY go one way. To be an elite scorer today, you have to be able to cross over to either hand and get by your man one-on-one. Barrett becomes a predictable guard with his left-dominant he is.

Although he’s been described as a really good athlete, I don’t see any sort of freakish athleticism translate to how he gets his offense. He’s a straight line driver, not a ferocious attacker in transition, and tends to lack the leaping ability (or know-how) to really attack consistently. While he can get by his man with his quick first step, he often wasn’t quick enough to truly increase the separation from his man and finish at the rim.  This is concerning, as NBA defenders are much quicker and will be able to recover much more effectively. His shot mechanics still need a lot of work as well. He’s pretty good up top — as in, he holds his follow thru, he has a decent enough stroke, and most of that looks good – but his feet are frequently not set, flat, and he lacks the advanced footwork to step into a shot.

RJ’s NBA Outlook

knicksOverall, I see a general lack of creativity in his game. I don’t see the ability to pound and elevate and create much of anything from the midrange. I don’t see much iso ability besides a simple straight left-hand drive. I don’t see much “wiggle” to get his own shot off. It’s going to be very difficult for him to be an elite scorer while lacking these attributes.  He would fit best in a heavy, multiple PNR system. I think his ability to make the simple PNR read and the right pass is his best NBA skill.

NBA 3&D wings are hard to come by. Although listed at 6’7, RJ plays and looks a bit smaller than that. I view him more of a 2 at the next level, and I’m not positive he’s a starter. I think he compares more to a guy like Rodney Hood – a solid, albeit inconsistent wing who can play some point forward, hit some shots, but doesn’t do anything exceptionally well. I see some Kelly Oubre in him – a heavily LH-dominant guy who plays in pretty straight lines. I think Ingles is kind of his best model and peak – a heady 2 guard who can play out of PNRs, knock down shots, do the simple high-IQ things, and contribute to winning.

Barrett would fit in fine with New York, and definitely deserves consideration at 3. But I’m not convinced he has a higher upside than Jarrett Culver. I think Barrett fits in fine with the Knicks, but I think if he ends up on a team with deigns of being competitive next season, he likely starts off the bench. I think he ends up somewhere between Hood and Ingles as a player, and Culver’s upside as a potential Paul George may be too much to pass up. Stay tuned for our scout of Culver soon…

If you’re ok with that as a top 10 pick, go right ahead. If you’re not? I believe Jarrett Culver has a much higher ceiling.

  
Bryan Oringher spent the past 7 years working in the NBA. From 13-17 he was the Washington Wizards Head Video Coordinator, and in 17-18 he did Regional Advance Scouting for the Hawks and Raptors. He now puts out in-depth analysis on Twitter @ScoutWithBryan and you can find all his old content at scoutwithbryan.com

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